Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Inferno of First Love 初恋・地獄篇 (1968)

Susumu Hani's unique film funded in part by the Art Theatre Guild, an organization which supported the filmmakers of the Japanese New Wave who were excommunicated from the Japanese studio system. This film is so truthful, dangerous, and spellbinding that it's hard to find words in the English language to describe it. Only a minuscule number of films can pull so much out of your soul in an hour and a half. Susumu Hani tells the frighteningly authentic story of a young man named Algebra, and his struggle to find himself within the suffocating environment of post-war Tokyo. Algebra works as a goldsmith in a ridiculously repetitive workplace and lives at home with his sexually abusive father. He is very repressed sexually and emotionally, and even once took laughing lessons to relieve his troubles. His abuse as a child led him to repeat his father's mistakes. A casual walk in the park leads to an all too comfortable relationship with a random young girl. A man sees him with the girl and yells "pervert, pervert" and rallies other neighbors to chase him down. Algebra doesn't serve any jail time, for nothing intimate happened, but he does visit a psychiatrist who hypnotizes him. Algebra's is hypnotized in conjunction with watching a movie screen that depicts images of his subconscious. Surprisingly, Algebra wants nothing to do with his dark hobby afterward and begins a heightening romance with a female prostitute with whom he had a failed liaison with earlier in the film. Her name is Nanami, a nude model that works in a peep show-esquire establishment. Nanami takes on her own quest in the film, from a normal peep show girl to doing S&M photos for mysterious clients. She is Algebra's only anchor in the world. The remainder of the film depicts the blossoming of their relationship, and Algebra's personal awakening.

The narration does appear to be typical: a young outgoing girl stabilizes the shy young man, but this film is all about the unique use of storytelling and the employment of a cinema verite style of photography. Yuji Okumura employs a liberated, documentary-style camera technique that brought memories of Sergei Urusevsky's work in I Am Cuba. I have seen few urban environments filmed so masterfully, yet simply in black-and-white. The film also has a theme of nostalgia for childhood and innocence, much like The Spirit of the Beehive. This theme is reinforced through Algebra's flashbacks of childhood set to a subtle, melancholic score.

This is a very important film. It may upset some viewers for its harsh depictions of reality, but it could be inspiring nonetheless for those who seek a better version of the truth. Susumu Hani took a cue from Italian Neo-Realism and hired non-professional actors for most of the roles. This choice makes the film the more poignant. It peels away the layers of fabrication that a studio project would leave on and leaves us with a story that few can imitate or forget.

No comments: