Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mandala 曼陀羅 (1971)

Jissoji’s second film with the Art Theater Guild outperforms what was accomplished in Mujo, but perhaps I’m only saying this because Mandala contains much less dialogue, and is easier to follow than his first film, for the English-only crowd. Again, Jissoji returns to religious philosophy, as we are presented with a film about a Buddhist cult. This aspect, for me, already makes the film unique, because I can’t think of other titles that take the viewer directly into the day-to-day activities of a cult. Koreeda’s Distance comes to mind, but from the reviews I’ve read on it (haven’t plunked down the $10 for the HK disc), the topic is simply on the aftermath of cult activities. This film deals with the entire religious and recruiting processes of the cult. The cult in question seems to assault people to make them join, and as this is a 70’s film, there is plenty of rape. No, seriously, there must be at least five rapes in this film - the record goes to Jissoji. All violence aside, the pure strangeness and imagery in this film makes it worth watching, and Jissoji madcap camerawork is a little bit more sober than what I found in This Transient Life. Did I also say that the ending will surprise you?

This Transient Life 無常 (1970)

My anticipation for this film was so high after Roland Domenig likened it to the work of Bresson and Dreyer. Well, Bressonian and Dreyeresque it is not, but it’s an interesting, if not somewhat pretentious Japanese film in its own right. I was so enamored with the review that several months ago, I went out and bought the Geneon disc without English subtitles, something that I don’t regret doing because it’s never been translated, but much of content in this dialogue-rich film has evaded me. But still, though the film is flawed because of its highly unnatural camera setups (something which has been praised, but tends to be a problem), Jissoji is unique in that he is maybe the only Japanese director to analyze Buddhism with such a high degree of concentration. There are many long dialogues in the film, ones which I can’t quite be sure of at this stage, but I’m sure delve deeply into Eastern philosophy. Also, like so many other Japanese films, incest is a main theme, and happens to be the motif that drives the plot. I would love to watch this again, but the second time through, I need my subtitles.