Gushing Prayer (1971)
dir: Masao ADACHI
I have not been this floored by a film since seeing Walter Hugo Khouri's Antonionian masterpiece, Men and Women ('Noite Vazia', 1964).
Sometimes, you see a film so groundbreaking, so radical, that you're in disbelief that you've even seen it, or that it was even made. This is the case with both, and only a few lucky others.
'Radical' sums up the director quite well too. He was one of the 'pink film' directors, artists who made super low-budget, softcore films that were shot in two weeks or so, and quickly released to make profits.
Producers cared little for what the content was (unlike the big studios), as long as there was an ample amounts of skin. There was actually a certain ratio, as well, for how much nudity had to be present--approximately a third or so of screen time had to have t&a.
Despite such seemingly lowbrow goals, this sandbox soon become a space for work of radical aesthetic and political experimentation.
Koji Wakamatsu is the most well-known name to come out of this environment. And in fact, his work inspired Stanley Kubrick, and SK admitted to this publicly.
The director of the film in question, Adachi, had worked for several years in this workspace, also doing documentary, but came upon trouble when his political activities ran afoul with the ruling order.
Adachi, like most filmmakers and artist, was caught up in the massive anti-militarist student movements of the 50's and 60's. And in the early 70's, he had already traveled to Lebanon and Palestine to make a documentary about the Popular Front for Palestinian Liberation ('Red Army-PFLP: Declaration of World War'), and soon became involved with the Japanese Red Army, a group that was more or less affiliated with the PFLP, though independent of its goals and leadership.
When the JRA had become implicated in terrorist attacks, his passport was revoked, and he was unable to return to Japan for nearly 30 years.
Though he is back in Japan now (after having served a short sentence for passport violations), this background is important to understand the director.
'Gushing Prayer' was made right before his departure from Japan, and represents the artist at the prime moment of clarity, radicalism, and austerity.
It follows four teenagers who embark on a quest of discovery. They observe the world of adults, and with some awkwardness, propose that they can 'beat sex', meaning that they can engage in this new, unexplored territory without feeling an emotional response.
This theme of self-control is of course an Eastern cultural theme. It is essentially the Buddhist philosophy, and the rigid, austere lifestyle of the samurai. But here, Adachi moves it away from the traditional, and instead defines this personal questioning as the very moment of developing political consciousness. The teenagers only come to know the world through engaging in what they perceive as 'adult behavior', but they do not examine the consequences of it.
In a sense, they move from innocent figures to units of exploitation. They, for the first time, develop a 'public life', and go into society/the capitalist system/reality, etc...
This is doubled by the four also deciding that one of them must engage in prostitution, since anonymous sex would be the best opportunity to discover whether or not the body can actually resist carnality, and if humans truly have control over their lives. Prostitution also provides a means of being, as an economic unit (literally and figuratively), you are then 'within' society.
The following investigation is where the film has the bulk of its value, as the teens, through eloquent dialogue and voiceover, relay the problems that they face in understanding this world and their bodies. It is, in a sense, one of the most cerebral and deliberated coming-of-age films, but done in such a way that it is more real than going the prosaic motions of 'maturation'. Through the showing of, and also through their critiquing and recreating of each pertinent moment, the teens, and we, the audience, come to a very high level of awareness. In fact, maybe we learn too much by the end.