Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
Japan, 1971. Art Theatre Guild, Daiei Studios, Sozosha. Screenplay by Mamoru Sasaki, Tsutomu Tamura, Nagisa Oshima. Cinematography by Toichiro Narushima. Produced by Kinshirô Kuzui, Takuji Yamaguchi. Music by Toru Takemitsu. Production Design by Shigenori Shimoishizaka. Film Editing by Keiichi Uraoka.
Nagisa Oshima treats post-war Japanese society to his sharp criticism in this sober, elegant melodrama. Masuo and Ritsuko have both received a telegraph from their estranged friend Terumichi to come and find him on a remote island and they, anxious to see him and make sure he’s alright, make the long trip to where he has sent him. During the voyage they flash back to memories of their family at various ceremonial functions that have brought them together them over the years, reunions, marriages and funerals and the like, their emotional disturbance centred around the terrifying patriarch, Masuo’s grandfather Kazuomi (Kei Satô) and his corrupt ways. Masuo and Ritsuko were once sweethearts who later learned that they might be siblings, as Kazuomi has had his way with just about every woman he has ever come in contact with (including Ritsuko’s mother) and is cavalier with recognizing the chldren that issued from his whimsical affairs. Kazuomo’s wife Shizo is revealed to be calculating and cold as a result of having steeled herself against whatever feelings she has about maintaining her position of honour while unable to respond to her husband’s infidelities, and the remainder of the clan, among them pacifists and communists and more than a few traumatized survivors of prison camps in the second World War, offer up a melee of madness that results from his incestuous, selfish behaviour. By the time you get to the film’s most unforgettably absurd scene, a wedding whose bride has not appeared but which progresses through its planned ceremonies anyway, you have a darkly funny movie that is chiding a country’s own denial of its memories of suffering, and the capitalism that it has replaced with reconciliation in the years since the war. More contemplative than Oshima’s more famously passionate movies, this one doesn’t trade on instinctive, spontaneous contact the way films like Empire Of Passion do, employing a more muted colour palette than is often seen in his work but still maintaining a bold, vibrant look. The actors ensure that the aesthetics are only a part of the experience, however, giving terrifying performances that never hesitate to go as far into the realms of corruption as the director needs them to.
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