“When a baby is born, it comes out of her mother’s womb into this world, from one happy world to this hell, to this valley of tears.”
Predating Masumura’s Blind Beast by three years, Wakamatsu’s 1966 film was far ahead of its time and marked his first independent feature. Wakamatsu’s prolific career has encompassed nearly every genre and stylistic approach imaginable. A pioneer of pinku cinema, his work is subversive and universally applicable but without the tastelessness of the genre’s worst contributors. The entire film takes place in the protagonist’s claustrophobic apartment; the reclusivity of the protagonist’s plight is now to be shared with the audience. He is a man who has experienced some hardship but all of it aggravated by his domineering demeanor. His mother hung herself from the staircase at the store he is now the manager of, his wife left him because he was unwilling to have a child with her – indeed, the entire point of the film is to depict a man who is so controlling and deluded as to require every facet of the birth of his child to be managed. He cannot live without controlling every aspect of his own life as well – including the lives of others he’s in contact with. Throughout the film there are images superimposed over scenes happening in reality. These images depict the protagonist’s crossed connection with fantasy and truth. His only concern is having everything exactly the way he perceives it should be. He’s intent on changing the past by controlling the future – there’s no end to his convoluted logic.
At the beginning of the film we meet one of the protagonist’s employees; she is new and has become infatuated with his independent and authoritative nature. It soon becomes apparent however, that she has been invited to his apartment for reasons more than mere lust. We (along with the girl) see a plaster mask made of his wife’s face. He chose her because she resembles his wife. In flashback, the protagonist recounts a scene with his wife where he pontificates about how he never wants a child (“This is why I had this operation, so I couldn’t procreate,” he says) and how it would be terrible for her (he mentions a medical certificate). The doppelganger wife is a favourite theme of Japanese cinema (not to mention literature) and indeed, as one would expect: the employee, the wife, and the mother are played by the same actress. Wakamatsu does little to hide the Oedipal conflicts within the protagonist (“…my mother, my lover…”) and those projections extend to the woman.
So, of course it’s no surprise that he tortures the woman throughout the film, training her to become his vision of the “ideal woman.” What sets this film apart from others with similar plotlines is that while the male is physically in control for the majority of the film, the female is the one is in mental control throughout. The music consists almost entirely of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique – at times fitting, at times not, but certainly an interesting choice. It is a film where such decisions merely add yet one more layer of subversion atop an already symbol-heavy exercise.
Like much of Wakamatsu’s work, it is experimental and oftentimes (despite Wakamatsu’s own attempts to undermine it) insightful. He is a director akin to Seijun Suzuki; a man capable of rendering even the most hackneyed notion into an artistic concept ragged with intensity and inescapable relevance.