“When I am with you, I wonder why I always think of my past.”
About a thousand years ago, a noblewoman, living under the customary seclusion of her day, wrote what many consider to be the first classic novel. Murasaki Shikibu was of the Heian court in Kyoto at a particular time when some of Japan’s greatest literary works were written. As per tradition, she had little communication with men outside of her immediate family and her learning of Chinese was generally frowned upon, but following her husband’s death shortly after the birth of their daughter, she withdrew to a Shingon Buddhist temple. While gazing past an ancient lake by the light of the moon, legend tells us that Murasaki composed The Tale of Genji. Her skill as an author was acknowledged and soon she became a lady-in-waiting at the court, continuing to pen vast prose for the remainder of her life. Sugii’s animated adaptation of Murasaki’s canonical tale captures the atmosphere of the period very well. There is a pensive, unrushed characteristic of the film which is appealing but also an occasional cause of obliqueness. There is not eroticism but passion, not flamboyance but exploration: Buddhism at its most dastardly and sincere.
The film begins with Lord Genji carrying a woman named Yugao through a deserted mansion. She is one of his many mistresses and much beloved. Genji is the emperor’s second prince. It is said, “Nothing rivals him in the Capital” and this is certainly true but, beyond the physical realm, it is soon revealed that he is powerless. When the opening credits clear, we see him being fitted and pampered (to his boredom). Lady Aoi is his first wife and he is less than ecstatic about it. Neither of them feel any real attachment to each other as their marriage was a parental political move. He has many other lovers (there are about fifteen described in the novel): some beautiful, some cold, some intelligent, others meek. His interest in (most of) these women springs from their unattainability and his interest wanes once they are attained.
He has been having an affair with the late first prince’s wife, Miyasudokoro Rokujo (everyone, including the emperor, seem to know about it but it’s officially a secret), for quite some time. She is five years his senior and cynical as to the possibility of their marriage. She is neither the first nor the last love he has conquered recently, yet her pride and jealousy bears an energy that extends beyond the grave. His stepmother, however, is his greatest desire. When Genji learns that the Empress is pregnant, he is conflicted. “I cannot hold back my feelings,” he says to her eventually. Theirs is a doomed path – there can be no easy resolution in the rigid confines of this society. There is a cherry blossom motif which occurs throughout the film representing the cause (or one could say, the result) of this trouble.
The voice acting is superb; often conversational, always emotional. Much of the dialogue contains men talking about women and women talking about men, but it is theatrical and existentially earnest. Featured is a haunting soundtrack that is both fitting to the time period and dynamic. The animation is smooth and tasteful, preferring slow pans and long takes to allow tension to build over time. While a bit dated at first glance, its odd static movements become captivating and surreal. It is a deliberate film with conversations being heard but not seen for minutes on end and characters saying things like, “I have nothing to say.” It’s all done so well though that it’s suffocating serious tone is not painful but blissful. Sugii’s film, however, only adapts the first twelve chapters of the original novel’s fifty-four (entirely understandable considering this spans over a thousand pages). Despite this, it is a worthy adaptation that maintains the essence of its source material in a respectful way.
“Turn me back into who I was before. My old self.”
Akira and Fumiko are caught pickpocketing American tourists in a jazz club by a journalist named Kashiwagi. He alerts the police to their crime and they are imprisoned. Akira befriends a man named Masaru while inside. When they are released, Akira reunites with Fumiko, steals a car, and cruises the beach. Akira spies Kashiwagi out with his fiancé, Yuki, and strikes him with the driver’s side door, abducting Yuki. They all stop after a while: Fumiko and Masaru rush off to swim and have sex, Akira meanwhile, rapes Yuki. Such is the life of juvenile misfits in Kurahara’s 1960 film, shot in a way that is both influenced by Nicolas Ray and prophetic of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
Akira soon fences the car to an automotive chop shop (run by children apparently) and, with the money, rents a flat. Masaru soon joins a yakuza mob while Akira is confronted by Yuki. She is pregnant but more concerned about Kashiwagi who has become a temperamentally detached man of late. Akira has a plan but it is one closely related to his inner nihilism. There are memorable scenes here; stark and realistic structurally but performed with such psychosis that it operates outside of reality. It is ultimately tragic but doesn’t wallow in it. Instead, perhaps less desirably, tragedy is an expectant cloud fit to release upon all involved inescapably.
Prominent in the film is the jazz score: omnipresent, ever in the mind of the criminal, Akira – a drug of the ears enrapturing all those who dare listen. There is even a scene at a jazz club where Yuki stops a playing jazz record and Akira attempts to stab her with a broken beer bottle. Jazz, in the film, is depicted as an irresistible plague so fulfilling in every way that only violence can result; an implosion of emotion caught within the clutches of every third and fifth. This is complemented by (or rather, complements) the energetic cinematography and schizophrenic characters – all directed by the confidant Kurahara as he depicts animalistic man in the throes of youth.
Often compared to Godard’s Breathless, Kurahara’s take on the “misguided youth” theme occurred at a time when the youth subculture genre was a relatively new angle in film. Kurahara, who will continue to celebrate a career full of box office successes, is just as at home here with guerilla tactics, frenzied editing, and erratic camerawork. Indeed, two other films of note, directed by Kurahara and similar in approach and sensibility, would be his follow-up, Black Sun, and his debut, I am Waiting. A frantic film, Kyonetsu no Kisetsu, radical only through association with the protagonist, is an unforgiving hyper-realistic nightmare fraught with the incomparable joys of jazz.
“You remind me of my younger days. It’s been thirty years since the war. I’ve been wandering places with a gun…it’s an old man’s whining.”
Golgo 13 is a shadowy protagonist, an uncompromising antihero. Also known as Duke Togo, his profession is that of maestro sniper. His identity is anonymous, his past ambiguous, his weapon of choice: a custom M16 rifle. Based on one of the oldest manga series’ still in existence, Golgo 13 is a tortured man (both literally and figuratively) who lives in a darkly realistic world. He is mythologically capable, able to carryout the most impossible of hits with ease (“He’s the strongest man I’ve ever met; he calculates everything precisely”). He speaks seven languages and is proficient even whilst using a rifle that is ill-suited for sniping. He is also, of course, adept at martial arts and handling handguns, not to mention, smoking cigarillos. This is all part of Duke Togo’s charm, he is a Zelazny-esque character whose invincibility is his greatest trait (not unlike James Bond or such ilk). The series was first depicted in live-action in 1973 by Junya Sato. 1977 found the return of master assassin Tolgo to the big-screen, this time portrayed by Sonny Chiba and directed by Yukio Noda.
At the start of the film, Golgo is hired in Miami on a yacht by a man named Rocky Brown, whose part of the U.S. syndicate. He wants a drug embezzler killed. The embezzler however, is Chou “the Kingpin,” the head of the Hong Kong mafia, and his ruthless reputation is just as renown as Golgo’s. Chou though, is himself, only a pawn. Three skilled hitmen had attempted to assassinate Chou before but were deathly unsuccessful. Also, hot on the trail of Chou is Sminny, a hard-as-nails (though a bit daft) Hong Kong detective – certainly one can perceive early on that he will be a formidable antagonist for Golgo as well. Sminny has help however from the briefly able Lin-Li, an insider infiltrating Chou’s nightclub, and an ample supply of fellow officers at his disposal. Shortly into the film, Sminny is “anonymously” tipped off that Golgo has been hired to kill Chou. Sminny has experienced Golgo’s handiwork before so is wary that the killer extraordinaire is on the prowl.
The audience is treated with zoomed close-ups and crosshair lenses, as one might expect from such a film. Shootouts, hostage situations, framings, double-crosses, giant walkie-talkies, and a man shot in the face falling on a lever with a sign reading “Don’t Touch.” It’s like a live-action film that wants to be an anime, completely over-the-top but entertaining nevertheless. Chiba, of course, shows off his karate chops (pun intended) and is fine form as usual. “Your first shot was from anger, the second from fear, the third from love,” he knowingly intones to a young killer – he is, of course, also talking about himself.
There are many little asides throughout the Golgo universe, few expressed subtly. His very name is referential to Golgotha, the place of Christ’s death. Golgo’s chief imagery is a skeleton wearing a crown of thorns. Harumi Ibe’s (Detective Bureau 2-3, A Colt is My Passport) score is as epic as it is, at times, overwhelming, but it perfectly complements the spirit of the manga. Noda’s adaptation is a hit-and-miss affair that struggles to find a consistent tone. It is, after all, a B-movie and it often shows with overtly-direct dialogue, shoddy editing, inconsistent acting, and questionable plot, but Chiba captures the look and spirit of Golgo with ease, a role he was meant to play.
“Nation is a wall between men…it isolates human beings from each other and cuts ties. In other words, it’s against the divine law; so I intend to continue attacking it.”
In Kobe City, Hyogo, there is a man named Kenzo Okuzaki. He is a veteran of the Second World War and is searching for the men responsible for the deaths of two soldiers in his regiment executed twenty-three days after the war had ended. It was following the New Guinea campaign and many horrible deeds are rumoured to have been committed there. Throughout the film, Okuzaki interrogates former military men demanding answers. Tales of starvation and cannibalism arise. His was the 36th Regiment though he became a prisoner of war one year before the war ended. It is now forty years after the war and tensions are still taut. Okuzaki continually blames Emperor Hirohito for his conduct and misguided judgment during the war. He declaims the man as a “symbol of ignorance, irresponsibility, and impossibility.” Less than two years following the release of this film, Hirohito would die of cancer, since to be remembered as Emperor Showa. He was undeniably caught within a difficult time, but nevertheless attributed to the encouragement of mass civilian suicides (which did indeed occur), use of toxic gas, and was, some say, either a puppet or a ruler who lost control of his military.
There is, early in the film, a wedding between a Mr. Otagaki and Miss Sano. Okuzaki acts as a go-between at the ceremony. He gives a speech detailing his relationship with Mr. Otagaki and the circumstances of their mutual imprisonment. Okuzaki has spent thirteen years and nine months in prison for three convictions: murder, assault, and obscenity. His crimes are the murder of a real estate broker, the shooting of a sling at Emperor Hirohito, scattering pornographic flyers of the Emperor, and for plotting to murder the former prime minister, Kakuei Tanaka. These crimes, all part of Okuzaki’s belief in nonconformity. The misguided leadership of Emperor Hirohito and, what he believes, the unlawful execution of two soldiers, are only a piece in the puzzle of this man’s conviction. He is uncompromising in this vision and therefore, a danger to others.
At the beginning of the film, Okuzaki informs the chief of police that he is leaving for Tokyo. The chief is pleased that he was made aware but wary, suggesting a police escort for half of the journey just in case. Okuzaki is an enigmatic man who is no stranger to violence or deception and using such tactics to discover the truth he’s seeking. On the Emperor’s birthday, he denounces the establishment via loudspeaker, driving a vehicle covered with signs and writings of protest. He is also a man of compassion and honour, visiting the graves and loved ones of the two executed soldiers.
Kazuo Hara is a noted documentary filmmaker whose films (particularly this one) tend to end up on “top favourites” lists of auteur filmmakers. It is his most wellknown and decorated film, embodying the central concept of all his documented subjects: nonconformity. Shot by Hara himself, the film is a rough compilation of handheld interviews and conversations, arguments and confrontations; a no-frills documentary that’s only focus is to depict Okuzaki and his cosmology. It is a film portraying a kinetic reality, well beyond the scope of such modern attempts at reality filmmaking. Hara is ever the observer, filming it all, but never participating; prompting one former officer to scream at him whilst being strangled by Okuzaki, “You just film it and do nothing?” Does this mimic Hara’s own cry to the audience? Do we conform because it’s easier to endure or dare we oppose the establishment and bare our individuality?
“This is butchery!”
Directed by renowned chambara/yakuza filmmaker, Hideo Gosha, Kedamono no Ken is a classic jidaigeki film made in the archetypal style. It was the follow-up to Gosha’s debut, Three Outlaw Samurai, and shares many similarities with it in his signature use of flashback, close-ups, and blatant violence. Filmed in black and white (as were many jidaigeki films in the ‘60s), it was representative of a reluctance to abandon tradition and progress in a different direction. The narrative of this film however is much more literal-minded in expressing this concept.
The story begins with ronin, Gennosuke Yuuki (played by Mikijiro Hira), being hunted by his former clan members. He has murdered their counselor, Yamaoka. In dealings with the vice-counselor prior to this, he was persuaded into believing that Yamaoka’s death would rush certain revolutionary reforms. The assassination complete, Gennosuke is abandoned, left to bear the guilt and consequences of the action, all promises of reform stemming now from the corrupt vice-counselor (now, counselor full stop). Gennosuke is hunted by Daizaburo, a close friend from the dojo, as well Master Katori, and Misa, the daughter of Yamaoka and fiancé to Daizaburo. There is a continual conflict between not only greed and honour but honour and integrity, the upholding of one’s law-derived code and one’s individual code – how some separate the two codes and how others do not.
Gennosuke befriends a poor farmer early on in the film. They are betting odds with shady prospectors. They win, the prospectors get angry, and Gennosuke scares them off. The farmer confides that there is a Mount Shirane in Koshu, owned by the shogunate, bearing gold. He suggests they try their hand at some panning; the penalty for poaching: decapitation. Unable to come up with a reason not to, the two men form a partnership, Gennosuke acting as bodyguard. Atop the mountain, they meet Jurota Yamane (Go Kato), a squire furtively panning for gold with his wife, Taka. He dreams of becoming a samurai, just as Gennosuke once did. The counselor of his clan promised him a hefty two hundred koku for delivering the gold. When rival prospectors later hold his wife hostage however, Jurota is unwilling to sacrifice his duty for his love. He is portrayed as a villain at this point yet, like Gennosuke, there is more to his character than superficial appraisals can reveal. “This mountain is a dwelling for beasts,” says Gennosuke, and this is perhaps the central idea behind the film: we’re all beasts when cornered. Gosha is very dogmatic in expressing this theme and this is the film’s chief strength and weakness: it is tirelessly focused on its message. Economic and minimalist but not in as daring a way as Kobayashi or Teshigahara; still, it is as technically-proficient as anything to come out in the early ‘60s with furious swordfights and picturesque set pieces all directed with Gosha’s assured eye.
Certainly an indication of greater things to come for Gosha, the film is a fine example of jidaigeki films made at the time. Taking place in 1857, when Western reform loomed on the horizon, transition has always been a primary concern of Japanese filmmakers, and Sword of the Beast effectively captures the chaotic atmosphere of the period when change was least in all minds but those few fanatical enough to bring it about.
“I’m a virgin, but my heart is that of a prostitute.”
Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards is another of Suzuki’s yakuza films. A marvel for 1963, it is a seldom mentioned title in his career (perhaps the title length is intimidating). It is stylistically and defiantly a Suzuki film, containing all of his usual trademarks, both glorious and baffling. With the opening credit sequence superimposed over a burning car, the film is violently self-aware, allowing for the absurd – like much of Suzuki’s work. We have the tough-as-nails protagonist (played expertly by Jo Shishido), the wronged mistress (Reiko Sasamori), and the evil villain (Kinzo Shin), for the film shares elements with fables as well as cheesy “undercover cop” films. There is structural familiarity but also a conscious artistic and absurdist postmodern take on the private detective character.
Members of two gangs are gunned down during a gun trade by an unidentified third group, the goods stolen. A man named Manabe is soon arrested by the police but the day has come for him to be released. The police plan to tail him so that he’ll lead them to whichever gang is involved, however, both gangs camp outside of the precinct prepared to shoot him down. The reason the police allow them to do so is, of course, because they have hunting licenses. The media fervently covers the story. The protagonist is private detective, Hideo Tajima. His office is Detective Bureau 2-3 and he has one assistant and a magazine editor who help him at opportune times. They bring him potential assignments and bring the film a great deal of camp. They are eager and dependable however, so they are also watchable.
Hideo arrives at the police station and convinces the chief (after a fair amount of tedium) that a non-policeman, a complete “unknown,” namely himself, would be the most ideal inside man to crack the gun trade. He doesn’t do this for free of course. He is given a gun and fake I.D. by the police. His name is now Ichiro Tanaka, a man who’s been sentenced twice and has since been released. They give him a residence in Musashidai. The chief reassures him that only the top brass know of this arrangement; if he commits a crime he will be arrested, he is only to act as bait. Upon Manabe’s release, Tanaka (Hideo) helps him escape with such bravado that he even stops to watch the carnage unfold at one point to admire how well it all worked out. These are signature Suzuki scenes, embraced by some and despised by others. Another, where a television news report is simply black and white scenes shot for the film as if a dozen cameramen were covering the action with finely-focused close-ups and all. The colours of certain scenes, extreme reds and vibrant yellows, the claustrophobic closeness of key shots (beautiful by the way), the jagged editing; it’s absurdist cinema, sometimes a bit too much, but Suzuki’s confidence is clearly cast upon the film.
Tanaka is accepted into Manabe’s gang, or rather one he’s a part of. We meet Yoshihama, nephew to Boss Hatano. Hatano, however, is actually maneuvered by a man named Beniki. It isn’t long before they discover Tanaka’s true identity and we witness Hideo’s daring and pure sense of reckless abandon in full force. And so a song is sung in the film, “This one’s a lout, he is stupid; this one is a lout, he is clever. The two louts plan together – a lousy job. Who will be more cunning? The fox or the raccoon? They join forces, but in the end, a third thief swindles them.” A little on-the-nose, but fitting in this cinematic world. There are, in fact, two musical numbers in the film (one in which involves Shishido). Harumi Ibe’s score consists of rollicking jazz-influenced bombasticism that is very appropriate to the perfectly-framed and colourful visuals of which Suzuki is never spare in providing. A fine film in the Suzuki canon, but may be a bit too unrealistic and silly for some more accustomed to Suzuki’s darker works.
“Nothing’s so solemn as a man’s last moments.”
Akahige is the beginning of Kurosawa’s later career; when his output became less prolific and dealt more with sprawling ideas (this one running over three hours) and a more determined, less specific approach to storytelling. 1965 also marked an end for black and white film in Kurosawa’s filmography and his final collaboration with longtime collaborator, Toshiro Mifune. Known for his unparalleled use of widescreen, Red Beard is the final of these as well. The film is based on an anthology of short stories by Shugoro Yamamoto and Dostoevsky’s The Insulted and the Injured, both of which share humanistic qualities present in much of Kurosawa’s work.
Dr. Noboru Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama), an arrogant novice educated richly at the Western-influenced port of Nagasaki, dreams of being the personal physician of the Shogunate – an affluent career in correcting cataracts and such work. His family and contacts are wealthy and reputable so he is confounded when, for his postgraduate work, he is sent to the rural Koshikawa Clinic as understudy to Dr. Kyojo Niide (Mifune), Red Beard. Adapting to his new post and having to follow Dr. Niide’s firm policies cloud his ambitious mind for a good portion of the film early on. For Yasumoto, his position is one wherein he may innovate and excel. When Niide demands to see his medical notes, Yasumoto refuses. Niide views a physician’s work as belonging to the medical community, not to be hoarded by aspiring practitioners. By breaking every rule, Yasumoto hopes to be dismissed from Niide’s service and moved to a more comfortable locale where he can be independent. His self-image is great, but he also has a genuine interest in helping others: at his worst, his bleeding heart is blinded by his ego. He hears Red Beard’s wisdom, “Even bad food tastes good if you chew it well,” as practical as it is humourous, and is encouraged by the other employees of the clinic, “He’s unfriendly to people he likes.” It is once he begins meeting with the doctor’s patients that he finally sees worth in Niide’s methods.
We meet Sahachi who sells the goods he crafts to help support the patients at the clinic. With his failing health however, he soon becomes too ill to work. We learn of Sahachi’s past, riddled with earthquakes and lost love, as a reason for his insistent selfsacrifice. Yasumoto’s introduction to The Mantis is the longest shot in the film. The gossip he had heard before of her, of outright violence and murder, is contrasted by her initial subservience to him – but this is also dangerous for she is well-versed in getting physicians to respond to her feigned vulnerability. We meet also, Rokusuke, once a gold lacquer merchant, now dying of liver cancer. Niide’s lesson for Yasumoto is simply to watch the man die. Niide believes in alleviating a patient’s suffering as much as possible especially when there is no cure to their ailment. To comfort, one must be able to look death in the eye. It is a harrowingly moving scene that consists of gasps and horrified looks. It is Niide’s intention for Yasumoto to relinquish his literal mind towards a greater understanding of death: its mysticism, its inevitability, and finally one’s acceptance of it.
In this film, Kurosawa is associating and, in many ways, predicting the far reaching consequences of, the incursion of Western medicine in Japan, an emphasis on the physical, and the dismissal of any spiritual or psychological facet in one’s analysis. It is a reaffirmation of Kurosawa’s views of existentialism in that the personality of the individual determines his fate; a transitional film, where such topics as social politics and conventional heroism give way to detailing the philosophical and existential struggle we all must endure and bear others through.
“You can’t have light without shadows – that’s the way it is.”
Duke Red, informal overseer of Metropolis, has launched the construction of the Ziggurat, a Babelesque structure capable of centralising the world. In Metropolis, robots must live underground and are penalized if they wander out of their designated zone. The film begins with the callous adjudication of a robotic vandal by Rock (leader of the Marduk Party, an anti-robot vigilante faction), the adopted son of Duke Red. Robots have overrun the workforce, affording the people high unemployment rates and earning harsh resentment and fear from most humans.
Directed by renowned filmmaker, Rintaro (Galaxy Express 999, Arcadia of my Youth, and X), Metropolis is based, in part, on the 1949 manga by Osamu Tezuka but more influenced by Fritz Lang’s silent film (released in 1927). With a swinging jazz soundtrack by Toshiyuki Honda, that Lang connection seems even more relevant. The film features an almost perfect combination of vibrancy and industrialisation, the biological and the artificial; and how such terms share a poignancy that encompasses both the superficial and the profound.
Private investigator, Shunsaku Ban, and his nephew Kenichi, hire the help of Pero (formerly known as 803DRPDM4973C) to arrest Dr. Laughton, a scientist indulging in organ trafficking. Dr. Laughton himself has been hired by Duke Red to construct a robotic representation of his deceased daughter, Tima. A jealous Rock kills Dr. Laughton and burns down his laboratory but Tima survives. Kenichi and Tima find themselves lost in a lower zone with Rock not far behind. Shunsaku Ban studies Dr. Laughton’s notebook and eavesdrops on Rock whilst searching for his nephew. We see the underbelly of the vapourous overworld, just as suffocating and mechanical as that human reservation. The entire message of the film (and indeed of much of its source material) supports the conviction that man cannot escape his humanity no matter how hard he might try. We see this in the Rock character who is continually disappointing Duke Red with overzealous acts in efforts to prove himself as a worthy son. We, like he, are constantly propelled to express our humanity, often too harshly, often unaware of its happening. For the orphan Rock, his jealously of Duke Red’s attachment to Tima is severe; this in turn makes things difficult for Tima who’s really just trying to find out whether she’s a human or a robot, eventually inquiring, “Who am I?” – certainly a human question. Propelled by the illusion of opportunity, it isn’t long before the rebel faction attacks, fails; mechanical and biological casualties follow. Rebel robots (some dressed as clowns) rage throughout town, only to be shot down in a hail of gunfire. “How can humans so easily destroy robots?” Tima asks Kenichi.
Full of Dickian introspections (spoken aloud to explicitly inform the audience of narrative details), there are certainly similar crossover nuances. In addition to all of these influences is a prominent steampunk aesthetic often becoming a unique form of “swingpunk”; a harmonious marriage of futuristic technology and retrospective jazz age theme. Just as it is with the art style itself, CGI and traditional rendering are used with a futuristic Art deco design as if the 1930s were being interpreted through a magnifying glass. It is indeed a spiritual cousin to Blade Runner. That the plot itself sometimes meanders and plods is somewhat forgivable as the premise is thought-provoking enough to warrant a stylistic splurge in fairly derivative concepts.
“Man’s been a lecher all through history.”
The film begins with the death of Taro, known locally as the “blue tent philosopher.” There’s a rumour going around that he hid some sort of treasure in a house at Noto. The protagonist, Yosuke Sasano (fittingly portrayed by Koji Yakusho), has just recently been laid off after the president of the company he worked for mysteriously went missing. Yosuke knew Taro for quite some time before the old man’s death (harkening to such sage advice as, “The real meaning of freedom, is to think for yourself and reach your own conclusion”) and so, he decides to travel to Noto to find this treasure: a gold Buddhist statue (stolen from a Kyoto temple no less). “Head towards the river and just before the inlet you’ll find a red bridge. There’s a house beside it, covered with trumpet flowers…upstairs there’s a window overlooking the red bridge,” are Yosuke’s only clues as to its whereabouts. Taro explained that he had stolen it just after the war when all his family died in the air raids. He fled Kyoto and stayed at that house for a month and stashed it there, meaning to go back for it but never getting around to it.
A woman, Saeko Aizawa (Misa Shimizu), now resides at the house living with her senile grandmother who has dwelled there for some time. Her grandmother writes fortunes on paper, still under the impression that a local shrine is paying for them when, in reality, Saeko is tossing them over a sea cliff because no one will buy them. Meanwhile, Yosuke sends unemployment checks to his estranged wife and son. He vaguely defends his absence: his marriage is on the verge of a quiet divorce. When he meets Saeko, she is shoplifting; a pool of water at her feet. She drops a dolphin earring, and soon he returns it. She confides in him: she has this condition and she needs his help. Only by doing “something naughty” can she “vent” an abnormal buildup of water, and so they begin a sensually therapeutic ritual. When he’s away, she reflects the sun to bid him enter and cure her of her ailment. Yosuke soon gets a job as a boatman catching fish, ducking out periodically to attend to Saeko’s venting. Yosuke is eager to assist but is nevertheless awkward about the whole matter.
There is a quiet mythology at work here that should be familiar. Saeko’s venting is never explained. However, that’s not the point. It is symbolic of man’s need to be wanted, to be required and relevant. It is women like Saeko who drive men to better themselves and overcome their inhibitions – unless those men descend into jealousy and complacency. One could even suppose that this film is Imamura’s insistence of relevancy in what would become his swan song. However, the film is not pure male fantasy, in fact, that’s not what it is at all. “You get confrontational when you’re challenged…a perpetual loser,” Yosuke’s wife tells him conversationally. Yosuke is a man of dreamful fancy; he is serious but aloof, quiet yet adventurous, conformative and open-minded. He is neither a character to be vilified nor noticed. “My boss always said I was too hesitant, I thought too much,” Yosuke confesses to the blue tent philosopher, who contradicts him saying he thinks too little. The fluidity (no pun intended) of the cinematography (never too flashy) and the understatement of the premise is what makes it all work.
Imamura’s 2001 feature film was unfortunately his last but it retained all of the elements of his distinguished career: the naturalism, the honesty, and the existential fable. It is a fitting swan song in that it is quite mythological and gloriously symbolic of one of Imamura’s favorite subjects, the power of woman: to soothe, to rectify, to rearrange, to encompass. “You know yourself it’s an impossible tale.”