utorak, 12. ožujka 2013.

Yoshishige Yoshida - Eros Plus Massacre (1969), Heroic Purgatory (1970)

erosfm1 Yoshishige Yoshida   Erosu purasu Gyakusatsu aka Eros Plus Massacre (1970)

Erosu purasu Gyakusatsu je filmska biografija anarhiste Sakaea Ōsugija, kojeg je vojska ubila 1923. 
Klasik o odnosima sa ženama, slobodnoj ljubavi, ljubomori i politici.

cijeli film:

Upon watching this film for the first time, even in the shorter 166m version that was for a long time the only one available anywhere with English subtitles, one is left drained, a quite literal mental wreck.  Even those versed in the seminal works of Yoshida’s contemporaries, Oshima and Imamura, will be unprepared for this.  That his work still remains unavailable to the English speaking world, barely mentioned in any major film guide or tome, is one of the greatest oversights of accepted film reference literature.  If he only made this one film, Yoshida would be recognised as a giant.
            Essentially the film relates the story of the famous Japanese anarchist Sakae Osugi, who was killed by the authorities soon after the Tokyo earthquake of 1923, aged 38.  It tells his story through his three women; his wife, Yasuko, his current lover, Noe Ito, who was killed with him, and Itsuko, who tries unsuccessfully to kill him in 1916.  His story is inter-cut with that of two students in modern day Tokyo, who discuss the merits or otherwise of free love and Osugi’s life and times.
            And that’s not even scratching the surface!  Critics have often compared the film to Rivette and Godard, and there is a Godardian ambivalence towards conventionality in not only the film’s narrative structure, but in the depiction of the students, who cannot help but recall Pierrot le Fou.  To this reviewer there was also a hint of Andy Warhol about it.  It’s not so much in terms of any sort of minimalism, but in the way Yoshida experiments with the size and shape of not the frame, per se, but the eye-line.  He doesn’t go as far as Warhol did in The Chelsea Girls, stopping short of running two frames side by side with conversations inaudibly overlapping, but he makes a point to separate his characters, in some way or another, from another part of the frame, thereby isolating them, either in the perspective of a receding passageway or split by the positioning of an inanimate object deliberately on the screen – a wall, a banister rail, a column.
            Equally radical is the way Yoshida and Hasegawa light the film.  For the scenes which take place indoors, the light coming through the windows or from the skies beyond is often bright white, as if the scene has deliberately been overexposed.  It lends the film an almost nuclear apocalyptic feel, which considering the stills of the 1923 quake and the political climate of the late sixties may not be coincidental.  The very title evokes the pitting of love against death, and the notion is carried forward onto multiple levels, with characters considering, discussing and attempting suicide, murder and, of course, sex.  We’re not out of the first reel and the young female student is masturbating while in the shower, pressing herself against the door, her genitals obscured on most prints in typical Japanese fashion.  Indeed, the first time we see her, she’s lying naked on the bed, allowing one man to literally kiss her all over, while her partner casually comes into the next room and waits for them to finish.  It’s in the point of view of these characters, even more than Osugi, that Yoshida’s point lies.  The predisposition towards immolation, with the girl first attempting to burn strips of film with a lighter, then literally starting a fire with said lighter, her tights and some petrol, and she and her lover using it as foreplay to begin their latest sexual encounter.  Some might regard it, to quote the film, as mental masturbation, and on one level it is, but of the most challenging kind.  With its constant references to suicide, one might almost see the film as the suicide note of traditional Japanese film-making, but it seems more appropriate to call it its death warrant. wondersinthedark

Eros + Massacre (Japanese title: Erosu purasu Gyakusatsu) is a Japanese black and white film made in 1969. It was directed by Yoshishige Yoshida, who wrote it in cooperation with Masahiro Yamada.
Film biography of anarchist Sakae Ōsugi, assassinated by the military in 1923. The story tells of his relationship with three women: Hori Yasuko, his wife; Noe Itō, his third lover, who was to die with him; and his jealous, second lover, Masaoka Itsuko, a militant feminist who attempts to kill him in a tea house in 1916. Parallel to the reconstitution of Ōsugi’s life, two students do research on the political theories and ideas of free love that he upheld. Some of the characters from the past and from the present meet and engage the themes of the movie.
eros1if6 Yoshishige Yoshida   Erosu purasu Gyakusatsu aka Eros Plus Massacre (1970)
eros2vg0 Yoshishige Yoshida   Erosu purasu Gyakusatsu aka Eros Plus Massacre (1970)


Graduating from Tokyo University, Yoshida entered the Shōchiku studio in 1955 and debuted as a director in 1960 with Rokudenashi.[1] He was a central member of what came to be called the "Shōchiku Nouvelle Vague" along with Nagisa Oshima and Masahiro Shinoda,[2] and his works have been studied under the larger rubric of the Japanese New Wave.[3] Like many of his New Wave cohorts, he felt restricted under the studio system and left Shōchiku in 1964 to start his own production company where he directed such films as Eros Plus Massacre.[1]
He has directed more than 20 films between 1960 and 2004. His film A Promise was screened in the Un Certain Regard section the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.[4] Two years later his film Wuthering Heights would compete for the Golden Palm at the 1988 Festival.[5] He returned with Women in the Mirror, his first feature film in 14 years, in 2002.[6]
He has also written a number of philosophical books about his work and the cinema, including an award-winning study of Yasujirō Ozu.[1]
He is married to actress Mariko Okada, who has starred in some of his films.[7]

Heroic Purgatory: 

  • Rokudenashi (1960):

  • Akitsu Onsen (1962)
  • Eighteen Who Cause a Storm (1963)
  • Escape from Japan (1964)
  • A Story Written on Water (1965)

  • Woman of the Lake (1966)

Yoshishige Yoshida

picture: Yoshishige Yoshida

by ,

Of the major filmmakers of the Japanese New Wave, Yoshishige Yoshida (whose name is sometimes transliterated as Kiju Yoshida) remains arguably the least well known in the West, despite recent retrospectives in Europe and North America. That may speak for the fact that his films are often difficult and demanding, and require some historical knowledge and awareness of Japanese society for full appreciation. Nevertheless, their sensual beauty ought to be accessible to any sensitive viewer. And alongside their intellectual depth, Yoshida's finest films display a profound engagement with the emotions of his characters. While Yoshida's films have elicited comparisons with Antonioni, the focus of the two directors may be contrasted: Antonioni focuses on bourgeois characters beset by feelings of sterility and ennui, while Yoshida depicts women possessed by emotions of destructive intensity.
Like Nagisa Oshima and Masahiro Shinoda, Yoshida (b.1933) started out within the studio system at Shochiku, where he served a dutiful apprenticeship in the late 1950s. With the Japanese film industry facing crisis as its audience was sapped by television and changing expectations, the studio hoped to court new viewers by sponsoring innovative films by younger directors. Yoshida, with Oshima and Shinoda, became one of the so-called Shochiku "Nuberu Bagu", or New Wave, making his debut in 1960 with Good-for-Nothing (Rokudenashi). However, by the mid-1960s, he was increasingly dissatisfied by Shochiku's interference with films such as Eighteen Who Cause a Storm (Arashi o Yobu Juhachinin, 1963) and Escape from Japan (Nihon Dasshutsu, 1964).
Leaving Shochiku, Yoshida founded an independent production company, Gendai Eigasha, and realised some of his most personal and profound films, such as Impasse (Hono to Onna, 1966) and The Affair (Joen, 1967). Subsequently, he worked with Japan's leading independent production company, the Art Theatre Guild (ATG), on Eros Plus Massacre (Eros + Gyakusatsu, 1970), arguably his most radical and haunting film. One constant in most of his work both at Shochiku and independently was the presence in leading roles of his wife, the great actress Mariko Okada.
Like Oshima, Yoshida made fewer films from the late 1970s. After Coup d'Etat (Kaigenrei, 1973), he made no features for more than a decade. But he returned with The Promise (Ningen no Yakusoku, 1986), about euthanasia, and a stylised version of Wuthering Heights (Arashigaoka, 1988). After another long hiatus, he made what is to date his last feature, Women in the Mirror (Kagami no Onnatachi, 2002).
Also like Oshima, Yoshida has complemented his filmmaking activities with a rather prolific output as a writer. Since the late 1950s, he has written numerous essays and criticism on a variety of film-related issues, and his 1998 publication Ozu Yasujiro no Han Eiga (translated into English as Ozu's Anti-Cinema) won the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2003.
The first question we would like to ask is about your relationship with the so-called Nouvelle Vague movement. Your name is often mentioned in connection with this movement, but it seems as if you dislike this linkage. Could you please explain why?
Well, when one speaks of modern Japanese cinema, specifically of the 1960s and 1970s, there is no doubt that there was a rise of a real, honest, "epoch making" cinema. I think that this is actually true. It is noticeable in many journalistic writings, in Japan, and also abroad, where, I believe, this cinema became assigned to the distinguished category of the "Japanese Nouvelle Vague". However this is what happens when we try to think historically about a particular time. There may have been a common way of thinking, but the title itself, this term "Nouvelle Vague" was imposed from the outside. This naming was no doubt influenced by the French Nouvelle Vague of the early 60s, after being introduced in Japan, and made it easy for some people to write about the two side by side, as if parts of a new worldwide film movement. Yet, I do not think that it has any important meaning. That is, movements could be groups of people working separately using similar terms or concepts, for instance, politically or thematically, and also could be movements of people working together. There are several different kinds of conditions for referring to something as a movement. In Japan, there were absolutely no such intentions from the side of the filmmakers.
So you mean that at the time, people like you and Oshima, Tamura and so on, when you were meeting and talking, never thought of yourselves as having special qualities which might later be referred to by others as a movement?
We never thought of ourselves as a movement, then or ever. Even though Oshima and myself are probably, more than others, known as the leading members of this Nouvelle Vague, if you ask me about any sort of communication between us, well, we actually had almost no communication with each other at all. One reason for this is that Oshima and I met only by chance. I entered Shochiku in 1955, and Oshima one year earlier in 1954. I was selected to work in the same team as Oshima, and so we met. At the time, as we were both assistant directors, we probably went drinking together from time to time, but philosophically speaking, we had no real communication with each other. I guess that the biggest difference in our personalities originates in our backgrounds. Oshima graduated from The University of Kyoto, where he studied, I believe, at the department of law. It is possible that he wanted to become a politician then. For me it was completely the opposite; while I cannot say that I had no interest in politics, I had absolutely no interest in becoming a politician… Although we did go out drinking a couple of times, it was only because this is what we usually did anyway during this period, since both of us liked drinking. However, it wasn't something that we often did just the two of us, but rather, we drank with the entire filming crew after work. Going with him only was no fun since he was bad when he got drunk.
You just mentioned the crucial influence the university most likely had on Oshima's views, but you also graduated from an outstanding academic institution, The University of Tokyo. How did this fact shape your own views and what made you enter Shochiku on graduation?
When Oshima and I met, I was 22 and he was 23, so it was going to be a few years before we were promoted to the director's chair. During this time I was seriously thinking about going back to school to enter my old department's graduate program. You see, it's not because I liked film that I wanted to make films. I didn't enter Shochiku because I was devoted to films; it was actually my father's recommendation that I do so. It was a very difficult time generally, and specifically for my family, so I realized that the idea of going to graduate school was impossible. Therefore, it was almost by chance that while looking for a job, after graduating from university, and actually wanting to go into graduate school, that entering Shochiku all of a sudden became the only real option for me. The Korean war was ending and Japanese economy had suffered greatly because of that. I had no intention of becoming a film director or working in the film industry, but nevertheless entering Shochiku seemed to be the right thing for me to do. Simply the fact that they had a very good salary system was a good enough reason. They were hiring only eight applicants for the assistant director position then, in 1952, and I entered the company really by chance. When I finally entered I was puzzled. I was not sure whether the cinema was the right place for me or to work or not. I went to discuss my situation with a previous professor of mine, the famous Kazuo Watanabe, and he simply said that for me the option to go back to school was always going to be available, unlike the opportunity to work in film, and therefore I should stay there for a while. I thought that this made a lot of sense, and I decided to stay at Shochiku until I could reach a more financially stable state before considering again going back to university. The problem was, however, that I never thought that I could make the commercial-style films Shochiku made during those years. It is not as if I hated every Japanese movie produced at that time - there were quite a few exceptional films that I did like - but my main cinematic interest was foreign films. So for me, if I had any idea about making films, it was from an entirely different cinematic world view than the one that Shochiku had in mind, and probably not only Shochiku, but in Japan of that time as a whole. That is the reason why as soon as I entered the company, I was also looking for other things to do outside of Shochiku, like writing for magazines, film criticism, and so on.
And you didn't think by then of quitting and focusing on those sorts of activities?
Not really, you see we had a relatively large amount of free time for ourselves back then, so I was able to watch films and to write while working for the studio. After working like that for 5 years, I changed my way of thinking and wanted to write my own script and to film it by myself. Like Oshima, who was given permission to do so before me.
Still, even though you didn't go back to school, you were working alongside your friends from Tokyo University.
Yes, that is correct. First, there was Toshiro Ishido who studied with me at the same department, and with whom I also wrote about literature while still at university. Then we were joined by film critic Suehiro Tanemura, and a future art historian who died too young, Atsushi Miyakawa. The four of us were writing together for one magazine. Well, while I knew Ishido quite well even before entering Tokyo University, since the time we were around 18, I never met Tanemura while at university.
How about Takeshi Tamura, who was also at Tokyo University?
I didn't know him either before entering Shochiku. It was while working for several magazines that we started collaborating for a period of almost two years, writing for magazines and also working on film scenarios.
When exactly did you start working on scenarios?
Already while working as an assistant to Keisuke Kinoshita, I was writing scripts and showing them to him. This was probably around 1956. But this was still secondary to my work as a critic, as opposed to Oshima, for example, who was writing mainly journalistically, about actors and things like that. When he finally started to write more seriously it was about politics. This is another big difference between us, as I have never approved of his views about society and politics and his revolutionary desires, which he thought should take a violent form. Apparently he liked violence. That was a big reason for me to establish a distance from him.
Still, it is striking to see that both you and Oshima, roughly around the same time, left Shochiku to work on your own films outside the studio system.
This was not actually at the same time, and the reasons for each of us to do so were entirely different. When Oshima's Night and Fog in Japan (Nihon no Yoru to Kiri, 1960) was finished, the studio decided to screen it in a double bill with my picture, according to this false notion of the "Japanese Nouvelle Vague". I was totally against the idea. Then the Asanuma Incident [the assassination of socialist party leader Inejiro Asanuma by a 17-year-old right-wing fanatic, Otoya Yamaguchi] took place and Shochiku, for reasons I do not know, stopped the screening. As a result, though again, I am not familiar with the fine details, he decided to quit. For me, however, the situation was different; I was already working on my third film and had the script for my fourth pretty much ready. I was called to the studio's head office after Oshima had resigned, but I told them that Oshima's affairs had nothing to do with mine. Ishido, who wrote Night and Fog in Japan, did leave with Oshima, but I had no intention to do the same thing at that time. Actually I heard about their leaving the company from other people, and not directly from them.
Still, a few years later you were out of Shochiku as well.
Yes, but this was a completely different story from Oshima's. First, while making my pictures for Shochiku, I gradually realized that our ways were diverging from each other. I felt that they were not so enthusiastic about my films anymore, and I thought that my pictures were not exactly normal Shochiku product, and that this was maybe not the best place from me to work on making my films. I was obliged to make films for them, but neither side could have been satisfied. And then, finally, after completing the work on Escape from Japan, they said that they could not accept the film as it was. The president at the time, Shiro Kido, the same man who first gave me the opportunity to direct, asked me: "How about making an action film?" I actually thought once of making an action picture, but my idea of action cinema is that it is inherently sad, and I made Escape from Japan according to that notion.
The last scene in the film is indeed sad, but also somewhat funny.
Well actually, this is not my original last scene. Shochiku, when I was abroad on a trip, cut it out of the film. I was on my honeymoon… Before that, after completing the film, Shochiku told me that it was fine the way it was, but the film you have seen is missing my ending. When I came back to Japan, I was informed upon my arrival at Haneda airport that the film had been changed. My friends and colleagues there could have told me that while I was away, but they kept it a secret because they knew that it would only ruin my trip and that there was nothing I could have done to change the film back. Naturally I resigned from the studio immediately. It was a very serious matter for me.
You didn't even wait until the film was released?
When I came back it had already been released and had played in several movie theatres. So the damage was done.
Didn't you try to fix it later, as they nowadays do with what they call a "Director's cut"?
This is impossible. If they had kept the footage they cut out, it might have been possible; however, Shochiku disposed of it. I am certain that it was all done intentionally in order to make me quit. They knew that if they did something like that, I would be left with no other choice but to resign. I was not the first case at Shochiku, and there were actually a lot of films that were not released at all. Another famous example of Shochiku's aggressive behavior is Kurosawa's The Idiot, from which Shochiku cut more than 30 minutes before its release. You see, Shochiku held all the rights for screenings. There were many directors that had their films cut by Shochiku and didn't resign, but as I was already realizing by that time that I was not satisfied with my work for them, I actually thought that this was a good chance for me to finally leave. I should add that the 1960s were a harsh time for the studios, not just for Shochiku, from which Oshima and myself resigned, but generally. With the popularization of television, the film studios, with the sole exception of Nikkatsu, presumably due the fact that they had Yujiro Ishihara with them, gradually lost power until, by the end of the decade, they faced bankruptcy. This gradual tendency was already in progress when Oshima and I entered the studio, as a sort of gamble that the company took to train and then to let young directors make their own films, hoping that this might attract young audiences. However, again, even though they were promoting this notion of the Japanese "Nouvelle Vague", to say that Oshima and I had any mutual understanding of the cinema, or even had some sort of a manifesto, is absolutely wrong. From time to time I was invited to participate in a conversation or dialogue with Oshima. While Oshima might have said yes, I have always refused such offers.
These offers were during the 60s?
Yes… Well… once or twice when Godard was in Japan and we both were invited, then I didn't refuse, and indeed participated.
But never just the two of you…
Exactly. And as a matter of fact, this was not just the case with Oshima. Even with other people who were also related to this "Nouvelle Vague", people like Masahiro Shinoda, I constantly refused to meet under the banner of that title. In Shinoda's case, I actually barely even talked to him privately. Unlike Oshima, I never worked with or beside Shinoda, and never had the chance to meet him properly.
picture: films by Yoshishige Yoshida
One thing that is noticeable in your work, especially after leaving Shochiku, and which is quite different from other so-called "Japanese Nouvelle Vague" films, particularly from Shinoda's work, is a strong sense of non-Japaneseness, an obvious inclination towards Europe or European cinema. It's said that Oshima's work is comparable to Godard's and yours to Antonioni's. I am not sure if I agree with that, but what do you think of the comparison?
You see, when someone is asked what defines French cinema, of course there is no answer: film is something made by an individual director. I believe that it is possible to make films according to one stylistic principle, of course, such as the Russian montage movement, or political or other manifestos can guide directors into making a specific brand of cinema. However, as for my own personal case is concerned, I cannot define my work under any one meta-title. I myself was first influenced heavily by pre-war films. I watched them as a kid, and then watching films after the war, I found that watching films as a teenager and then as an adult was an entirely different experience. For example, in my school they used to screen films for us, and I remember vividly the time they showed us Kurosawa's No Regrets for Our Youth (Waga Seishun ni Kui Nashi). It was when I was in my second year at junior high school, where they gathered the entire school to watch it. I remember thinking how manipulative the medium was, thinking that it was impossible to trust film directors. However, there were also films that I liked.
For example?
Films that my mother introduced me to, based on Rostand's writings. However, I was never satisfied with the Disney pictures she showed me. Kids usually like these sort of films, Mickey Mouse and so on, right? But there is so much violence there too; violence is prevalent in animation as a whole. At least it was back then, and it made me think that film itself was a dreadful thing. I am, even nowadays, strongly against any sort of violence. That is also why, as a kid and while growing up, I never even dreamt of becoming a film director. I never had any notion of an "ideal film". It might be a normal thing for many people growing up to think after watching a film: "Oh, this is the sort of film I would like to make one day". However, I never, not even once, thought this way.
And yet you are a famous film director today, and you intentionally entered Shochiku.
Yes, but I didn't then have any big plans for the cinema. I was originally intending just to follow the regulations there, as I thought of my job there merely as a small part in an industry, and of their films simply as something that needed to be produced. Then they asked me to write scripts for youth films, so I was trying to do exactly that, to write what I thought of as Shochiku-style psychological scripts. However, and this was a crucial aspect in my work for Shochiku, for me youth is necessarily a destructive force. Or youth is something that is really impossible. The idea that youth is a splendid thing, as they show in commercials, is merely an illusion, this is how I thought then and still, actually, think today.
And this sort of illusion is probably what Shochiku had in mind when they gave you a chance to direct, I would guess…
Definitely, but, nevertheless, I became an anti-Shochiku-style youth film director. And this was my starting point there, and from that point I continued making anti-Shochiku, anti-cinematic, and most of all, anti-commercial films. Needless to say, continuing like this in the long run is impossible. I knew it right from the beginning and always had in mind that every film I made might be my last. This despite the fact that I was "raised" in the Shochiku studio system, working as an assistant director for about nine years, mastering all the different processes of producing and finally even directing films there, according to their systematic production philosophy.
So, leaving gave you for the first time the chance to break completely from their system and to create your own work, as if for the first time.
Exactly, this was Story Written in Water (Mizu de Kakareta Monogatari), but, even though I was able to make the film, the problem was screening it. The theatres were all owned by, or worked solely with, either Shochiku, Nikkatsu or the other studios, so if they had said that they were not willing to screen a certain film, it would have been almost impossible to do so. Fortunately for me, after about 3 months, Nikkatsu agreed finally to screen my film. That is to say, actually, that they bought the rights to screen the film. Therefore, even though they owned the screening rights, I got to keep the original copy and no one was allowed to cut or to do anything to the film as it stood. In this way no one could violate the original picture, while the screening rights, whether in television or even abroad, were theirs.
You just mentioned an interesting topic, concerning screenings abroad. While you were, it seems, influenced by the West, cinematically and culturally, it was rather a long time before your films finally became known in the West. Why is that?
Well, this is not only true of me; I believe that many Japanese directors were introduced quite late to the West. Remarkable, of course, is the case of Ozu, but not only him, even Kurosawa and Mizugochi were not screened straight away. As for me, or the so-called "Japanese Nouvelle Vague", I guess the main event after which we gradually become more familiar in the West was the 1969 Avignon film festival, at least for me as a director associated with that wave. However, it was possible to watch my films even prior to that. For example, Markus Nornes, the famous film scholar, told me that he had seen my earlier films, including even, I think, Good-for-Nothing, almost at the same time that it was screened in Japan, or just a bit later, in a small film theatre in Los Angeles, in the Japanese quarter there. I guess that it was distributed among Japanese communities, in the States, and even in Brazil, in Sao Paulo. That is, in places, as I discovered later, where Shochiku had some connections.
You did, however, shoot one film entirely in Europe, Farewell to the Summer Light (Saraba Natsu no Hikari), in 1968.
Yes. As I said before, I was heavily influenced by European cinema and wanted to work there as well. Especially French film, as I studied French culture and language at university. I liked many pre-war French films very much: the films of Renoir, for example.
How about French films from after the war?
Although there are a few exceptions, like, perhaps, a few films by Jean Cocteau, generally speaking, I did not like post-war French cinema, probably till Godard's time. I preferred films like The Third Man to anything produced in France at that time. If I had to name a director I liked from that time, the American Joseph.L. Mankiewicz would be a good example, or I could mention some of the films made by Rossellini in Italy. When I was in my last year at high school, Italian neo-realism had a major impact on me. The message I got from these films is that a film is not merely a story, but it also has a reflective power. It wasn't a deep or profound way of thinking of films, but rather just impressions I had from the films I liked, nothing more than that. If that had anything, maybe subconsciously, to do with my own films later on, some years after that, I cannot tell. However, going back again to the original question, the two directors who had the biggest influence on me were Bergman and, indeed, Antonioni. It was quite a complicated influence at the beginning since at the background of the directors is strongly Christian, something I couldn't figure out when I first saw their films. Besides, in Bergman's films there is also a unique Scandinavian atmosphere that was impossible for me to fully understand, as an Asian, or as a Japanese.
Be that as it may, Christianity and other cultural aspects in their films are not merely a convention that is followed, but rather matters of an individual expression. For example, themes such as masculinity or womanhood, a portrayal of strong women who boldly endure hardship, through relationships with bad, and sometimes even violent, male partners - this was very appealing to me. This is something I specifically liked in Bergman. As for Antonioni, for him, a film was not merely a story. I know that not just from my own interpretation, but also because I met him personally, and when he was in Japan once we staged a public dialogue. I also wrote a short book about him, which was translated into Italian, and Antonioni himself, after reading it, wrote a commendation of the book that was published in an Italian magazine. After that, we became closer and met several times. Antonioni too completely rejects the notion of film as a story, for him what is most important is the "real image" of the human being, or existence, in Sartre's interpretation of the term. This was, as you know, very important for me too for a long time as the embodiment of true being. However, I don't like the movies Antonioni did outside of Italy, in America and so on. To be honest, I was quite disappointed by these films he made abroad.
I am sure that there are reasons, for good or ill, to regard Antonioni, not simply as an Italian director, but as an international one. Do you think it is right to think of you in this way?
It is hard for me to say something like this about myself, but if someone will or is saying something like this about me I'd be very thankful. That is, there is nothing more desirable for me than having my films screened more widely all over the world, on an international level. However there might be a few problems making this the case.
I guess some of your films might be hard even for Japanese viewers to fully grasp.
Yes, and in several of my films there is an involvement with a few themes that are not really dealt with so often within the context of Japanese cinema, and that would be extremely difficult for a foreigner who is not aware of certain conditions prevalent in Japanese society to understand. One easy example is the issue of discrimination against women. While it is very common, as the subject of many cultural products in the West, I am not so sure if it takes the same form in Japan.
I also believe that some of your films are complex in their content and form. I can't really find one concept that will describe this special complexity, but one option is perhaps the word used by someone who went after you to the same department at your university, Kenzaburo Oe. The word is aimaisa (ambiguity). Another way of regarding your films, might be from a more philosophical point of view, specifically that of Sartre, on whom you focused while at Tokyo University. I am basing my speculation also on a rumor that says that you initially wanted to enter the philosophy department, and not that of French literature. Is there any truth in that?
Yes, you seem to be very well informed. As you also know, I am sure, when one enters the University of Tokyo, the first two years are general, without any focus on one specific topic, and only after that are you requested to choose one. I was, indeed, about to choose philosophy as my major, yet my father was against the idea. You see, things were financially very difficult back then, and my father was afraid that I wouldn't be able to find a job after graduating as a philosophy major. We thought that if I acquired sufficient French language skills, then at least I could work as a mediator between businesses or people in Japan and France, so enrolling into the French literature department was a good compromise. After entering university, I was also working all this time as a private teacher, since my mother had died and I had a younger brother and sister, and had to help out. However, I studied Sartre and wrote my graduation paper on him, focusing on his thought regarding existential theory. So, while Kenzaburo Oe and others who studied at the department were expected to and indeed wrote about Sartre's literature, I was able to do philosophy there.
Nevertheless, it seems as if you never actually gave up on the idea of becoming, well maybe not a philosopher in the strict sense of the word, but a free thinker.
For me, to be a true thinker is to express your thoughts, so whether by means of literature, other writings, theater, or film, a thinker's message could be transmitted to a certain public. This can be done not only logically, but also emotionally and sensually. Striving to find the root of every work of art, is indeed a philosophical endeavor that might end up inciting further thought, but art itself already has that effect. Therefore, I don't like the word philosophy that much. Take for example this line-by-line close reading conducted by the structuralists. It is philosophical, but at the same time it could also be applied to literature and musical works too. The word structure itself in this context is irrelevant; what is to be understood here is the relations between human being and culture, the way our minds express themselves. Film in particular, by its nature, is a thought-provoking cultural product, as it encompasses a large variety of different means of expression - music, images, performance, and narrative - a fact that makes it very intriguing. We can say that without thinking, one can't make a film. It might be changing these days, with people watching films as a hobby, as something purely pleasurable. Like for example what some people that are called eiga otaku are doing, focusing entirely on films, without grasping the larger picture. Of course I cannot say that it is all over with today's cinema, but that is certainly one bad factor in it today.
picture: films by Yoshishige Yoshida
Indeed, thinking and being thought-provoking is something I regard as essential to your work. I understand the reasons you just gave for what makes the cinema such a complex artistic creation, namely since it encompasses a variety of artistic means of expression in one work, but, you also mention narrative as one of the important means of expression invoked in film, while in your book Henbo no Rinri [tr: Ethics of transfiguration], you are clearly going against the idea that narrative is such an important factor in film. And indeed, in many of your films it seems as if other factors are much more important than the actual story or plot.
Yes, you are right, I am critical of the importance of story when we speak about a specific film, but to actually make a plotless film, this could be thought of only as a fantastic idea. In Japan, most of the films, and literary works too, are based on a narrative or a story. But outside of Japan, as is well known, there were movements, such as German expressionism, and individuals like Rilke, Kafka or Joyce, who were able to shift the focus away from the story. In Japan we were a bit late in this sense and it is important to notice that there are a few dangers in relying solely on the story of a given piece. First there is the problem of trusting too much or even falling for the power of the words. Secondly, there is the false assumption that we have the same experience while watching a picture as while reading a book because we understand the story in a similar way. So for me, a desirable starting point would be the rejection of these notions. Of course I am not the only one in Japan to think this way; we have documentary film makers, and a few novelists like Kobo Abe, who, while somewhat imitative of Kafka, was successful at achieving this aim. For me, the idea of rejecting this centrality of the story in film was probably the notion that brought me into making films by myself.
While I am not sure if it is really relevant or not to your dissatisfaction of the way people regard film as story-driven, but as someone who is interested in aesthetic concepts, I must ask you here about one concept you discuss in your book, one that also might be thought of, next to the structural work, as another way to break from the story in the film. The concept is muzan, and I find it quite difficult to think of a proper translation of it into English. How do you employ this concept into your films, and does it, in fact, have anything to do with the way you wish to break away from the story?
I understand the word in itself, as you would understand the literal meaning of the kanji: something which expresses the impossibility of attaining stability or change for the better. Yes, I believe this is the meaning of the concept that I use. It refers to the people that are being depicted in a given story: the pattern according to which their nature is depicted. For example, a woman is depicted as a very kindhearted person; then she is raped by someone and ends up going crazy at the end and she kills her own child. Let's take this as an example of a story; in this situation we could understand everything, but why had she killed her child? Or even if we say that she kills someone else's child, this break from coherency is the idea of muzan.
I think that maybe this concept is also prevalent in my films. In Mizoguchi you have a case of kindhearted women that are gradually falling into a harsh situation where they, for example, become prostitutes, but this is a bit different. There are many examples of this when women are depicted in films, when they are involved with vicious men. Japanese women are depicted as very strong, as they endure bodily hardship caused by men; this is a very well known phenomenon, isn't it? However, what is the woman's point of view towards this? What are they thinking about all this? They are not depicted as very reflective, because, in the first place, the director is a man, like Mizoguchi, or like the directors of Nikkatsu's Roman Porno films. Although there were also a few woman directors, most of them were men, and this led to a broad depiction of the strong woman who sells her body, who becomes a prostitute, who has sex as an act which expresses her strength. But this is a fictional idea created by these directors.
When I see these pictures I think to myself that there is no way that women actually think that this is an indication of their strength. That is, the idea that female sex is power, and that having sex for them is a means to express this power. And this idea is prevalent in Japanese cinema from Mizoguchi onward to nowadays, it is something we all watch, even young people are exposed to this idea on film. My intention is to criticize this idea. For me making people ask for themselves "why the woman had to kill her own child at the end" is what muzan is all about.
When Japanese people watch Japanese films they are expecting to find the strong sexual women that they have been used to seeing since Mizoguchi and others; this is somewhat comforting, and helps to save a sense of stability in their watching experience. However, when they see something which doesn't quite fit in this setting they are very much surprised and might even be shaken out of the story. This also might incite the audiences to think again about what they have seen on the screen. So when Western film critics watch my films, maybe even Mr. Jacoby here, they might point to this factor in my films that makes them so unusual in Japanese cinema. Muzan is a very good concept, it is not zankoku ("cruelty"). From my point of view prostitution is a manifestation of muzan in reality that could be transmitted back to the audience by the film.
So you mean, basically, that the concept implies a break from the viewer's expectations, since they have no way to predict what the plot might bring on next or why?
Yes exactly. This is a constant in my films from the time I was still working for Shochiku, while making my youth movies, and throughout the latter half of the 60s, after I left the studio, when I worked on my films about sex or women, and even in my political period and still, as I am still alive… even though as you know there was a 13-year gap in my career…
Yes. What was the reason for the gap?
There were a few reasons for that. The first is that while shooting Coup d'Etat I had a big operation in which a tumor was removed from my stomach. They told me that it had to be removed since it was fairly dangerous, and I was forced to delay the shooting. The operation went well and the shooting was completed, but when it was finally over, it was also important to take some time off and to relax in order to let my body fully recover. I spent about five years then abroad, in Europe and other places, and I actually thought that I might never go back to making films again. Then I was invited to Mexico and only after all that time, when I finally got back to Japan, was I free and willing to focus on my next cinematic project, which became The Promise, mainly as I was interested, all of a sudden, in the idea of killing one's own parents and other profound family taboos, like that of incest, even though I had explored that theme partially also in Story Written in Water.
After that, though not really a matter of taboo, in Women in the Mirror I was dealing with something that is for me a sort of taboo, with the issue of the atomic bomb. Many people already dealt with this problem many times before, and people might think of it as an obvious thing, however, for me, in order to deal with this subject one has to know someone who was there at the time. This was a very hard thing for me to do.
I think that in a way you already touched this matter lightly in Farewell to the Summer Light.
Oh yes, you are right.
Anyway, before we run out of time, let's go back to another topic, again to one that has something to do with the so-called Nouvelle Vague, if you don't mind. Another thing that you have in common with Oshima and Shinoda, is that you all married leading actresses.
That is, of course, entirely coincidental. At that time other professional film directors used to get married quite old, around the time they reached 35 or so, mainly because you couldn't get the chance to direct before that, and this would also have financial consequences. However, the three of us got married when we were relatively young, at 26 or 27, as we were given the chance to direct at a much younger age than others.
Another reason is of course that we were all employed by the studio and had plenty of time to meet other employees there. So we met our wives at Shochiku quite naturally. Of course we were not the only couples there; there were many other directors, assistant directors, actors and actresses who got married there. Despite that, I believe that the way each of us worked with his wife on the set was necessarily very different, although I don't really know anything about the relations between Oshima and his wife, or indeed those of any other director.
This leads me straight to our next question, how was it for you working with your wife?
First thing I can say is that, during the shoot, my wife was Okada-san, the same way as it had been before we got married. Moreover, I never told her anything about my work while on set or even prior to the actual shooting, when I was writing the script. When I thought of her as an actress, it was strictly professional.
So while shooting you didn't treat her any differently from any other actress or actor?
Yes, it is much easier that way.
You mean that from the moment you are on set, in a way, she was no longer your wife but the actress Mariko Okada?
That is right. We were not even eating together there, as I had my own working schedule and things I needed to take care of with the other members of the crew, and she was with the other actresses and actors.
You write in your last book about film's involvement with memory, about the possibility of recording memories. It seems as if sometimes, real life and film do come together. In spite of all that, are you claiming that your private life, even though you were working with your wife, never affected your films?
When it comes to the way I think about films in general and about my own films in particular, my relationship with Okada-san had absolutely no effect or influence.
However, when it comes to me as private man, sometimes the two worlds, indeed, can come very close. For example, psychologically; once I had suffered from a long period of exhaustion to an extreme extent. You see, you have many different approaches to artistic creation. Mine is very intimate and demanding; I take part in many of the film's production processes, including adding commentary on the work or even narration, and I keep on making demands of myself never to repeat my work in any way, and trying to bring new things into my work every time. This has been very hard on me on many occasions, and quite naturally it has sometimes made me very tired, and so once, after working that hard for several years, and being in a state of deep mental exhaustion, I actually had to confess to Okada-san about the idea of going as far as committing suicide, when I had thought, even just for a second, about cutting my veins with a razor. Okada-san was, of course, terrified; she hid away all the razors in the house and kept her eyes on me for a long time, till I stopped overworking and stressing myself too much. So you see, we do have a special relationship after all, and I believe that she has an instinctive way of looking after me.
I have just one last and maybe even somewhat rude question. What is the proper reading of your first name, is it Kiju or Yoshishige?
My real name is Yoshishige Yoshida: that is what it says in my passport. The problem is that Yoshishige is a rare reading of the kanji and Kiju is much more common so I figured that it would make everything much easier for many people. It is not the first time I have been asked this question, and actually even when I appear on television from time to time, the people there are always nervous and confused about my name. So when they finally ask me how I want to be presented, I say "Go ahead with Kiju Yoshida." Actually, even for me it is easier to associate the image of the kanji with Kiju rather than Yoshishige, even though it is not the correct reading for my name.


No Wasted Moments

The anti-cinema of Kiju Yoshida
by Chris Fujiwara  

Kiju Yoshida is often considered, along with several other loosely connected filmmakers, part of the so-called Japanese New Wave of the 1960s. A book on that unofficial movement (by David Desser) took its title from the director's most famous work, Eros + Massacre (1969). Recently, a series of worldwide retrospectives, including the current one at the Harvard Film Archive, has allowed his films to be freed from their historical context so that they can address a new audience as "pure cinema"—something Yoshida greatly values.
The psychological atmosphere and the formal strategies of Yoshida's films are very different from those of the work of Nagisa Oshima, another New Wave director to whom he is frequently linked. Like Oshima, Yoshida, who is now 76, started directing at Shochiku at a young age, benefiting from the studio's perceived need to target the youth market, but soon left the company when it became clear that there were limits to Shochiku's willingness to accommodate its new directors' political and aesthetic radicalism. Yoshida then went on to make, from 1965 to 1973, a series of independently produced films, almost all of them starring his wife, Mariko Okada, an established star who had worked with Naruse, Mizoguchi, and Ozu. This series culminated in three films examining 20th-century Japanese history: Eros + Massacre, on the Taisho-era anarchist Sakae Osugi; Heroic Purgatory (Rengoku eroika, 1970), on the radical student movements of the 1950s; and Coup d'état (Kaigenrei, 1973), about Kita Ikki, the ultranationalist intellectual whose ideas inspired an abortive military coup in 1936. Since Coup d'état, Yoshida has interspersed narrative feature filmmaking with other projects, including television documentaries and a major book on Yasujiro Ozu, whom Yoshida came to know in the last years of the older director's life.
The Ozu book is called Ozu's Anti-Cinema, a term that may give rise to misunderstandings. It should be understood that "anti-cinema," for Yoshida, means roughly "counter to the rules and conventions of commercial cinema." In this sense, Yoshida's own work must also be considered anti-cinema. In each of his films he starts with a rigorously limited subject, a small number of locations, and a small group of characters, and proceeds to free the patterns formed by these elements from their moorings in time and space. He multiplies angles on scenes, thwarting and denying the narrative function of cinema in favor of a dynamic interplay of different points of view. A Yoshida film doesn't narrate a story, but describes gaps: the intensely charged spaces across which his characters look at one another. Yoshida depicts and organizes these spaces with increasing freedom and intricacy through films such as Lake of Women (Onna no mizuumi, 1966), The Affair (Joen, 1967), and Flame and Woman (Honoo to onna, 1967).
Thanks to the kindly facilitation of film critic Shigehiko Hasumi, I interviewed Yoshida in Tokyo a few days before his departure for Harvard (where he and Okada will appear for several post-screening Q&As, starting April 3). Film director Toshi Fujiwara served as interpreter.
Last year and this year, your work has been the subject of retrospectives in Japan and around the world. What is your perception of the way audiences have responded to your films at these events?
For a filmmaker it's not necessarily a joyous thing to have one's retrospective organized. But as a human being, at a certain point in your life, you have to accept that you are now in the position of being seen in retrospective terms. It also may be because I made Women in the Mirror (Kagami no onnatachi, 2002), which took me 13 or 14 years to make. Since it takes me more than 10 years to make a film, there may not be enough time left for me to add another one to my filmography, and the logical assumption is that Women in the Mirror may be my last film. And as such, it is acceptable to me. It has no wasted moments, and it's as close as possible to what I consider the ideal form of cinema. So I guess I've accepted that my work is now complete and an appropriate subject for a retrospective.
Do foreign audiences and Japanese audiences respond differently to your work?
In Japan there are two distinct categories of audience. One is the generation who saw my films at the time they came out. The other is the young people who are discovering them now. For the audience of my own generation, a certain sense of "actuality" and a certain nostalgia are mixed together in their reactions. If I may allow myself to become a little controversial, when the people of my own generation, or the generation right after my own, watch a film, they try to understand, and if they don't understand, they ask why, and if things happen differently from the way they understand, they reject the film. The younger generation is free from these kinds of prejudices and preconditionings. They don't have the historical context or the context of the characters in these films, so they see and question them purely as beings projected on the screen. This may also mean that my work has now become part of history and that it just has to be accepted. But I also optimistically feel that my films are now seen as pure cinema.
When foreign audiences watch my films, they see them as Japanese films. But perhaps my films don't seem to them to belong to the framework of Japanese cinema. I think that's good for me and for my films, and I feel lucky about that.
Over the 1960s and 1970s, did your conception of your relationship with your audience change?
I don't think that I was really conscious of the audience back then. As a child born before the war, I saw people being pushed in a mass-collective way to go to war. Therefore I felt a kind of inborn rejection of the idea of controlling the masses and manipulating the audience. Perhaps that is why I never thought about the audience when I was making my films. Also, my generation had to face the cruelty of the time before and after the war. In just five or 10 years, the society changed completely. I never experienced an era as being continuous, so I couldn't really have any attachment to a certain period as my era. I never had the capacity to believe in an era or to predict what would come next on the basis of the present.
The program of the Harvard Film Archive refers to the six films you made after leaving Shochiku and before making Eros + Massacre as "anti-melodramas." Do you accept this term?
Naturally there is always a rejection on my part whenever someone else categorizes my works. But when people explain to me why they make such categorizations, then I often accept that such a point of view is possible. I often say that at the same time I am both myself, and also "the other" to myself, a stranger to myself. So when somebody tells me, "You are such a person," then I have to accept it, because I believe that I myself don't know myself. So I find the categorization of those films as anti-melodrama acceptable, to some extent. But you can also call some of them anti-youth films. Whatever you put after "anti-," as long as "anti-" is there, it fits my films.
I was never really conscious of doing something to be anti-something, but whenever I wrote a screenplay, it naturally came out like that. For example, Shochiku once asked me to make a youth film, so I put all my energy and effort into writing a good youth film. Then I made it and showed it to the company, and they said, "Oh, this is not a youth film." With Akitsu Springs (Akitsu onsen, 1962), the company was expecting a romance, a melodrama. And I too was thinking of trying to make a romance film. But romantic love is always betrayed by time, because it's only for a very short period of time that a man and a woman can think in unison. So for me a true romance film is a film that shows the gap between the woman and the man and shows that they go past each other without really finding a common meeting point.
In your films, the male characters tend to be driven by very specific, limited wants and needs, which define their actions in advance, whereas the women are making choices as they go along and are therefore more interesting than the men. Would you agree with this statement?
Yes, exactly. I wasn't so conscious about it, but because I'm a man, I understand men very well. But what a filmmaker—or maybe I can say an artist—really wants to do is express something that one doesn't understand. Since I'm a man, very naturally the most important subject for me to describe is women, because they are an enigma for me. So most of the time my protagonists are women. I don't really want my films to be categorized as women's films, because for me my films are about the most important enigma for me in my life, which is women. And I can stress that point not only because I'm a man and a male filmmaker but because Japan still today is predominantly a male society. Men are still the main characters. We've never had a woman prime minister. Women are oppressed, discriminated against, and rejected; they are outside the thinking of the society or the state. So the only way really to look objectively at that male-oriented society is to take the side of women, who are rejected outside that society.
I don't think it's possible to have an abstract idea of a man and an abstract idea of a woman and put those two characters in a story. Maybe the society, the mainstream, the capitalists, the studio want those abstract ideas of man and woman, who either become happy or unhappy. But when you go down to the level of the individual reality of human beings, there is no abstract idea of man or of woman. There are just concrete man and concrete woman, each looking at the other from a point of view with certain individual distortions, and I've always emphasized this idea in making my films.
Not that I'm criticizing Mr. Mizoguchi, but the women in his films are women seen from a male point of view. They are the women that Mr. Mizoguchi sees. He had a certain idea of the essence of women, or the sexuality of women, and of course it had a certain reality. But still it is just women seen by Mr. Mizoguchi. There is no looking back from the side of women, looking back at men; no exchange of gazes happens between male and female. Of course, even if a woman filmmaker makes a film about women, it doesn't necessarily mean that that film portrays what women are.
How have your ideas about film acting evolved over time?
Maybe for me it's not an evolution, but more that each time I make a film, after making the film, I think perhaps the performances should be more this way, or we should work more on this side. So my ideas about performances in films changed constantly. Often both the filmmaker and the audience are forced to see the character according to a certain set of rules depending on the image of the actor: one actor is good for comedy; another actor is good for tragedy or melodrama. When I make a film, I first take away all these restrictive rules. Which also means I don't have a common language with the studio and with the audience. But that's the front line of my filmmaking. Having taken away all the common rules, either I go forward, or I go backward and make compromises. There's nothing to hang on to, as far as a common understanding with the audience or with the studio in the commercial system of cinema is concerned.
Looking at it more broadly, I also went beyond the normal set of rules for setting up the camera and framing a scene. The common rule is that when you make a close-up, the focus of the shot should be at the center of the frame, so that for most people it's easy to look at, it's comfortable. Which also means that as part of the set of rules of cinema, the person at the center is often unconsciously defined as the protagonist. So I very often frame only half of the face of the actor. It's a kind of resistance, telling the audience, "Don't trust so blindly what you see on the screen. Please try to find by yourselves what is really important to you as the audience, in what you see within this frame." That kind of feeling became stronger and stronger for me.
Was there a large role for improvisation in making your films?
In a way. As far as dialogue is concerned, I write very strictly without any wasted lines, and I don't write explanations: I never have the characters explain why they feel this way, why they cry here, why they're laughing here. So the improvisation doesn't happen so much in the dialogue as in the description of the action. I always want to incorporate in my films what happens by accident during shooting. One example I can give you is from Affair in the Snow (Juhyou no yoromeki, 1968). There is a scene that we shot very early in the morning in Muroran station in Hokkaido. It's a scene between Mariko Okada and two men, her former lover (Isao Kimura) and her present lover (Yukio Ninagawa). They're starting a very dangerous trip. I arrived with my crew before my actors. It was dead winter, very cold. A cargo train was already in the station, filled with coal, and it was so cold that the coal was frozen in the coal compartment and they couldn't take it out. Seventy or 80 workers were hitting the wagon with huge hammers so that the coal would loosen up and they could take it out. So we started frantically making shots of them doing this, and when Okada and the actors arrived I asked them to wait while we shot it. Then the train that we borrowed came in, and we started shooting the scene with the three actors. We could still hear the sound of the workers hammering at the wagon. After we finished the scene, the actors told me that hearing these sounds all the time affected their performances. That was a case of incorporating something accidental into a scene.
I hope you understand this as a joke, but when you finish filming and you go to the editing room, when you cut, you have to have a reason to cut. The clumsiest way is when somebody gets angry and hits a table with his hand, and you cut at this moment and go to another shot. It's such a clichéd technique that people who are used to seeing films just accept it automatically without any resistance. My task is how to replace that kind of ordinary cinematic experience that people have in the theater with something unusual. For that, you need accidents. Because when I calculate certain things or prepare certain things, the audience can always tell.
Did accident also play a role in the complex interweaving of past and present, reality and fantasy, in films such as Flame and Woman and Eros + Massacre? Or were the structures of these films completely planned in advance?
Usually I don't make many changes to the scripts that I write. But even if I write a realistic, coherent, chronological scene, when I shoot it, at a certain point in the middle of the scene, it may turn into fantasy or a flashback. Because the images I created become independent from myself and take on a life of their own, the audience is free to interpret a scene as a fantasy or a flashback even if I never intended it that way. I feel that if I say in words that this scene is 10 years ago, a sophisticated audience might say to me, "You shouldn't have said that. It's better if you don't tell us this directly." A film is ultimately not about what I tell the audience to see but about what the audience sees and discovers for themselves. I myself was the kind of viewer who believes that cinema can exist as a means of communication without following the commonly accepted rules of time and space.
It seems to me that in Eros + Massacre, there is an implicit criticism of Sakae Osugi in the rather macho, self-possessed manner of the actor's performance, which is so different in style from the acting of the women. Was this your intention?
Sakae Osugi was an anarchist who put free love into his logic of anarchism. He insisted that the institution of monogamy is only a set of rules imposed by the state, or by morality. So to free themselves from those boundaries, human beings must be free to make love. But from a female point of view, this could be just a male's egoistic idea. If Noe Ito, his mistress, played by Mariko Okada in the film, had said to Osugi, "I'm in love with someone else. Why can't we live together?" Osugi would probably have said no. So I consider the idea of free love proclaimed by Osugi to have actually been male-chauvinistic egoism. When you say that he looks macho, what I wanted to portray was—not a male comic, but a male clown. His performance is more theatrical than the others; it's as if he were trying to call attention to himself. In Japanese tradition, kabuki theater has that kind of performance that attracts attention to oneself.
I think it's possible for an uninformed Western viewer to understand the issues involved in the historical story of Eros + Massacre, and their relevance to the time the film was made, just from watching the film, but this is probably not true of Coup d'état. If you were introducing the film to an audience today, what would you say?
Even in Japan Coup d'état is very difficult to understand. I had never wanted to make a film about Kita Ikki, but I thought it was necessary to make a film about him, to show that such a thinker existed in Japan, and how he thought about the imperial system. My original idea was to make the protagonist of the film an anonymous soldier from whose point of view we would see this historical figure. For the Japanese audience there is a certain resistance to seeing the film like that. They can't understand how this anonymous soldier can have a conversation with this famous figure, why he is invited into the house of this man. Maybe for a foreign audience it's easier to forget about the political context and to see the film as a drama between the anonymous soldier and this mysterious thinker, Kita Ikki. Also they quickly become aware of the strangeness of the style of the film. It doesn't fit into the mode of the jidai-geki [period film]; it also doesn't fit into the mode of political filmmaking. So the foreign audience quickly understands and accepts the alienating style of the film.
In the years since Coup d'état, how have your filmmaking concerns and style changed?
When I made Coup d'état, I felt that there was a limitation to what I could pursue in the medium of cinema. In Coup d'état there are no characters according to the preconceived rules of cinema. It's totally free. So even if I were to treat different themes, it would be only a modification of what I did in Coup d'état. For me, it's the most perfect film, in the sense that there is no waste. Just the structure is there. The rest of my career would have become just a repetition of what I had already completed. A different way of saying that is that even if I took a situation that was happening in the contemporary time and made it into a film, the structure would still be the same as that of Coup d'état. So I quit fiction filmmaking for a while. I started to make a series of television documentaries about art, The Beauty of Beauty (Bi no bi, 1974-77). Now that more than 30 years have passed, I can confess that at that time mentally I was not very stable. It was a dangerous time for me. I was 40, and I wanted to quit cinema and start something new to do for the rest of my life. But I didn't know what to do, so I was in a very dangerous mental confusion. For five years I made The Beauty of Beauty, then for five years I stayed in Mexico trying to make a film, so basically for 10 years I dropped out of my own life and escaped from myself.
After that you returned to cinema.
After 13 years I made The Human Promise (Ningen no yakusoku, 1986). It's a story of a son's mercy killing of his own mother. It was a taboo; that's why I wanted to do it. I was very interested in this. My challenge was how to treat it as a cinematic expression. It was purely a question of cinema. So the 13-year blank in my career served me well in that I could return as a simple filmmaker, thinking purely about cinematic form. Before that 13-year blank, I was also thinking about the past of cinema, trying to free myself from the pre-existing conventional set of rules of cinema. Now I was able to think about nothing but finding a good cinematic expression of a taboo issue, setting myself a cinematic challenge, instead of struggling with all the other burdens I had imposed on myself.
Then I made Wuthering Heights (Arashi ga oka, 1988), dealing with necrophilia, another taboo issue. This film too I made as pure cinema, just as a cinematic challenge.
You have written of Ozu's resistance to the conventional functioning of cinema, and your own work has embodied such a resistance. Have you come to see Naruse's work as showing such a resistance too?
Such a resistance to cinematic rules is not apparent to me in Mr. Naruse's work. I feel that Mr. Ozu's films are much more youthful than Mr. Naruse's films. Mr. Naruse's films seem very adult, as if the filmmaker were someone who can't easily be moved. Sometimes, as in Untamed (Arakure, 1957), he makes a very emotional, agitated film. But I think the prime example of his work is Floating Clouds (Ukigumo, 1955). Of course theoretically I can understand that the repetition of two lovers meeting and separating again and again over a period of time, if done properly, can become very strong drama. But you can't do it just because you know it theoretically. Mr. Naruse did it in a very powerful way. That's really an amazing film.
Akitsu Springs and Floating Clouds have the same structure, and I was very aware of that. But I think it was Mr. Naruse's personality that made it possible for him to create his film. In my case, I had to go not just through myself, but through the filters of my generation, my society, and growing up during the war. In Floating Clouds, both the man and the woman are half responsible for what happens to them, half not, but they're equally responsible. For me, with the burdens of my generation and my society, the historical responsibility of that period is on the men's side, not the women's, so the male side must be responsible for everything bad that happens [laughs]. In Floating Clouds there are flashbacks to the time they spent in French Indochina, and both the man and the woman remember it as "We were happy back then." They're speaking their honest feeling. They share the same memory in the same way. But in Akitsu Springs, that mutual sharing of a memory is impossible. Already, the meaning of the end of the war has become very different for a man and for a woman

Nema komentara:

Objavi komentar