Saturday, November 04, 2006

[1980] ZIGEUNERWEISEN: This was Seijun Suzuki's first movie after he was blacklisted through the 70s for making incoherent movies; legend has it he couldn't get distribution for this one, and he had to tour with the film, going city to city with an inflatable theater. It ended up winning multiple Japanese Academy Awards. Now, my first Suzuki was Princess Raccoon, which I loved. I'm not quite sure how I feel about this one, though. It's definitely got something to do with the supernatural, but it's definitely not out to scare you, and the supernatural elements only become obvious in about the last 15 minutes. The rest of the time its a tale of multiple love triangles between a calm, Westernized professor (Toshiya Fujita--and "Westernized" is important--this is set in the Taisho period (and is part of the Taisho Trilogy with Kagero-Za and Yumeji) which was after 1912 and before 1926), his wife (Michiyo Ookusu), a crazy traditionalist professor (Yoshio Harada) who may or may not have killed a woman, his wife and a geisha (both played by Naoko Otani, but it's sort of an odd dual role as she plays them both pretty similarly.) And that's your narrative, just bouncing these characters off each other. But there's weird touches (besides Suzuki's usual weird touches) to let you know something else is going on here. Nakasano (Harada) is obsessed with bones--he fantasizes about them when he first meets Otani's geisha. He's turned on by Shuko (Ookusu) when she's sick with a rash. She, on the other hand, finds rotten fruit delicious and--in one jarring scene--actually licks his eyeball. It's stuff like this, and a general sense of pleasure in decay and amorality, that makes more sense in light of the supernatural stuff at the ending. Basically (HA!) the world of the dead is bleeding over into the world of the living and once you get that twist at the end your understanding of the movie (which could just as easily be seen as a lot of interesting confusion) starts to change. So I'm definitely going to need to watch this again; the reviews have pointed out that it is a challenging film, and I agree. But it is Suzuki and I don't think he messes with you just to mess with you, and further viewings should be rewarding (they were with Princess Raccoon.)

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