The following article was published in N-SPHERE June 2012 issue.

Japanese cinema has always seemed to work best at its most outlandish and I am certain there are no surprises here since many Japanese films are regarded as »rather eccentric« at least, and one may say the same thing about their entire culture.

What fascinated me about Japanese cinema (and partially their culture) was its whole »peculiar« erotic tension, even and especially in the many cases where a proper erotic/sexual act is not involved.

Leaving androgyny aside, one can notice that many (experimental) Japanese films are a visual feast. Pistol opera (Suzuki), Funeral Parade of Roses (Matsumoto), Branded to kill (Suzuki) and even more »friendly« works such as Soseiji (Tsukamoto), Izo (Miike) are such examples. But indeed, the same can be said about works of directors such as Paradjanov, Tarkovski, Sokurov and so forth. The essential difference between the first and he former, asides narratives/themes and so forth is the approach itself. The former group brings together films that are, ultimately relatively straightforward by means of tone. We can tell where a Tarkovski film is going just by looking at its first 15 minutes, for example.

But we cannot say the same about directors such as Miike, Tsukamoto or Matsumoto. Here, the beautiful and the extremely disturbing are blended together: does anyone remember Imprint (Takashi Miike)? You may not discern much from the plot, you may – in my opinion – rightfully complain about the quality of Drago’s performance, but you cannot deny its mesmeric landscapes, blended with frightening characters and a very disturbing… torture scene.

In Tsukamoto‘s Soseiji the slums are visualised in a nearly »poetic« manner.

Somehow all these make me think about an androgynous extension of sorts: it is no longer about the masculine and feminine blended together,  but also the beautiful and the frightening/disturbing.

And this collision is even more delicious, because the first one mainly presents two rigid forms/ideas, we are given a myth and so forth, but in the end what we experience from it may be more or less related to the source material which is but a mere sketch.

The latter, however, threads more organic grounds because it is no longer linked to objects, but to what we directly experience and if you think that terror can’t be erotic, you may very well be denying the existence of all those S&M lovers, toy dolls and so forth. This is indeed a thin example because it is barely touching base, but works very well for a start. There is a line to be drawn between the disturbing and the unpleasant. Because what I think that bothers most people about disturbing experiences is related to that unpleasant layer. If one can physically achieve perfection, by being a whole, what about the experiences themselves. What happens to them? Are we to assume that the Androgyny myth implies also a marriage between opposite emotions? Would seem at least tempting to think so. And to go even further: how would our stories look like in such a setup? Would they still be a sum of chronologically sorted events if they are to be projected on some screen? I think not. An interesting example here is the animation Beladonna of Sadness/Kanashimi no Beladonna (Yamamoto), loosely based on/related to the Jeanne d’Arc story.

And speaking about opposite nuances, one cannot rule out Butoh (the dance of darkness) which combines the eerie grace with ghoulish appearances in maybe on of the most outlandish forms of dance in history.

As a side-note, there is pre-/Cronenbergian approach to some Japanese films. No surprises here, since neither Nagasaky nor Hiroshima were to go away quietly. Imprint again serves as a good example, and another good one would be Tokyo First (Tsukamoto).

The mirrors of Toshio Matsumoto – a glimpse on A funeral parade of roses

Perhaps the best place to approach Matsumoto‘s Funeral Parade of Roses is by approaching its imagery and juxtapositions and give less time to its story.

One the one hand, the film is, visually at least, very well crafted. Many of its images may linger in one’s mind long after Funeral Parade of Roses has finished because on the one hand they feel authentic on the other hand, however, they feel unearthly and some of them have the advantage of not being shown for too long. Hence this may give some viewers the feeling they are witnessing some supernatural phenomena.

On the other hand the film’s stylistic menage-á-trois, if you may, is at least interesting because we have two genres that go well hand in hand: documentary and neorealism, and a third which is in a diametrically opposed neighborhood: avant-garde.

However, in Funeral Parade of Roses this combination is effective because there are moments in which nuances change: for example some documentary scenes don’t feel like documentary scenes at all, but more like dream scenes or mood pieces. Others feel like extensions to a previous scene or to a particular feeling that a scene wants to depict.

This is why it works. Because it is well crafted enough so that you know that there is a payoff, but loose enough so the entire material does not feel like an academic exercise, vague enough to be eerie, but tight enough to work as some sort of a twisted story as well.

Of course, one cannot ignore the period in which this film was made, a period of revolt against the »formal wisdom« so to speak, against hypocritical and shallow mannerism and presumingly, since we are talking about Japan, this revolt was even more »passionate« here.

However, the film itself does not necessarily transpire this revolt, it is not a freak-show and for more than a second we forget we are »dealing« with gay people/transvestites.

photo | Bara no Soretsu / Funeral  Parade of Roses. 1969. Toshio  Matsumoto

by Shade.

Full article here.