Grass Labyrinth (1983, Shuji Terayama)

Terayama worked with the same cinematographer and musician as the shorts plus old-school Renoir and French New Wave producer Pierre Braunberger, who included this along with shorts by Just Jaeckin and Walerian Borowczyk in a sleazy anthology, accounting for its odd 40-minute runtime.

Akira combs deserts and towns searching for the lyrics to a children’s song. He recalls life with his single mother – how she protected him from the nymphomaniac next door by writing Kwaidan-like spells on his body, how the mother tormented and attracted him and may have died with her lover before he was born. It’s a dreamlike film, then. The Internet says it’s a companion piece to his feature Pastoral.

Nice color treatment – one pan starts in full color and turns to sepia-tinted monochrome by its finish. The movie starts to get nuts in the second half, with costumes, drawings and mysterious symbolism, tons of nudity, colorful theatrical performance and imaginary ball-bouncing. On his quest, Akira meets Juzo Itami of Sweet Home, but finds no answers, or at least none that he shares with us.

I haven’t seen much writing on Terayama – here is a good piece by Tony Rayns for Sight and Sound:

Two experiences in Terayama’s childhood and adolescence were formative. He was born … in the foothills of Mount Osore – a ‘haunted’ mountain which has attracted ghosts and shamanists for centuries. He soaked up local myths and legends throughout his boyhood. And then he spent what should have been his student years confined to a hospital bed in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, struck down by the nephritis which eventually killed him in 1983. Outside the window of his ward the alleys of Shinjuku were increasingly alive with student protests, street theatre and art happenings, plus the odd yakuza skirmish. (Shinjuku became the epicentre of Japanese counter-culture in the mid-1960s: see Oshima’s 1968 movie Diary of a Shinjuku Thief for details.) Stuck in the hospital, Terayama conceived a parallel between the ghost traffic on Mount Osore and the street-life of Shinjuku. This perception gave him a vein of imagery which fed into much of his later work.