A wordless montage of Gaudi architecture and artwork, beautiful and nostalgic of my time in Barcelona. Toru Takemitsu’s usually fine music score got too chiming and ethereal at times. Tiny bit of talking, first a half hour in, then over the climactic Sagrada Familia segment.

First, some Picasso in the square. Facing us: El fris dels Gegants

This is the first thing I always think about when I hear Gaudi’s name:

Sagrada Familia, distant view:


Gaudí’s structures, [Teshigahara] later said, “made me realize that the lines between the arts are insignificant. Gaudí worked beyond the borders of various arts and made me feel that the world in which I was living still left a great many possibilities.”

Wow, we didn’t go here:

The ol’ Parc Guell:

Sagrada Familia, inside view:

Teshigahara made a fifth film with writer Kobo Abe besides the three features canonized by Criterion and the short Ako, which appears on their Antonio Gaudi collection. I had high hopes for this stray unCriterionized film, but this time Abe and Teshigahara’s identity-crisis protagonist was so lost, I couldn’t even follow him. Also, Teshi seems to have misplaced his brilliant cinematographer, settling instead for a Gamera D.P. who sometimes seems to forget he’s shooting in color.

There’s plenty of visual interest, though – there are some wild geometric patterns and treated images, sudden shocks of yellow and red, and nice cinemascope compositions. The camera sometimes spies on people not in conversation, as if doing its own detective work. Our hero has a dialogue with a man we only see grotesquely reflected in a glass.

From the official blurb: “A salary man named Hiro Nemuro went out to deliver some documents… never to be seen again… Joining a detective who has been hired by the wife of the missing man, the film progresses at first like a hard-boiled detective story as the search leads the investigator further into the seedy Tokyo underworld of unlicensed taxi drivers, blackmail gangs and pornography, but his life becomes bit-by-bit more like the life of the missing man he seeks until he begins to lose his own identity.”

Detective Shintaro Katsu (Zatoichi himself, also Hanzo the Razor) is hired by missing man’s wife Etsuko Ichihara (Samurai Rebellion, Black Rain), then follows her shady brother into some sort of struggle in which the brother is killed – and I’m already lost. Then he follows a suicidal man who claims to have information but is really just lonely and is glad for the attention. The detective ends up with the missing man’s wife – then he escapes her, going missing himself. Something like that. I shouldn’t have watched while sleepy. Or maybe that’s exactly what I should have done, since it made images like these more mysterious.

Patriotism (1966, Yukio Mishima)

Wow. Silent film in the Noh style, no dialogue or effects, just long, scrolling intertitles and a scratchy Wagner record on the soundtrack.

Very simple story – Mishima adapting and minimizing his own story, directing, starring, hand-writing the title cards, etc. Lt. Takeyama’s buddies attempted to overthrow the government. Their rebellion will soon be put down, and he’ll be expected to help kill his friends, so he comes home to his lovely young wife, they have super sex then commit ritual suicide together. Some cool superimpositions in the beginning, and a nice final shot where their bodies appear in a raked sandbox – but the whole movie is excellent-looking.

T. Rayns:

Mishima’s idiosyncratic reading of “patriotism” is underscored by the kakemono scroll that hangs on the back wall of the stage. The two Chinese characters read “Shisei” (or “Zhicheng” in Chinese), which means “wholehearted sincerity” and carries implications of faith and devotion. Mishima deliberately chose a scratchy 78 r.p.m. recording of Tristan und Isolde for the soundtrack because it was made in 1936, the year in which Patriotism is notionally set.

Spacy (1981, Takashi Ito)

Ten minutes of re-cut recursion. At the south end of a gymnasium the camera spies a photo taken from the north end. It travels towards the photo, photo fills the frame, we’re back at the north end, spying a photo on the south end. Etc., but to an immense degree, with photos all over from different angles, including one on the floor. The bloops and the bleeps all over the soundtrack provided by Yosuke Inagaki.

Box (1982, Takashi Ito)

A box encapsulates the sky, then a town plaza, spinning around in different ways that would seem extremely frustrating and laborious to animate in pre-computer days. Some more recursion, rushing into a wall that turns into a side of the box. The recursion here seems like the camera is anxiously trying to break out of the box, whereas in Spacy it seemed more like it was having a laugh, free to travel endlessly. I shouldn’t have watched so soon after Spacy because I got tired of watching the box spin around. Much better music this time, synthscapes by Inagaki.

Venus (1990, Takashi Ito)

I moved forward a few years to find something new. First, a mother and son with their faces erased, photography in motion, then more zooming the camera around in 3D space, more frames within frames. These are cool but I can’t watch them all in a row. Silent. Around the four-minute mark I turned on the deinterlacer – did that make the film freak out, or was it going to freak out anyway?

Ako (1965, Hiroshi Teshigahara)

Some friends take the car for a night out. The car is kind of a lemon – or the driver just hasn’t learned proper maintenance – but they make it to dinner and bowling, and drive around aimlessly for a while. Other than one boy’s unwanted advance on a girl while retrieving water for the radiator, it’s a dreamy night of freedom for all involved. The sometimes-synch sound gets processed to turn the ambient sounds into spacey effects. Flashes of dialogue from elsewhere in the night get edited in as narration of thoughts. And the main girl has flashbacks to her day job at a bakery/factory. Parts may look documentary-style, but it’s definitely a planned film with non-doc drama – a light short released as part of an anthology the same year as Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes.

Memory (1964, Osamu Tezuka)

Like those anthology shorts by Tex Avery that start with a topic and come up with as many easy jokes as possible in eight minutes, only this one was more bizarre and less predictable – at the end, at least, which has future/alien creatures remembering humans as toiler-worshippers.

Drop (1965, Osamu Tezuka)

Cute cartoon of a thirsty man on a life raft trying to get a drop of water from his sail rigging. I don’t read much French, but I think the end gag is that he has floated into a freshwater river.

Catalogue of Memory (1977, Shuji Terayama)

Color: a man writes a letter, mails it along with a pencil and self-addressed envelope to England.
Black and white stills: Woman receives, sends the pencil back in his envelope.
Color: He retrieves the pencil and continues his work, which we could read, if we could read Japanese.
Light piano noodlings and a ticking clock on the soundtrack

The Eraser (1977, Shuji Terayama)

Snapshots are torn, or overlaid with a radiating translucent pattern. A hand drags an eraser over the image, leaving only shimmering video noise. Great soundtrack: percussion, strings and whispering voices. No dialogue. A naked guy throws up in a vase? A blind woman turns into a blind soldier. I think this is the kind of thing people imagine when you say “experimental film.” I don’t mean that to be derogatory – it’s my favorite Terayama short so far.

The Reading Machine (1977, Shuji Terayama)

A tiny book, a massize book that requires a machine to operate, and many normal sized books. Somebody walks with a book attached to his face. This one has at least as much nudity as The Eraser, but unfortunately also has intertitles that I can’t read. Drawings, little staged scenes, cutting illustrations out of a book, welding, burning, crossing-out. Finally the reading machine: a stationary bike operating a page turner. Not as exciting as the last one, but the music is still good.

So that’s three Terayama shorts from the same year which focus on, respectively, a pencil, an eraser, and books – all using different techniques.

Two years after The Face of Another and Pitfall, and seven years after I first fell asleep trying to watch it, I finally make it to/through Woman in the Dunes. I know that sentence makes moviewatching seem like a chore, but this was one I’ve been really looking forward to – a movie I knew I would totally love, so it might as well be saved for a special occasion, like staying home from work unable to sleep from painful poison ivy.


This was made in between the other two, and shares their shining, silvery black-and-white cinematography. An entomologist is allowed to stay at a woman’s house in a sand pit but is not allowed to leave. He rages against his situation, declares the sand illogical, tries to escape through cleverness and trickery, and finally (over months, years) resigns himself to it, living with her and helping to fill buckets with sand to be sold by the villagers for building material.


At first he doesn’t trust the woman, then he wants to help her get out, then the villagers gather around the edge of the hole offering him favors if he’ll have sex with her in front of them, and finally they’re an acting married couple, and she’s being lifted out of the hole with pregnancy complications, leaving him a chance to escape which he doesn’t take.


Funny enough, the same week I watched this, Criterion put out a Japanese movie from a year earlier called Insect Woman, a title this film could’ve stolen.


James Quandt’s essay points out the common theme of breaks in identity from Pitfall and Face of Another – the teacher gives up his life of collecting, identifying and documenting and accepts his captive life in the desert. And hey, Quandt saw the same parallel images of sand-flecked bodies between this and Hiroshima mon amour that I was noticing – good for us.


The man, Eiji Okada, is the same actor from Hiroshima mon amour, which is probably why that occurred to me. He later appeared in The Face of Another, Crazed Fruit, Samurai Spy, and in the last year of his life, Stairway to the Distant Past. I’m not sure who the dune woman, Kyôko Kishida, played in Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon, but she also starred in Manji which I’d like to see.



Man has accident. Needs new face.


Fortunately he’s friends with a brilliant tissue-replacement surgeon who wants to test his theories that facially-scarred people can reintegrate into society if their faces could appear normal again.


They find someone with a good face to copy (note: it’s the miner from Pitfall)


The doctor works hard in his all-glass laboratory.


The procedure is a success!


But the doctor’s psychological theories were wrong – the burnt man uses his new face to create a sociopath alternate personality, kind of like Hollow Man but not at all like Darkman.


Meanwhile, a young woman with a similarly deformed face has an unhealthy relationship with her brother.


Completely beautiful movie, obviously.


If Pitfall was a weird movie, this one just dives off a steep cliff of weirdness.


And it doesn’t end well. For anyone.


The photography & video quality on this are so excellent, the story could’ve been about nothing and I still would’ve enjoyed it. But the story is neat too.


A worker has deserted from the army, and runs off with his son in search of work. He’s lured to a mining town and then killed by a mysterious white-suited man. End of movie.


But no! First of all, he sticks around as a ghost… second, the same actor plays a lookalike union leader at one of the two mining communities. Nobody figures out who the white-suited man is, or what he’s up to, but he later kills a women shopkeeper also, the last person to see the first man alive. The union bosses flail around and finally kill each other, the dead wander among the ghost community of the town, and the murdered man’s son hides, observes, and lives off stolen candy from the shop as the movie gets quickly darker and stranger. Apparently it’s all a satire about corruption.


An excellent first feature. Teshigahara had his visual style down, wasn’t injecting as much surreal weirdness into the image as he later would. Reviews mention Antonioni and Resnais as visual influences, and Kafka, Beckett and Carroll as story influences. This came out right after Jigoku, Viridiana, Last Year at Marienbad, The Testament of Orpheus, Eyes Without a Face and L’Avventura, and fits right in with that early 60’s European art film scene.

Eureka says “Teshigahara coined the term ‘documentary fantasy’ for this study of the powerless, impoverished worker in postwar Japan.”