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.
Mishimaâ€™s idiosyncratic reading of â€œpatriotismâ€ is underscored by the kakemono scroll that hangs on the back wall of the stage. The two Chinese characters read â€œShiseiâ€ (or â€œZhichengâ€ in Chinese), which means â€œwholehearted sincerityâ€ 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.