This is a film I'd known about for many years though a series of stunning stills before this release finally gave me the chance to see it. The Japanese New Wave was perhaps the most radical of the many young international film movements of the sixties, and Shinoda's film is one of the most visually striking in the collection, deploying ideas and images drawn from traditional Japanese visual culture in dazzling pop-art compositions.
There's so much happening here that it's a great pity the disc is bare bones. This is one film that's crying out for background information, and an illustrated audio essay on Shinoda's visual vocabulary in this film (similar to Tsivian's excellent piece on the Ivan the Terrible disc) would have been invaluable.
I've just acquired this disc & would absolutely second the lamentations for the bare-bones nature of the presentation. There is so much which can be said about this film, which I'd never seen before (fact the only traces of Shinoda I'd encountered personally were his Mizoguchi documentary as well as his Guild interview with the One & Only Mr. Kobayashi... in other words as a man with good taste that he actively used as a springboard to enrich his aesthetic sense as well as his culture.
There is so much going on within this film to be contemplated, so many unorthodox visuals & self-reflexive insertions of unexpected elements into the mise-en-scene... perhaps the reason a commentary or contemporary essay was avoided was because of the potential plethora of completely contradictory interpretations of the tapestry of this film-- just too personal perhaps? Though this never stopped CC before (see Bresson & countless others)
Strictly as an avant-garde device, the insertion of the bunraku puppet-handlers into the visual plane, handling the main characters, is wild enough... one of the most incredible potential metaphors for the hands of fate-- omnipotent-entity of choice, fortunes of Fortune, obligations to family, sense of duty, etc-- that drive us toward destiny; but what absolutely floored me, blew me out into the weather of Neptune, was the cutting-to the buraku handlers (Japanese term escapes me at the moment) who looked into the camera
. These were some of the most moving cinematic moments I've ever experienced, period. These puppeteer-looks into the camera, left ambiguous, are some of the most exquisite visual poetry I've seen... one can look into those shrouded faces and see... sympathy? disbelief? repulsion? love?.. for the characters/melodrama playing out beneath their fingers. What does it/can it mean when the handler/ seeks a mooment of mutual humanity with the viewer? It's almost as if you're watching A STAR IS BORN when all of a sudden "god" (or maybe the director himself?) pops out of the void to stare into the camera with sad, watery eyes, then disappear quickly without a word. Beautiful little moments of mysterious communication, open to endless interpretation.
So much of the fabric of the film lends to unreality-- the REDBEARD-opening-type mosaic of period rooftops, geometric montage of architectural patterns via fencing, walls, windows, doors, etc, the blatantly unrealistic interiors... plus the above conventions. But yet here you have all these elements putting a border around-- and a structure within-- a purely human love-melodrama bursting with pathos & self-torment, the agony of the unattainable, exceedingly human and rendered with naturalistic performances. The red & white colors of the packaging made sense to me as the film reminded me of a shiny candy-apple, very appealingly coated with a synthetic shell, yet utterly natural both on the inside and in the overall cooperating concoction.