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When this film was made, most Japanese cinemas would show only domestic films, while others would show only foreign films. Since this film was quite different from the standard domestic film being made at the time, it was shown in cinemas specializing in foreign films. To everyone's surprise, it became a big hit. See more »
This is actually one of the titles of the film, a page out of order. It perfectly reflects the film itself, a narrative fractured, demented, cast in and out of a feverish mind, but ultimately incomplete to us, and the various misconceptions it has spawned in trying to evaluate as though it was the whole thing.
I was increasingly suspicious of this while watching, that I was basically confronted with an incomplete film and so a film impenetrable not wholly by design but only because the keys have been lost to us, or are not attached to the film we are watching and we have to apprehend elsewhere. Doing a little research afterwards only confirmed my doubts. So a little context:
-the film is not the tip of the iceberg of an advanced cinema whose main body is lamentably lost to us; it was saved exactly because it was an exception, a low-budget oddity the filmmaker himself re-discovered in his garden shed. The majority of silent Japanese cinema - whose final traces were eclipsed in the aftermath of WWII - were generic studio reworkings of popular material.
-it is not the product of an 'isolated cinematic environment free of influence', rather a studied attempt to recreate what the French avant-garde was pioneering at the time; so yes, the superimpositions, the haze of motions and details, the rapid-fire montage, all of them tools in the attempt to offer us a glimpse of the fractured, elusive reality of the mind, available tools at the time that Kinugasa knew from other films.
-so even though the idea of a janitor coming to work in a mental hospital may carry hues of Caligari, the film itself is from the line of what in France was called impressionism; the films of Epstein, L'Herbier, Gance.
-most importantly, even though the closest parable I can think of is Menilmontant, another French film from the same year that in place of story tried to paint with only images a state of mind from inside the mirror, that film was directly structured around images. It was intended to be seen as we have it. Watching Page it becomes increasingly obvious that a story deeply pertains to what we see; as was customary in Japan at the time, that story was meant to be narrated to the audience by a benshi, a narrator supplied by each theater. We may cobble together a view of that story from other sources, but the intended effect is lost to us.
-there is still the problem that in the version we have approximately one third of the film is missing. Most of it in the end from what I can tell, where the girl is supposed to marry her fiancé (which echoes and wonderfully annotates the scene where the janitor imagines himself reunited with his wife.
Oh, what we have of the film is more than fine, it's actually one of the most captivating visions of the mind in disarray from the time. But it was just not meant to be seen as merely a tone poem. The dreamy flow is clearly flowing somewhere. What we have instead is only what was salvaged from it but at the same time near complete enough, making barely enough sense to stand on its own, that we may be inclined to accept as the full vision.
We can still accept this itself as a fragment of madness and interpret from where our imagination takes us. That is fine, I encourage this.
Rumors have been circulating about a new restored version, hopefully one that - next to a better print - somehow includes the narration, preferably by a benshi, or intertitles at the very least. Until then, no rating from me.
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