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Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams
An entrancing impression of self-immolating sexual obsession
This incredible movie that I have just seen is the closest I imagine you can get to experiencing rapid eye movement whilst awake. To call it dreamlike would be to fall into cliché, it is simply a mad narcotic dream, think of the effect of a feature length Tscherkassky movie.
It's a silent Japanese impressionistic movie. I'll paint the impression rather than the plot, as is suitable. There's a brother and a sister living (or more aptly surviving) in a tenement, in a permanent nighttime. Their abode is in the shadow of the demi-monde Yoshiwara pleasure district, the streets are contracted and smothering, the air is scorched, light is fleeting. The brother has fallen into an obsession with a hostess, O-yume, a painted fetishised banshee who makes your hair stand on end when she comes on scream, constantly in epileptic laughter, the theatre screen threatening to unhinge. The sister is a paper ball on a huge wave, she has no control of events and cannot restrain her brother and his dangerous obsession (he tries to murder rivals).
The whirling unwholesome Yoshiwara district is an opium dream, morbid febrile lights struggle to illuminate seated archers, a spinning lottery wheel, wild-eyed drunkards and strumpets. The film is almost like an exhibition of paintings of the faces of demons. A samurai with a face burning with dread, hot to the touch, humiliates the brother. He has stolen an exquisite dress his seamstress sister had made to order for a client, he has cut the anchor in a storm, he has stolen a life raft, and presents it to the wildly teeming O-yume. The samurai takes it from him and rends it to pieces, like he's ripping the fabric of an enchanted dream, as if he's tearing a hymen. The brother suffers humiliation and a beating, we are subject to misted longueurs of his suffering, replete with wild outrageous edits and superimposed shots far ahead of their time cinematically speaking. The camera-work in Yoshiwara actually places you in with the crowd, you really feel you are there.
The film falls into three acts, the first watched by me with mouth agape, a helter-skelter masterpiece of oneiric impression. The second hypnotic, aching and slow in tempo. We end with a crescendo which combines stars and crossroads and clearly supernatural edits.
I can't believe what just happened to me watching this film, I'm stunned, I've actually no idea how long Jujiro went on. I watched it with live accompaniment from two musicians, The Birdman of Alkijazz and Matthew Bourne, who were duelling with experimental electronic music. It's important I mention the musical aspect because certain scenes are clearly extended by the director for the express purpose of allowing musicians to tease out the emotion. The music was a succès fou, enhancing and channelling the efforts of Kinugasa. This movie has the clear capability to not work if unaligned musicians are involved with the accompaniment. However I would watch it again with no accompaniment and be happy.
Absolutely astonishing cinema.
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