A historical television series that focuses on the impact of the Underground Railroad during the 19th century, "Underground" offers viewers a message of social progress that's just as relevant in 2017.
Content: Two geishas, rivals, enmeshed in two interlocking love triangles, in Edo, old Tokyo. Very Japanese: 1) plot consists of conflicts between innate human nature and externally imposed social roles, specifically love in conflict with the obligations of kept women; 2) guilt, honor, and redemption are central motivations and key preoccupations; and 3) the human experience is depicted in extremes, the basest poverty, the most desperate love, the most unsullied innocence, etc.; all black and white, no shades of grey; bordering on, often crossing over into hysteria.
Style: Formalistic, unspontaneous, and stagy. Intricately plotted, replete with abundant twists and turns. Set enclosed pieces rather than the free-flowing forward movement of real cinema (didn't Ichikawa ever see Potemkin?). Claustrophobic due to extensive, almost exclusive use of small indoor sets, artificial lighting, with everyone in their places, marching through their paces.
Perhaps a footnote to the history of Japanese cinema. Very culturally specific, but how accurate? Not of general interest or universal meaning. Bottom line: It felt awfully good to get out of the theater and back into the real world after the imprisonment, overwrought perfection of this artificial flower.
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