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In the 1920s, the anarchist revolutionary Sakae Osugi is financially supported by his wife, journalist Itsuko Masaoka. He spends his time doing nothing but philosophizing about political systems and free love and visiting with his lovers Yasuko and the earlier feminist Noe Ito. He conveniently defends three principles for a relationship between a man and a woman: they should be financially independent (despite the fact that he is not); they should live in different places; and they should be free to have sex with other people. In 1969, twenty-year-old student, Eiko Sokuta is sexually active with various men. Her friend, Wada, is obsessed with fire and they usually play odd games using a camera while they read about Osugi and Ito. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Possibly one of the most ambitious works in the entire Japanese New Wave, and certainly Kiju Yoshida's most experimental film (to date). As Yoshida and lead actress Mariko Okada said when they gave their rather extensive introduction to the film, what they wanted to achieve with it was to not just portray the protagonist's history as an event of the past but rather place both his story and struggle and the audience on a same temporal plain. The results might have been a lot more successful for its time of release, but it's still a fascinating effort all along.
Essentially, the film treats the work and death of anarchist Sakae Osugi as seen through the eyes of two characters in different timelines, being his long-time lover Noe Ito (Mariko Osada) and a teenage couple living out his "free love" revolution, going over his biography, who discuss and propose different scenarios that may have happened during his life, such as a notorious event when he was stabbed by his wife which is replayed and deconstructed in an almost Rashomon-like fashion.
Yoshida mentioned in his introduction that he wanted to structure the film like a dream, in a place where we could flow freely from past to present and back again but in a manner that seemed to make a narrative/structural sense, like how we forget of these lapses while we dream even though they were there. I found it interesting how he made reference to these two timelines as almost separate events joined through a mere montage trick, however, when the actual way he solves this temporal obfuscation is by blending both timelines within the same mise-en-scene, like these characters and stories are merely a panel away from each other. The modern-day characters are surrounded by the locations that Osugi once inhabited, whereas the love triangle developed between Noe, Itsumi (a former lover of Osugi) and the revolutionary occur in locations that are highly artificial and clearly modern, but which also reflect Osugi's ever-growing disdain towards the world he lives in and his conceptions of "free love". It's this quality of juxtaposing temporalities is what gives it a more oneiric feeling to me than the mere disjointed structure with which this story fledges out.
Another point of interest which struck me as odd considering the way Yoshida introduced his film is that, whereas he appeared to act very reverently towards the anarchist and how he seemingly was interested in conserving his ideology and not reducing the man to yet another historical figure of whom to make another biopic from, there seemed to be a pretty critical, even satirical tone held throughout to his ideology. There are some sequences within where he freely speaks of his notions of love and government, but these come as firstly apparently shallow, and secondly as little more than a lot of charlatanry. He speaks and writes a lot about these ideals but later says he's unable to defend them publicly because he's constantly surveilled, while on other sequences he seems to completely alter or even outright reject his ideals just to make an argument to defend his love (or lack thereof) to a woman or another. On the other hand, the students doing the investigation are also living in a time where much of Osugi's conceptions of love are coming to fruition, but they do so from the hands of people who seem to do that as a means to clash against the past and little more, and whose musings sound a lot like the classic college lefty monologues which just repeat vapid speeches and ideals against the "system" while drinking a can of Coca-Cola and wearing Levi's jeans and Nike trainers. In a sense, I feel the film is a deliberate case study on the vanity and frivolity in revolution, all the while not taking away merits from the essence of these movements' essential ideals.
There is, I believe, one problem that defines just why this film was not the masterpiece that so many of Imamura's films were, and that's a problem with the aesthetic. The visuals in this film, the very complex narrative structure, they're all fascinating elements on their own accord, and it's likely that the film would have never been this wonderful without them, but unlike the work of the aforementioned filmmaker, all of this aesthetic innovation appears as a forced, individual element in the film. You never feel like it is something that blossoms naturally from the development of the themes and ideas, or from the position of the characters themselves. Often you're drawn into just how amazing the form is, to the point that you occasionally forget what is going on. It's like both what is being told and how it's being told exist in two very different through equally mesmerizing plains. Also, the way in which the present is depicted in the film is something that refers a lot back tot he time it was made, and nowadays one can't help but feel like the film is a product of its time as opposed to the timeless products of Imamura, Teshigahara, Shinoda, Kobayashi and the likes.
Either way, it's an excellent film all around, certainly the best, the most complex and enlightening work I've seen of Yoshida, a definitive milestone for anyone interested in the 60's Japanese scene.
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