Two interwoven stories. The first is a biography of anarchist Sakae Osugi which follows his relationship with three women in the 1920s. The second centers around two 1960s' students researching Osugi's theories.
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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
What possible way to describe this? An unique experience for sure...
Eros Plus Massacre by Yoshishige Yoshida is considered to be his masterpiece and the peak of the Japanese New Wave (Nuberu Bagu), a movement that Yoshida himself never considered to be a part of. The film lasts 3 1/2 hours and is the most experimental and ambitious of all of Yoshida's works. A bunch of things are discussed in the film, most notably anarchism, existentialism and feminism.
It tells two stories - one fictional, one biographical - the latter concerns the Japanese anarchist Sakae Osugi and is set in the 1920s. It's centered about his theories, ideas and relationships with three women - his wife, his first lover (who tries to kill him), and his second lover Noe Ito (played by Yoshida's wife Mariko Okada). The second story is intercut with the first, is fictional, and is set in the '60s, following a young female student named Eiko who researches Osugi's life. We follow her relationship with three men (similar to Osugi's three lovers), a pyroman called Wada who joins her in her research, a suicidal film director and a policeman who investigates her in suspicion that she's connected to a ring of prostitution.
The way the stories are connected is very, very loose and feels like a dream. Similar actions are repeated in both time periods, characters from the two periods interact with each other in oniric sequences, etc. From what I gathered from it, the major point of the film is showing that history may be nothing like people imagine or romanticize it. Truth is illusive, complicated and ambiguous. The scenes set in the '20s usually show the characters through various mirrors, or obstructed by objects such as furniture, walls or doors. One scene in particular, showing Ito meeting the staff journalist of the Seito compound, shows the two women in the inverted reflection of themselves in the lake. The other theme of the film may be Eiko and Wada's struggles to keep their idealistic image of Osugi true, because his revolutionary ideas and principles mean nothing in their time, when his thoughts aren't considered radical anymore.
Eros Plus Massacre relies heavily on contrasts to tell its story. The differences between the two times are put further into life by contrasting '60s rock with '20s traditional music with orchestral elements, the '60s contemporary flats and urban life with the '20s simple houses and gardens. The majority of time spent on Osugi's story shows characters endlessly talking, while the '60s story puts an emphasis on (weird) things actually happening. Eiko and Wada spend some of their time reenacting the lives of martyrs, anarchists and revolutionaries - the most famous of these scenes climaxes with them faux-crucifying themselves.
The cinematography is out of this world. It's one of the most beautiful black and white films ever made, period. The way characters are put into frame, the lighting, the shadow play - holy sh*t. Almost every frame is a work of art, and some are literally unforgettable. Even though the story is quite grim, the angelic, white glow predominates almost every shot and makes the film that more unique. Characters are separated by walls, pillars, window frames, etc., to accentuate their isolation (esp. Ito and her husband) in typical Yoshida fashion. It seals the deal on Yoshida being one of the finest aesthetes of Asian cinema.
The opening scene is one of the best film intros I've ever seen - in this 5-minute scene, Eiko interviews Ito's daughter (also played by Okada) in the most stylish, theatrical and impactive manner. It's a highly immersive cold opening, typical for many Yoshida's films, and just plain rocks overall.
The film definitely has some major flaws. First of all, it's incredibly self-indulgent but I guess that's just what you have to expect from a film like this. It goes on for way too long (200 min.), will often lose you, is too cryptic and complex, and, except for the first hour, it can be ungodly boring. Despite this, it's a VERY unique movie that'll stick with you for a long time.
The title probably describes the two stories - Osugi's somber tale of political turmoil (Massacre) and Eiko's erotic vignettes (Eros). While Osugi is violently assassinated, Eiko enters the story by having sex with a man and later masturbating in the shower. Meanwhile, Osugi does some time in prison, has a football match played over his ashes and gets his near-fatal encounter with his lover Rashomonically played out in several different potential situations.
This is the first Yoshida picture to be released outside Japan and had to be cut from 202 to 166 minutes (pity they didn't cut out more :D) for international release. Although it's considered to be Yoshida's best movie, I disagree. It's too pretentious for my taste and wants to be exceptionally artsy by adding scenes of little importance just to elongate the runtime. It can also be really confusing if you decide to watch it without knowing what's it about beforehand. Unfortunately, like all of Yoshida's films, it doesn't have a Criterion release... Yet.
Give this movie any adjective and it fits. Lyrical, haunting, boring, erotic, entertaining, unnerving, hypnotic, pointless, poignant, whatever.
@Carvalho, the actress who played Eiko is called Il Riko according to a source I found, but I doubt it's true.
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