A rebellious Korean artist tests the limits of his sadistic patron, an omnipotent feudal Japanese lord. Yoshihide demands a commission to paint screens of the Hell which he sees the ... See full summary »
A rebellious Korean artist tests the limits of his sadistic patron, an omnipotent feudal Japanese lord. Yoshihide demands a commission to paint screens of the Hell which he sees the egotistical lord's peasants suffer. Such a public display will challenge the uncaring upper class' obsession with their own personal beauty. With Chinese and Buddhist influences at a peak in 11th century Japan, the daimyo Horikawa wanted a mural of Buddhist paradise. As Yoshihide's ghastly artworks appear to come to life, the painter and his patron's mutual racism also take their toll. Written by
From a story by the author of RASHOMON, this is a dark, stark and very disturbing descent into madness setting a deluded tyrant and an obsessed artist against each other. At first it appears a pretty basic good v. evil take, with the artist refusing to decorate the lord's temple with a portrait of heaven because he sees only hell in the lord's domain - cue a battle of wills between the two, with the artist using his art as his weapon. But it's not that simple: if the lord, who deludes himself of his benevolence, is evil, the artist is little better. He drives out his apprentice for falling in love with his daughter, only to see her become the lord's concubine. Then, as matters escalate and the lord settles for a portrait of hell, knowing the artist can only paint what he sees, to win his daughter's freedom the artist puts others through the pains of hell simply so he can observe and copy their torments. This reaches a tragic climax with a disturbing and powerful scene with a burning carriage with a chained prisoner inside that is the most powerful and visually impressive scene in the picture.
The visuals, as befits a film about art and evil, are often striking. Shot entirely in a studio, there are very effective shifts of light and colour as the characters make their own hells and elements of the supernatural intrude (the film is ultimately a ghost story).
It's not easy to sympathise with any of the characters. The point of the film is that opposing an evil does not necessarily make you good, and that makes for occasionally difficult viewing. But if you're looking for something out of the ordinary and are willing to take a chance on an example of innovative 60's Japanese cinema from outside the samurai/Kurosawa cannon, it's worth exploring. Just don't expect any happy endings.
5 of 7 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?