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The Ceremony (or, perhaps more accurately, Ceremonies) is often considered to be one of the finest works by Japanese director Nagisa Oshima, produced for the 10th anniversary of the Art Theatre Guild studio. The film is mainly told in flashbacks, recounting the familial tale of the rigid Sakurada clan and the lengths they go to in order to preserve their traditions, going as far as over the bodies of the clan's own members.
Like always, Oshima doesn't stray back from pushing his political messages in the most unsubtle ways possible. The Ceremony satirically criticizes Japanese xenophobia and inbreeding to preserve "the purity of the family line", the decay of large families who use their traditions as a facade, and the ceremonies themselves losing all merit even if they represent the only thing keeping the families together. The interesting thing is how restrained the film starts out, with the same long takes, polite characters, camera stillness and reservedness, similar to the movies of Yasujiro Ozu, who was often criticized for romanticizing the Japanese society. Here, through using the same cinematic techniques as Ozu, Oshima subverts the common ideals and slowly unravels the web of incest and murder running through the clan, through excessive ceremonies. The sight of characters sitting attached to the floors, often turned towards the center of the frame occupied by the strict grandfather, has never looked so sinister.
The Ceremony has some truly fascinating moments, like the pillow sex scene, the bride-less wedding ceremony or the ending itself, all of which are a real punch to the gut. Unfortunately, even though the movie is very emotionally powerful (also thanks to the marvelous Toru Takemitsu score), the plot itself is very hard to follow and the tangled web of family relations can be confusing. It's like you're suddenly thrown into episode #754 of a random soap opera and have to quickly adjust to what's going on. Thankfully, while you're never really guaranteed to catch everything that's going on, the movie does become a whole lot clearer as it progresses.
One more thing - the opening credits last forever! I also find it interesting how they dedicate several screens to list the companies who provided the sake, kimonos, the tallest wedding cake ever, and other items from the film. I've never seen a movie this old that has credits like these displayed so prominently.
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