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Near a remote Buddhist monastery, a young man falls in love with his sister and gets her pregnant. After a monk finds out, the young man becomes an assistant to a master sculptor, only to proceed to complicate matters with his affairs.
A mesmerizing, hypnotic film experience from one of Japan's finest filmmakers
Yoshishige Yoshida is such an underrated director that it hurts. His movie Confessions Among Actresses (also known as Confession, Theory, Actress - which is a title taken from the film being made within this movie) is so multi layered, complex and talky that it may scare off some viewers who dislike avant-garde cinema, but I assure you that this is indeed a beautiful, fantastic film. It's somewhat meta, focusing on the intimate lives of three film actresses (who don't appear in the same shot until the very ending), one of whom is played by Yoshida's wife Mariko Okada, a recurring star in his films.
The visuals are jaw-dropping like in any Yoshida film, except this one is in color as opposed to his most famous, B&W works. His usual visual style is present - the low angles, high angles, character reflections, shots obscured by foreground objects (this just enhances the voyeuristic nature of the story), characters positioned on the borders of the screen, and shots differing from narrow and claustrophobic to wide and open. Even his trademark cold opening is here - by the way, the title sequence is split into three separate parts, which just name the performers, while the title screen itself happens as a part of the ending credits.
In an interview, Yoshida states that one of the common themes of his films is trying to explore a woman's psyche. Confessions Among Actresses deals with that topic probably more in detail than his other films and once again the major theme is masterfully handled. Some people may be put off by the melodramatic performances, but I feel those work the best in this type of film. It somehow adds to this movie's unique, mysterious, even otherwordly atmosphere that's also boosted by the haunting orchestral soundtrack, of which the closing theme reminds me from the title music from Eros Plus Massacre, Yoshida's most well-known film.
Two important motifs are prominent throughout the film - masks and scissors. Masks make their appearance during the final interview scene and obviously symbolize the actresses' desire to be someone else, while the scissors appear in two scenes, both surrounding the third actress. In the first of these scenes, the close-up of widely opened scissors is paralleled with her spread legs on a trampoline, while in the second scene, Yoshida cuts (no pun intended) from the scissor shot to the shot of the said actress wrapping a wall handlebar with her legs. This may be a huge stretch, but what I assume is the implication, is that people around her treat her like a tool (a pair of scissors?). She later throws the scissors into a mirror and stares at her split reflection.
Also, there is A LOT of whiteness. White color is used extensively, be it a white balloon floating on the pond, sterile white walls of some of the actresses' homes, a jar of white pills, a bunch of silk cocoons, an actress bathing in milk, snowy areas, etc. The three protagonists themselves wear flashy, colorful clothing early on in the film, but, as their lives get more and more unmasked, their clothes get whiter and whiter. In one scene, the third actress, during an argument, just flat out removes her fancy attire to reveal a white nightie. The second actress at one point wears a white evening dress. She disrobes herself in a single breath, to her bare butt, then proceeds to engage in passionate sex with her lover in the shower, finally regaining some peace.
The last scene shows the actresses getting ready for a new movie. The clothes they wear are a combination between white details (whiteness in this movie symbolizes that film actresses are just ordinary people) and colorful ornaments. They finally found a line between their profession and their intimacy.
The storyline is intersected by flashbacks and dream reenactments, not to mention typical fakeouts where a dramatic scene is revealed to be just a shooting of the film within the film. The plot is quite layered, and, this being a Yoshida film, there's hardly a chance that you'll catch absolutely everything on a single viewing. Nevertheless, give this obscure movie a watch, it's well worth it. Bottom line - Yoshishige Yoshida needs to be discovered at all costs. Genius.
For those interested in the visual side of the film - here's an album I compiled out of 58 representative shots: http://imgur.com/a/978y3
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