Wow, it's like Fellini or Godard, except not insufferable! No, I kid. Somewhat. The appeal of this film is definitely hampered by bourgeois navel-gazing and what could be argued as artificial symbolism-for-the- sake-of-it, but given its historical context I think it's pretty justified.
Have you ever said something as a kid that makes you cringe when you remember it, so you try to block it out? You ever embellish a story to put yourself in a better light? Obviously your memories are a sort of fiction, at least to the extent that reality can only be perceived in a limited way and then remembered in a limited way. The premise of the movie is that Shuji Terayama, conscious of his unreliability as a narrator, uses the shooting of a film about his childhood (a film within this film) to examine the realities and fictions of his past, and their relation to his present self. Suffice to say it's pretty existential and stuff. There's a lot to absorb, but people have the same misunderstanding about surrealist films that they have about free jazz: that it's necessarily an intellectual exercise, overly cerebral, etc. On the contrary, the good stuff taps directly into the id, the lizard brain, like a sonic & visual poem or a dream. Terayama's juxtaposition of the erotic and grotesque is incredibly striking, and even in the 2010s, now that "everything has been done", totally original.
The impressionistic, saturated imagery is highly nostalgic, yet somehow it's all a very alienating, humbling experience; for all the movie's post-hippie "films as Art" modernisms, the inherent Eastern collectivist attitude is apparent. The concept of the "individual" is inherently fraudulent, based on tokens and artifice; people find roles within larger constructs, that's how they flourish. Yet, we hate that and deny it by the design of our consciousness. This is the naked, ugly truth in a fever dream of red skies and huddling one-eyed ghosts.
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