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I watched this with "Professional Sweetheart." They have similar structure: a pretty girl and a rustic get involved in shows and the thing ends. In this case it ends tragically.
And the show in this case is pretty gruesome. A pretty girl is captured by a rough robber who works alone. He takes her home for his wife.
She turns into the wife from hell, trading what we see as great sex for increasingly more difficult favors. Then those favors escalate to demands to bring more and more severed heads for her to act out plays with. The heart of the film is her plays, her discovering that she is missing some character and sending her loutish but charmed husband out to get the head of a specific character: "the last monk wasn't mean enough looking."
Meanwhile, we know that the cherry trees, when they blossom, magical curses affect those who wander through. This happens, and the falling petals are every bit as wonderful as you'll see in a Zhang film.
The story is slow by western standards, but the structure is a western folded narrative spliced onto a traditional Japanese ghost story. The blossoming trees, the curse and the fantastic end with the air filled with petals and the smiling beauty dead, being caressed by the cherry blossoms is traditional. The business about explicitly constructed narrative (the head puppets) within the narrative is from the new wave influence sweeping Japan in that era.
In both cases, the camera is extremely well managed. Space is essential, and one gets the idea that the story is only an excuse for the structure, and the structure is only an excuse for the visions. These are formally framed, and some of them are amazing. Visually, this is certifiably worth it.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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