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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Just saw this incredible film at the Library of Congress. Since there
are no comments, I thought I would post this interpretation by MAKI
OKUMURA - I don't know who he is either -
Japanese filmmaker Yoshishige Yoshida, in his film Arashi-ga-Oka, interprets Wuthering Heights in a medieval Japanese folklore context. A fearful stranger, Onimaru (Heathcliff), tries to intrude into the central community with a tabooed and profane woman, Kinu (Catherine). Influenced by George Bataille's argument that the sacred and the profane are ultimately never in contradiction, Yoshida allows Kinu and Onimaru to consummate and sublimate their union through their marginality and profaneness. At the end of the film, they are expelled by the legitimate second generation and annihilate themselves. The social harmony, that the intruder disturbed, is restored. However, in spite of this seemingly clear ending, doubts remain over the legitimacy of the second Catherine, with the suspicion that she might be the daughter of Onimaru (Heathcliff). In addition to providing a distinctive version of an English classic, Yoshida affirms the multiplicity of meanings and the open-endedness of Emily Bront¸'s singular drama.
In tone, this version of Wuthering Heights isn't dissimilar from grim,
intense Shakespeare adaptation, with the howling wind and warring
spirits of superstition and tradition.
Beautiful young Kinu Yamabe (Yuko Tanaka) is drawn to low-born Onimaru, who's vital and charismatic, but viewed by his father as a demon, and by most of the remaining family as a stain to the family name. But after her first period, Kinu suffers the fate of any women born near the Sacred Mountain: she must leave the Mountain and serve as priestess But she has a plan to stay near her old home - which involves marrying into a rival branch of her family.
Few Japanese films are as as exacting in recounting the details of custom and superstition as this, where the mores of everyday life are enforced by ritual and fate. This version, then, is a striking variation on the Bronte version, and completely convincing.
Wuthering Heights was made under French sponsors and entered the 1988
Cannes competition (same as Yoshida's earlier film, A Promise). This is
an adaptation of Emily Brontë's classic novel of the same name and
transports the setting from 19th century Yorkshire moors to a medieval
Japanese foggy volcanic setting. Because of this, some people may draw
parallels with two Shakespeare adaptations by Akira Kurosawa, Throne of
Blood and Ran, also set in medieval Japan, but really Yoshida's work
has nothing in common with Kurosawa's in terms of style, storytelling
and general feel. Apparently he made it because he felt dissatisfied
with the romanticism of the 1929 version.
The role of Heathcliff (here called Onimaru, meaning "demon") is played by Yusaku Matsuda, sadly in one of his last roles due to his premature death, while Cathy (Kinu, meaning "silk") is played by Yuko Tanaka. Both of them do a great job, although this style of acting may not be to everyone's taste because it's heavily influenced by the Noh theatre traditions. In fact, Yoshida had the actors perform Noh exercises each day under the guidance of a professional instructor. There are no ghosts in this adaptation, as they are replaced with Shinto references which are very likely to fly over your head as they did over mine. Some Shintoistic symbols and elements have major roles, like the long streak of white arches in the middle of nowhere or Kinu's mirror (possibly a reference to Amaterasu? These are just wild guesses...).
There are few different locations - the two Houses on the mountain, the nearby town and the deserted foggy outback, and that's it. One of the rare write-ups on this film that I've read connects the isolated setting to Japan itself, but you can really never know what Yoshida's films are about because there are almost no interviews and a few articles/reviews/texts in general on his work.
Shinichiro Ikebe's music fits the dark, sometimes morbid imagery well. Some of Yoshida's trademark visual touches are present, such as focusing on the characters behind various objects in close-up, such as hand fans. Some locations are color-coded, such as the Forbidden Chamber which is all in yellow to accompany the outbursts of passion that occur within its walls. As is the case with any other Yoshida film, this masterpiece is worth seeing even for the visuals alone.
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