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.
Two interwoven stories. The first is a biography of anarchist Sakae Osugi which follows his relationship with three women in the 1920s. The second centers around two 1960s' students researching Osugi's theories.
Short review: This movie is notable for featuring a nun firing a machine gun to an American folk tune.
Long review: The Desert(ed) Archipelago is the first film directed by underground experimental film director Katsu Kanai, kicking off his loose "Smiling Milky Way Trilogy" (one of those trilogies that aren't actually trilogies), followed by Good-Bye (1971) and Kingdom (1971). This movie is 55 minutes long, follows a straight-forward plot which often makes way for surrealistic sketches, grotesque moments and avant- garde editing. In it, Kanai combines existentialism, his personal experiences growing up in post-war Japan, student protests, treatment of minorities, religion, stock images, American pop music, Hieronymous Bosch's paintings and political issues.
The main story follows a boy who escapes a convent of abusive nuns and ventures into the frightening outside world where the seasons have turned topsy-turvy. Kanai was a schoolboy when the war ended; everything he believed in turned out to be false and seeking for spiritual salvation, he discovered Albert Camus' existentialism. The story of a boy growing up as a religious person, only to escape into the scary unknown outside territory might be a reflection of this, but then again, who knows. This isn't really a movie that can be easily understood and demands a lot of knowledge of Japan's politics of the 1960s. This sadly makes the film a product of its time, but not an interesting or an inspiring one.
The imagery itself is surprisingly unnerving and messed up; from a child forming from the protagonist's back tumor and growing up on his back to a woman being raped and killed, only to give birth to several men connected with an umbilical cord. It all ends with a big city chase where the protagonist faces off against masked businessmen while a huge face levitates in the sky. I really don't know what to say about this movie.
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