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The Buddhist priest wants the Daughter of the Daimyo to become a priestess at the Forbidden Garden. The Daimyo thinks if he were in Europe that his daughter should decide on her own, but he is denunciated and has to commit harakiri. She meets Olaf, a European officer, falls in love and marries him, but after a few months he has to return to Europe. She gives birth to a child and is waiting for him, while he marries in Europe. When he comes back to Japan 4 years later, he is accompanied by his European wife...Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
I am always interested in images of Japan, cinematic or otherwise, native or not. Even with foreign filmmakers who fail to grasp the essence - Wenders, Coppola, Noe - the distance they foster is a subject to talk about. The extra intrigue here comes from how early this film is, so before there was even a Japanese cinema to take from.
We can be pretty sure that a film called Harakiri made by Germans in Hamburg, adapted from an American's short story, in turn based on the recollections of the writer's sister who had been to Japan with her missionary husband - layers upon layers of curious, we can bet fascinated but more or less secretly judgmental, European eyes - that all this was never going to unravel what is at the hear of a complex world.
There are tea-houses, geishas on getta sandals, an evil Buddhist priest, the powerful daimyo; the pageantry of barely familiar Japanese characters a caricature, and so the question at this point is just how gross?
I was surprised, because not so much after all. Painstaking effort must have gone into it at the time, and I assume it was a prestige production for Decla-Bioscop - they would be merged with UFA in '21 to write Weimar film history. Oh, Germans playing Japanese is something we'll have to make our peace with. The statue of the Buddha looks crudely unconvincing, and the flowery decorations on wooden panels owe more to the Japonism of art-nouveau then sweeping Europe than traditional Japanese culture.
But as a relic of the time when Japanese images, motifs, patterns had already been transferred - by people like Van Gogh or Monet - to the continental subconscious as new, exciting perspectives of a cherry-blossomed idyll and there replicated in what has since deeply influenced graphic arts as we've come to know them; that is to say, a translation of formal serenity as the suggestively intriguing veil which, once lifted, reveals familiar passions and cruelties that can outwardly reverberate with their proper tragedy.
It is all a bit camp then, with contemporary eyes. The Japanese world narrowed down to a stage where an occidental opera can soar.
As allegory of then recent Japanese history it's strangely friendly to the country, and cleverly succinct; just as we are about to imagine a patronizing conclusion where the Western naval officer - hues of Commodore Perry - redeems the young geisha from the clutches of an evil priest and a rigid political orthodoxy that orders its vassals to take their own lives, he is shown to be the false promise, irresponsible, and ultimately a coward.
See this as an emotionally-charged dream of Japan. Film-wise, it is less cinematic than Japanese woodblock prints from a 100 years before.
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