Pastoral Hide and Seek (1974) Poster

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An amazing film by one of the most under-appreciated directors of all time
mevmijaumau21 November 2014
Pastoral: To Die in the Country, also known as Pastoral: Hide and Seek,

is a visionary masterpiece based on avant-garde director Shuji Terayama's play and a series of haiku poems about his childhood. It's a colorful and a metaphorical trip to his past, which touches on a bunch of topics which I'll try to explore in this review.

Although not fully an autobiographical movie (the grown up character supposed to be Terayama isn't played by himself), Terayama's protagonist (labeled in the credits as "me as a boy") has a similar life story. His father died in WW2, and his domineering, overprotective mother took over raising little Shuji. They live in a small village whose other residents bear similarities to Fellini's caricatural style in aforementioned Amarcord. Shuji's village is also a home to a stereotypical WW2 soldier and an outcast woman who ends up drowning her own baby due to the other villagers' superstitious beliefs. The village is run by a coven of old hags dressed in black cloaks and wearing eye-patches, who fuel the entire place with superstition.

Near the village there's a circus of various bizarre characters who take part in various sexual escapades and oddities (such as the woman in a rubber suit, who begs of others to inflate it). After visiting the circus, Shuji finally decides to elope from the village with a woman next door whom he wants to have sex with; however, his mother stands in the way of his escape.

Then, suddenly, the film reel ends and we see that everything we've witnessed so far is just a film within another film, which sees adult Shuji discuss a variation of the grandfather paradox with his friends and thinking about how his childhood wasn't as ideal as he remembers it (even though the flashback bits have a dark side to them). He returns to the past and has lengthy conversations with his young self. The film ends with adult Shuji having supper with his mother; the back walls collapse, making way for a giant city to reside in the background.

The first theme Pastoral tackles is the floaty nature of memory. The very first shot features young Shuji playing kakurenbo (hide and seek, therefore explaining the second title the film's known under) in a cemetery - his playmates hide and the people he knew in his youth come into view from behind the tombstones. This is where we see that the people from his past, including himself, have their face painted white, like ghosts usually do in Japanese mythology. They really are the faded- out ghosts of his past. In the present day segments, adult Shuji talks a bit about his imperfect memory.

The movie also says a few words about the state of Japan after the war - his village, representing Japan, is stuck in time and tradition. Shuji's house has a broken wall clock, which his mother naturally doesn't want to fix. He wants a hand watch, but she denies his wish (he gets it after losing his virginity at the end). The colorful circus nearby represents the modern world, which doesn't care about tradition at all. The village's train tracks, on which the soldier sleeps on, represent the path to the modern world which little Shuji desperately wants to take.

The visual style is really something amazing. I like how each setting is color coded: - the director's earliest memories are sepia toned, like in a silent film - the outside locations, like the "Scary Mountain", are painted in dark blue or purple colors - the circus segments are very colorful and have kaleidoscopic filters; radiant blue, green, yellow and orange colors dance around themselves - the present day/city scenes are black and white with loads of chiaroscuro play, like a film noir.

The narrative is all around the place. The short vignettes often begin with one of Terayama's haiku poems, not to mention the fragments of the past and the present clashing in various forms. Some shots of exact same locations are repeated in different filters, large doors and openings lead to other, differently colored locations The Wizard of Oz-style, expressionistic colors are exhibited throughout, etc. Some repeating images are: a Hannya mask, crows and ravens, a dead schoolgirl, scarecrows, a scarecrow that looks like a dead schoolgirl, plastic windmill toys, clocks, mirrors... Most of these objects held personal significance for Terayama, as he kept inserting them into his plays and films.

The film is set on The Scary Mountain, a volcanic area with colorful toy windmills attached to its stones. This location, Mount Osore ("Mount Fear") actually exists. It's a volcanically-active site filled with bubbling pits that are noted for their unearthly hues and noxious fumes. The site is said to be guarded by Jizo, the bodhisattva of Hell and the guardian of children. Thus, visitors have presented many offerings (nuigurumi) next to Jizo's statues, mostly children's toys (windmills), clothes and stones. Other parts of the film are also inspired by Japanese culture, like the Hina Matsuri dolls which are seen floating down the river at one point.

Pastoral is a beautiful work of art, a very personal film for Terayama and certainly one of those films which remain in your memory. The excellent choral soundtrack by J. A. Seazer is also worthy of mention, same as the excellent DVD cover art by the great Kazuichi Hanawa which is one of the better ones I've seen lately. Bottom line - see this film as soon as possible! It's just brilliant.
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A great visionary film
mobia20 August 2004
Few films are as audacious and unrelentingly imaginative as this one. Set in a dreamlike rural Japan, the story starts out to be about an adolescent boy's attempt to escape his overprotective mother and then surprisingly becomes a filmmakers desire to confront his own elaborated creation. There is also an effort to reconcile the individual with the collective or old and new Japan through this parade of emblematic images. Gossiping women wear sinister eye patches. An outcast simple-minded woman drowns her own baby and later returns as a sophisticated prostitute. A circus fat lady yearns to have her fake body inflated by a dwarf. Curious and astounding scenes abound, all contributing to an overwhelming experience of a creative mind interrogating itself.
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How could I get a copy?
whatnao-15 December 2004
This is one of the best surreal film ever made right along Alejandro Jodorowsky's "Fando and Lis", Frank Zappa's "200 Motels", and Wojciech Has's "The Saragossa Manuscript." The film is based on Terayama's original play and series of his haiku about his childhood (IMDb's biography on Terayama is excellent and will give you in-depth view of Terayama's art.) The film has timeless Freudian theme about the adolescent trauma, loss of innocence, and deconstruction of self and memories. I have a Japanese VHS copy and watched with my American friends. I tried to translate dialogue as much as possible, it is very hard to keep up with the pace of film and especially his haiku are very hard to translate. However, even with my poor translation, my friends loved the film. I still think in order to understand Terayama's intention of the film, it is important to appreciate his haiku.

I was wondering how I could get a copy with English subtitle. I want to share the film with American friends. If you have seen this film in the U.S., let me know where you have seen it.
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The greatest film of all time?
polysicsarebest29 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Not sure if it's the absolute greatest, but if not, it's really, really, REALLY close to being.

Words can't describe this thing. This thing, which is pretty much "unavailable" unless you go through backdoor means, is so beautiful, so flawless, that after one viewing it immediately went up to my top 10 of all time. Never has a film blown me away so much, so quickly. Within 20 minutes, of the strange oversaturated colors, the rows of clocks, the insanely beautiful soundtrack, etc... I was just in total awe.

I literally cannot describe this film. Think "The Holy Mountain" (a lot of similar direction), a bit simplified yet more experimental (if that makes sense) -- extremely personal, kinda like the films Godard always tried to make after 1980 (a film that comments on film, a film which cannot actually be made). A director directs his childhood and then turns the film off, shockingly, and then VISITS his childhood and modifies events, tries to change things.

It's touching, personal, and the ending is actually definitely the best of all time. OVERWHELMING AND INSANE. A masterpiece!
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Terayama's memories and mythologies
propast30 December 2010
Terayama's mastery of the image is inarguable. His compositions - kaleidoscopic, supersaturated, overpowering - are an integral part of his films' unique emotional landscape. He could almost be described as a director of Japanese kink, were his films not so deeply philosophical, cerebral and achingly emotional.

Here, Terayama paints his childhood in broad strokes, then proceeds to shake his head as if disappointed at the results; his images are an embellishment, he concedes, and the rest of the film delves more deeply into the metaphysical as he literally steps foot into his childhood to try to understand it and, if possible, change it, if only to find out what will happen if he does.

The film is charged with budding eroticism, a portrait of an adolescent's confusion juxtaposed with a man's midlife existentialism. Terayama was a fascinating man and he's putting his soul on display in this film, his own poetry woven through it as his memories ring with the surreal and come across more coherently as feelings than as literal moments. The figures of his childhood walk larger than life until, finally, the thin walls of memory come crashing down and the past is forsaken in favour of an urban present.
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