Really excellent film. There's a very rare subgenre of historical films: ones that aim to bring to life ancient times...but not by an "authentic" recreation of the past -- instead, the director uses experimental/modernist cinematic techniques to bring traditional folklore and beliefs firmly into relation with the present. Examples include "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" (1965, Paradjanov), "Marketa Lazerova" (1967, Vlacil), "The Night of Counting the Years" (1969, Chadi Abdel Salam). Like these, "Himoko" powerfully reanimates dormant cultural world-views, and is particularly successful at connecting them to our era.
"Himoko" retells an ancient Japanese legend of a shaman-queen. The story is timeless and "universal", yet the world of "Himoko" is a particular Shinto animist world, in which gods of the sun and the land directly control people's lives. The viewer is pulled into the past, by the beautiful unspoiled forest and mountain landscapes, the peoples' costumes and rituals, and most powerfully by the intensity of the performances -- especially Shima Iwashita as Himoko, whose extraordinary performance conveys the fervid complete conviction of shamanistic beliefs. (My new favorite Japanese actress!)
But the viewer is also pushed into the present. The director Shinoda does not try to fool the viewer with an "authentic" past: the indoor scenes are staged in a space resembling a theatrical set or art gallery, with clearly unnatural (but beautifully dramatic) lighting. A troupe of five Butoh dancers perform stunning, horrifying, evocative dance-rituals throughout, acting sometimes as a Greek chorus outside the story-space, at other times directly involved in the action. And the film's coda breaks the fourth wall, making it plain that Shinoda is less interested in the distant past, than the way that ancient things still live within the present.
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