In a poor 19th century rural Japanese village, everyone who reaches the age of 70 has to climb a nearby mountain to die. An old woman is getting close to the cut-off age, and we follow her last days with her family.
Near the turbulent end of the Edo era, a man returning to Japan after exile in America searches for his wife and becomes swept up in the current of revolution in this incisive period drama from the great Shohei Imamura.
White-collar worker Yamashita finds out that his wife has a lover visiting her when he's away, suddenly returns home and kills her. After eight years in prison, he returns to live in a small village, opens a barber shop (he was trained as a barber in prison) and talks almost to no-one except for the eel he "befriended" in prison. One day he finds the unconscious body of Keiko, who attempted suicide and reminds him of his wife. She starts to work at his shop, but he doesn't let her become close to him.Written by
Exploring the Inner Turmoil of the Outwardly Placid Mind
Guilt and Redemption are the pervasive themes of this quirky, disturbing, very fine film from Shohei Imamura. The consequences of the instantaneous loss of control molds this story in the way such life happenstances unfold - slowly - and Imamura knows how to take us with him in this strange tale, pausing here and there for the surreal, dreamlike sequences that can and do alter our perceptions of reality.
Takuro Yamashita (Kôji Yakusho) is a quietly married blue-collar worker who spends some evenings fishing for sport and food, his passive wife Emiko (Chiho Terada) sending him off with boxed lunches. Takuro receives an anonymous letter that states his wife is having an affair while he slips away to fish. Incredulous, Takuro returns early form his nocturnal fishing to find his wife engaged in passionate sex and Takuro stabs her to death, then bicycles to the police station and turns himself in for the murder of Emiko. He is imprisoned for eight years and conforms to the rigid life of the incarcerated, his only companion is a pet eel with whom he feels he can communicate.
Upon release from prison, Takuro is placed under the supervision of a kindly priest who helps him start a barbershop, living a quiet secluded life, his only friends being his pet eel and a strange character who has set up a field station to attract friendly aliens from outer space! All is calm until he encounters Keiko (Misa Shimizu) who closely resembles his murdered wife and indeed is suicidal from her own slashes in an attempt to negate the genetic threat of her mentally disturbed mother and her own consignation with an underworld lover Eiji Dojima (Tomorowo Taguchi), a man who holds her under his control to gain the mad mother's money committed to his evil schemes. Takuro saves Keiko from her suicide attempt and the priest encourages him to take on Keiko as an assistant.
The barbershop does well and Takuro and Keiko make good business partners. Takuro is emotionally dead over his guilt for the murder of his wife and refuses to entertain the idea of opening himself to Keiko's loving advances. There are too many similarities between the dead Emiko and the frightened Keiko. Yet when all of the forces collide in the climax of the film, Takuro realizes how much of his past is mixed with fantasy/nightmare and, equally, how much his present is dependent on his interaction with Keiko (now pregnant with Dojima's baby), the priest, his sci-fi friend and the forces who would destroy Keiko and his quiet existence. The ending, somewhat marred by a keystone kops like fight, reveals the cracks in Takuro's mental armor and the possibility for redemption unfolds in a tender way.
There are many levels of interpretation to this fable and to explore each of them would rob the first-time viewer of this little film of the pleasure of the chess game Imamura sets for us. The acting is solid, the night scenes are lovely, and the day scenes are as visually chaotic as the real world in which we live. There could be improvements in the editing, definitely in the musical score and in the camera work. But those are minor blemishes in this film that engages the mind in the challenge of entering a new mode of thought. A strange little film, this, and not for everyone. Grady Harp
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