• Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism



    Released by: Arrow Academy
    Released on: May 9th, 2017.
    Director: Kiju Yoshida
    Cast: Mariko Okada, Toshiyuki Hosokawa, Toshiko Ii, Rikiya Shoda, Kazumi Tsutsui, Rentarô Mikuni
    Year: 1969/1970/1973
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    The Movies:

    Arrow presents three films from acclaimed Japanese art film director Kiju Yoshida (born Yoshishige Yoshida) made in the late sixties and early seventies that combine the director’s politics with his unorthodox filmmaking style in interesting ways. As such, they serve as a trilogy of sorts (sometimes referred to as the Trilogy Of Radicalism), even if the three films in this collection are not sequels or prequels to one another.

    Eros + Massacre:

    The first film in the set two stories in parallel to one another, the first of which revolves around an early 20th-century anarchist named Sakae Osugi (Toshiyuki Hosokawa) who is also somewhat infamous in his native Japan as a free love advocate. The second story follows a pair of student activists. As this sprawling and admittedly length pictures plays out, two stories begin to weave together in interesting ways as the past and present seem to blend together.

    When the movie begins in the 1920’s and we get to know Sakae we learn that his wife, Hori Yasuko, who works as a journalist, supports him. Rather than take a traditional job he spends his free time espousing his anarchist philosophies and sleeping with feminist Noe Ito (Mariko Okada). Despite the fact that he depends on his wife to support him, his personal belief system conflicts with this. His belief system is that for relationships to work both parties should be financially independent of one another, live in separate dwellings and be able to sleep with whoever they want.

    This contrasts and compares to the story of Eiko Sokuta (Toshiko Ii), a student in 1960’s era Japan. She sleeps with any man she chooses to sleep with while spending her spare time with Wada (Daijirô Harada). The two have a strange obsession with fire and spend quite a bit of time reading the works of Sakae Osugi written decades before they were even born, even going so far as to hunt down and interview Mako (also played by Mariko Okada), Noe Ito’s daughter. As the two stories intertwine we witness both the good and the bad (as presaged by the title itself) inherent in the actions and philosophical meanderings of the central characters.

    It’s interesting to see how ties the two storylines together in the feature while focusing more on the film’s mood and art direction rather than what most would consider to be a traditional narrative. Due to the fact that the scenes that are set in the twenties sometimes look like they take place in the sixties, it can occasionally be a little baffling trying to sort some of this out but stick with it and Eros + Massacre winds up a rewarding piece of new wave filmmaking. The performances here and excellent across the board with Toshiyuki Hosokawa and especially Mariko Okada (the director’s wife in real life) really impressing here. The art direction is top notch, with some really striking images taking full advantage of the scope cinematography and the high contrast black and white film stock adding to the mood of the picture. The fact that the director seems intent on dabbling with surrealism here and there and uses different music and styles to create two very different moods in the picture helps add to its appeal.

    Some historical context is provided in the set, and it might be advantageous for viewers not familiar with the real life exploits of Sakae Osugi and Noe Ito to actually indulge in some of this before viewing the feature. While it might be a bit spoilery to do so, it’ll also allow you to understand better some of what is happening and why and when armed with that knowledge, the movie turns out to be a more rewarding experience.

    Note that Arrow has presented both the 169 minute theatrical version and the 220 minute director s cut of the picture. Even the shorter cut is basically a three hour film, but the main difference here is that much of the story based on Ichiko Kamichika’s involvement with Osgui is cut out (she was the real life inspiration for Itsuko Masaoka as depicted in the film). The end result is a film that’s a bit more vague than the longer cut which benefits from the additional material by providing the viewer with something more akin to a traditional narrative.

    Heroic Purgatory:

    If Eros + Massacre dabbled in surrealism and was occasionally a little tough to interpret, Heroic Purgatory takes those same strange qualities and turns them to up eleven. Again, the story comes second to the imagery but the narrative, such as it is, begins when a woman named Nanako (Mariko Okada) married to an engineer (Rikiya Shoda) returns home to their house with a street kid of some sort accompanying her named Ayu (Kazumi Tsutsui). From there, a man who may or may not be the father of the young woman tries to take her back, while Ayu claims that the other two are actually her parents. As this plays out, the engineer tells the story of his younger days where rather than toil away at a job he was instead involved in revolutionary politics and where he and Nanako first fell in love.

    Again we see Kiju Yoshida experimenting not just with surreal visuals but also with the time frame off of which he hands the film’s narrative. As it was with the first film in the set, again we see the past intertwine with the present in interesting ways and we see the director draw parallels between the two eras that the picture explores. Given that the film was made in Japan while it was still exploring its newfound democratic status, it makes sense that it would explore the merits of socialism and even communism over capitalism – which would seem to be a large part of the director’s intent with this project.

    Those looking for a narrative with a traditional beginning, middle and end and with well-defined characters whose motivations are always clear would do well to look elsewhere. That’s not what Heroic Purgatory was intended to offer nor is it what it provides. The focus here is on the struggle of the revolutionary, but it’s not laid out in such simple terms, rather it’s done as a fairly mad selection of ethereal images and strange, experimental set pieces. The performances reflect this as do the ways that the characters are written.

    Completely abstract and clearly full of a lot of symbolism, this is one that’ll probably take more than a few viewings to really sink in but fans of experimental and surrealist cinema should certainly appreciate it. if nothing else, it’s a beautiful looking film with each setup carefully composed and wonderfully photographed.

    Coup d'etat:

    The third and final film in the set is also the most straightforward. Essentially a biopic of a Japanese right wing extremist named Ikki Kita who at one point tried to overthrow the government, by the standards of the first two movies it’s downright conventional. Having said that, there’s still plenty of the director’s touches on hand here to keep things interesting and unusual.

    When the film begins in the 1930’s we meet Ikka Kita (Rentarô Mikun), a revolutionary of sorts. As the movie goes on we get to understand him a bit more as he becomes understandably upset to learn about the death of younger brother death, a suicide. We also get a feeling for his home life, issues that stem back to his own childhood and how these reflect his relationships with his barren wife and his adopted son. Along with the personal details, we also learn of Ikka’s political leanings and how these eventually result in his efforts to overtake the Japanese government and institute martial law wherein Japanese society would be ruled completely by the Emperor.

    Set in a period of Japanese history where the country was in a state of turmoil in that modernization from the west as influencing the country’s more traditional, conservative values, Coup d’etat is an interesting picture. While it doesn’t shift time frames the way that the first two pictures do it does at least deal with the past and the present colliding in unexpected ways. The narrative is well told and the movie goes at a pretty decent pace. Rentarô Mikun is excellent in the lead, eminently watchable and clearly committed to really crafting a believable character.

    If this is a more accessible Kiju Yoshida (and in most ways it is just that) it’s still very much his picture. Where this is most obvious is in the visuals as again, it’s clear that a lot of care was put into the framing and the lighting employed in the picture. The look of the film plays a big part in making it work, allowing us to better understand the emotions involved and the tensions arising even early in the story. How historically accurate it is would seem to still be very much open to debate but if nothing else, the movie does an interesting job of putting us into Ikka Kita’s head and allowing us to experience things from his point of view. If this makes him sympathetic or not will be up to the viewer to decided but it provides plenty of interesting food for thought.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    All three films in this set are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, with Eros + Massacre framed at 2.35.1 and the other two features at 1.33.1. Each version of Eros + Massacre is presented on its own 50GB disc while Heroic Purgatory and Coup d’etat share a 50GB disc. Generally speaking these are very nice transfers. There are some shots where contrast looks a little hot but this is likely due to how the features were shot, rather than the transfers themselves. There’s good detail and clarity here and pretty solid black levels too. Any print damage that shows up is minor while we get solid texture and depth to each transfer. Likewise, the transfers are free of any obvious noise reduction or sharpening, they retain a nice film-like quality throughout. Coup d’etat looks a little softer than the other pictures for whatever reason, with slightly milkier contrast, but all in all, things shape up quite nicely here in the transfer department.

    The only audio option for each one of the features is a Japanese language LPCM Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. For older mono tracks, there aren’t any real issues here, the audio is fine. If you want to nitpick there are occasional instances of minor hiss and the odd instance of audible distortion in the higher end but you really have to be listening for this to notice it. Otherwise, the tracks are nicely balanced with a reasonable amount of range to them, presenting clear and concise dialogue and affording a fair bit of depth to their respective scores.

    The extras are mainly film specific, starting with a half hour long featurette entitled Yoshida... Or: The Explosion Of The Story, a documentary covering the origins and subsequent influence and importance of Eros + Massacre. This is made up of interview clips with Yoshida himself alongside film critics Mathieu Capel and Jean Douchet. This French piece mainly concentrates on the making of this picture, though it is interesting how Yoshida notes that in many ways the film should be read more as a procedural than anything else. There’s also talk here of the performances, the cinematography and look of the picture and plenty of other subjects related to the film.

    Also included are newly-filmed discussions of Eros + Massacre, Heroic Purgatory and Coup d'etat by David Desser, the author of Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction To The Japanese New Wave. There’s talk here about the different influences that helped to launch the new wave filmmaking movement in Japan, discussion of the politics of the era and how they had an effect on the films that Yoshida and others were making around the time and quite a bit more.

    Desser also provides ‘scene-select’ commentary tracks for each of the three pictures included in this set. His comments are interesting and insightful as he discusses why the two distinct cuts of Eros + Massacre exist, budgetary issues that creeped into the production, the politics behind the film and the real life origins of some of the characters, a lot of the themes that Yoshida was exploring in these early films and why, the cultural context in which some of this material should be evaluated and appreciated and quite a bit more. Desser also provides two separate introductions to Eros + Massacre (one for each cut of the film) that covers some of the same ground but which serves as a nice setup to the picture you’re about to watch.

    Rounding out the extras on the discs themselves are introductions to Heroic Purgatory and Coup d'etat by Yoshida and separate introductions from Desser, trailers for all three films, menus and chapter selection.

    The slick looking limited edition packaging features newly commissioned artwork by ‘maarko phntm’ and not only holds the three Blu-ray discs but the four DVDs that accompany them (and carry over the same extras). Also included inside the slipcover packaging is a fully illustrated full color eighty-page perfect-bound book that features writing on the films by David Desser, Isolde Standish (author of Politics, Porn and Protest: Japanese Avant-Garde Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s) and Dick Stegewerns (author of Kiju Yoshida: 50 Years of Avant-Garde Filmmaking in Post-War Japan) as well as credits for the Blu-ray release and the three feature films included in it. Arrow has really gone all out on the packaging for this, its’s beautiful release.

    The Final Word:

    The Arrow Academy Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack release of Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism presents three excellent films in great shape. Accompanying the features are a fine selection of extra features that provide historical background, critical insight and socio-political context, all of which furthers the viewer’s appreciation for these creative, quirky and enthralling pictures.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!







































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    Alison Jane

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