“If we abandon the gods, what must take their place in order to support the centre of the culture?… It is difficult to decide what will take the place of the gods. I have never believed that culture is something one can ‘make.’”
“I must categorize the films of the world into three distinct types. European films are based upon human psychology, American films upon action and the struggles of human beings, and Japanese films upon circumstance. Japanese films are interested in what surrounds the human being. This is their basic subject.”
I. Way In
Circumstance is a subject, but unlike personal psychology or the struggle for individualism, it doesn’t offer a particular perspective: just the material for one. “Never as radical as Oshima, nor as consistent as Yoshida, and certainly never as satirical as Imamura, Shinoda, on the other hand, is unquestionably the most versatile of the New Wave directors,” offers David Desser in his book Eros Plus Massacre, even if versatility, a salaryman’s virtue, is not quite a viewpoint. “[I am] not interested in utopian ideals,” Shinoda has said, more simply. “I would like to be able to take hold of the past and make it stand still so that I can examine it from different angles.” Per Desser, Shinoda’s “most significant authorial characteristic, the comparison between traditionalism and modernism (in terms of both social norms and aesthetic practice)” is only a playing of worldviews against each other.
Confronted with films in all colours, shapes, and settings, and unable to discern an auteurist imprint beyond a hodgepodge of motifs—historical backdrops at moments of transition; occasional theatricality; street processionals; a nihilistic critique of Japanese imperialism—American critics, sensing that “in pure visual and sound experience his films impress with lush flamboyance,” have logically posited the means as an end. “The director’s main concern,” says Donald Richie, is “an exclusively aesthetic one—namely, the shape of men’s lives, the patterns they make.” “His contribution to the generation of the 1960s has been his devotion to beauty,” Audie Bock ends her profile on him. “Surface rather than substance,” writes Carole Cavanagh.
From his early juvenile delinquent films (1960-’62) to yakuza and samurai pieces (1964-’65) to chamber dramas, Brechtian theater and deconstructed myth (the late 1960s to the ’70s), and even in his late, naturalist histories (1980s-2002), Shinoda’s films offer a pictorial beauty that is its own excuse, an art for art’s sake that’s, even so, almost always positioned
politically. The open question remains whether Shinoda’s picturesque sense of environs and choreographic sense of movement are the product or antithesis of a soulless landscape: an art reacting against social realities, or just the extension of social role-playing?
No way in, no way out: Shinoda’s story is almost invariably of an outside agent, often a girl, who rebels against power politics either through some abstract, aesthetic ideal—at least six of his films follow artists or musicians, and even the equivocating samurai in Ansatsu (Assassination, 1964) only finds respite in a ballad—or in a viral attack on the system, whether an authoritarian kingdom or household. “The Japanese have a belief that it is purer to sacrifice themselves for things invisible than to do so for a political cause.”
But in either case, the agent turns out an unwitting victim of circumstance whose only expression is in the violence of a local, historical politics that can’t be transcended. Shinoda has described both Kawaita hana (Pale Flower, 1964), his yakuza reappraisal, and Ibun Sarutobi Sasuke (Samurai Spy, 1965), his samurai reappraisal, as reflections of the cold war: a solitary hero, the Japanese idealist in a cultural wasteland, becomes the pawn of opposing powers whose politics are a mask for power. Almost every Shinoda film of the period has this set-up of a rebel whose only expression of identity is in picking between equal superpowers. According to Desser, already as early as in 1961’s Kawaita mizuumi (Dry Lake), “Shinoda claims that he and [screenwriter] Terayama confronted the fact that whereas the rightists in Japan typically resorted to terror and violence (as in the assassination of JSP leader Asanuma), the emerging left was similarly becoming so inclined.” “Power will never perish,” says Lord Mizuno in Buraikan (1970)—“it will always be replaced by another.”
In Shinoda’s films, the characters whose dedication to “style” gives the films their own, lose something like personal expression—whether a sense of morality, feeling, or the mundane—to mask-like roles and inherited ideals. These films mine a voguish existentialism, even “nihilism” (Shinoda’s term), in stories of rebels who infiltrate closed worlds by submitting to their choreography of violence, their external morality of men and women who are only as good as their sword-fights, their car races, their rockabilly hip thrusts. The classic beauties turn nihilistic as styles that are their own end: Shinoda gets surface tension from characters, like the camera, seemingly oblivious to anything but their own movements.
In the 60s films, scenes of slaughter, flight, and cunnilingus are abstracted by slow-motion and a biwa’s accompaniment into visual motifs: an appeal to the eye instead of body in a slow crescendo of repeated thrusts forward. But the realization that the most visceral, physical moments of Shinoda’s ’60s films are abstracted into unfurling lines of motion offers only one angle. Another is that these distantiation techniques only make the scene more immediate, more visceral: the viewer projects himself into the scene by rhythm alone. These moments seem to compound traditional Japanese virtues of aesthetic disinterestedness (iki) all at once with a 60s rejection of classical geometries, with Antonionian fog, and with the invisible hand of Toru Takemitsu, the modernist composer who used natural rhythms as ostinato, and insisted directors pare down their soundtracks for the maximal inflection of single sounds. “I will make the film. That’s one voice. Takemitsu is another voice,” says Shinoda, the director Takemitsu worked with most. “I wanted these two voices to come together.”(1)
In Shinoda’s ’60s works, the sounds of the scene become the rhythms of the film. Takemitsu’s music is generally used to dramatize only the least dramatic moments. The duels in Samurai Spy, a film in which a distant zoom happens upon the key action, are usually accompanied by bird calls that sometime change pitch and species at crucial junctures. The teen rock-and-roller of Namida o shishi no tategami ni (Tears on a Lion’s Mane, 1962), fantasizing a fame perpendicular to his world of class conflict, walks down busy streets to the sounds only of his footsteps. In Shokei no shima (Punishment Island, 1966), face offs are counterpointed by the slide-whistle of the wind and the breaking sea, Shinoda’s favourite sound, while shots of the sea are silent or accompanied by Takemitsu’s warbling strings. An undertaker’s hammering is the film-long beat and metre in Buraikan. And in Pale Flower, yakuza gambling scenes, set like business meetings around an empty grave with only the movements of hands, cards, and Shinoda’s swivelling montage, the pure exteriority of men in ritual is matched by echoing castanets and tap: the rhythms of dance in the ceremonies of an echo chamber.
However pure that beauty, there’s always some awareness of its expense. “Circumstance,” a historical reality beyond the studio’s purview, already grates against aesthetics in Shinoda’s early, pop-JD films like Yuhi ni akai ore no kao (Killers on Parade, 1961), a windshield view onto a contemporary Yokohama of brutalist architecture and primary-coloured yakuza who sing a cappella, and are finally wiped out as a gang leader, dripping red paint, hopscotches his last steps to the sounds of real waves and an imitation train whistle. Yet in Shinoda the movie’s splay of seemingly arbitrary movements become part of a schema of effects: matching tracking shots and pans that build an almost classical rhythm of refrain and response. In the opening jump cuts, as the yakuza line up in a movie studio to shoot an apple off a girl’s head, miss, and splatter the wall in paint, Shinoda, as Jean-Luc Godard would a few years later, flaunts violence for a surface beauty on film that only comes at the expense of any real-world index-point.
That beauty is the painted face of violence will be the more obvious target of recurring, iconographic posters that give mobsters and militants the cover of societal legitimacy throughout Shinoda’s ’60s films: Hitler in Dry Lake, JFK in Killers on Parade, the Mona Lisa in Pale Flower, Abraham Lincoln in Punishment Island, Marilyn Monroe in Kaseki no mori (Petrified Forest, 1973). “Culture is nothing but the expression of violence,” Shinoda has said, adding, “also, human tenderness is unthinkable without violence.”
Violence is an art form, but art is unthinkable without violence: is that aestheticism or its critique? All of Shinoda’s films seem to teeter between material interpretations of violence as beauty’s root throughout Japan’s history, and Shinoda’s own abstraction of violence into something beautiful. Art of circumstance or circumstances of art? Circumstance is a web of arts in Shinoda: by 1964 an extended sword fight in Assassination is shot with a gliding tracking shot, almost absent of sound, in the attenuated motions of Kabuki. As late as Futuro no shiro (Owl’s Castle, 1999), the athletes’ rehearsals for battle and Kabuki are nearly the same; Buraikan follows a failed Kabuki actor (Tatsuya Nakadai) who becomes an unwitting revolutionary instead. It was in Kabuki that Shinoda “found that violence is at the root of all human passion, the fundamental enthusiasm of the human being.”
Art and politics again: Shinoda has repeated that his nihilism comes from his desire to kill himself at age 15 at the emperor’s surrender of god status, and the ongoing search and failure since then to find anything on earth worth dying for, even while the formal illusions and hierarchies of culture—everyday and aesthetic—have had to be maintained. “I wanted to know, ‘Where are our gods? Have they gone?’… The origin of drama started in a religious form, trying to communicate with God especially in the Noh and Kabuki theatre. The main theme is to bring death into the world.” And: “In my films, I have tried to show the present through the past and history, coming around to the truth that all Japanese culture flows from imperialism and the emperor system. What characterizes Japan is the imposition upon the people of absolute power and authority without the right to question and debate… I find, however, that politics leads to nothing, and that power politics remains empty.”
Buraikan, Shinoda’s comedy about underground Kabuki actors who stage an underground rebellion on a soundstage in the 1840s, gives Shinoda’s most easily distilled thesis that men are dolls, beautiful and hollow, and, as in the traditional Japanese fables Shinoda would adapt, led on by the superficial beauty of enchantresses: both Shinoda’s leading ladies, Kaga Mariko and his wife, Iwashita Shima, have a doll’s cat-eyes and glutted lips behind which may lie anything or nothing. But these dolls are never quite allegories for experience: in Shinoda, allegory seems impossible in a world in which meaning is localized, historically determined, and life is lived not only for but as the external grace of good puppeteering. When the endings of Chinmoku (Silence, 1971) and Setouchi shonen (MacArthur’s Children, 1984) call for allegories of Christ and politics—a priest projects himself into the role of Christ as a martyr for humanity; a baseball match between America and Japan pits brute modernity against hangdog tradition—Shinoda sheds larger statements for local concerns: the priest is not Christ and will help his tortured brethren better in apostasy and submission to the state; a dog grabs the ball and the game ties. In Buraikan, a revolutionary sets fireworks in defiance of Lord Mizuno, who responds that there can’t be fireworks, he outlawed them; in the outskirts of town a matriarch marvels: “how beautiful!”
God withdraws as a source of meaning and leaves materialism to rule itself. Even self-sacrifice seems less defiant than inevitable. Unlike Yukio Mishima’s beautiful suicide in Yûkoku (Patriotism, 1966) or the classically Japanese, tragic martyrdoms in Masaki Kobayashi, one of Shinoda’s favourite directors, resignation is rarely noble in Shinoda: the traditional coupling of ninjo (personal feeling) and giri (social obligation) seems to become a duel between self-destructive urges, lust, and material gain at one end, and an absurd, historically determined system of oppressive morality and debts on the other. In both, men are puppets to their own lives.
Two compass points for Shinoda, Oshima and Kobayashi, posit in very different ways a struggle of the personal against the political, one that collapses as the two become mirrored reflections: the victim of the state turns victimizer, while violence, as in Shinoda, is the fulcrum of both expression and suppression. But where Kobayashi’s films schematize a clear pattern of disillusionment, an impossible ninjo against an inescapable giri, Shinoda’s show illusion, however beautiful, on all sides: personal desire becomes self-interest within the context of a time.
And where Oshima’s films seem framed by an irreducible metaphysic of guilt, sadism, and alienated subjectivity, all affirmed in the battle against them, Shinoda’s movies see these things as historical vectors rather than inescapable worldviews. Spy Sorge (2003) opens with a quote by the Chinese writer Lu Hsun: “Hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is just like roads across the earth. For actually the earth had no roads to begin with, but when many men pass one way, a road is made.” But even in this message of hope, there’s no way out.
Asked how to avoid sentimentality in late, character-based histories like MacArthur’s Children, Shinoda said one needed to play character interests against each other—again, a balancing of views—but added: “What I most wanted to do with this film was to shoot the school ground. And I wanted to do it from the vantage point of the corridor that connects the classrooms. After receiving your training in the classroom, you come out and feel the wind or the rain in that corridor.” Padded by sentimental coming-of-age stories and viscid melodies, these late films have drama in background detail and historical setting: the anecdotal MacArthur’s Children climaxes around the point when a girl needs to pee in a ’40s straw outhouse, and asks a boy to sing a traditional Japanese anthem so he won’t hear. But at the same time Shinoda’s approach to history as a stage for classical narrative was being developed by directors as different as Maurice Pialat, Edwad Yang, and Hou Hsiao-hsien, in films in which history is inscribed even in the gestures of how one hangs around.
Shinoda’s ’70s films, often accompanied by oneiric Takamatsu scores, are more expansively realized. The Petrified Forest charts culture clash in mundane detail while insanity spreads as a disease; in the historical films, characters move through the static frame and stop to watch street processionals without realizing they’re part of the passing crowds as well. Hanare goze Orin (The Ballad of Orin, 1977), perhaps Shinoda’s culminating work, tracks a travelling goze, the blind singer Iwashita, through 70 locations, all four seasons, and a series of exploitations recalling Kenji Mizoguchi’s Saikaka ichidai onna (The Life of Oharu, 1952) except that, without the onus of a transcendental martyrdom, the goze has a sex drive as well. Her lover is not the love of her life but one more important than the rest, and even her sacrifice to him, repeating Silence, is to an ideal, invisible love. At the dawn of industrialization and militarization, the blind leading the blind are matched with marching soldiers, and what starts as fable ends in a particular time and place.
But it is Shinoda’s ’60s films that hew closest in form to life as the art of circumstance. Using every abstraction the Japanese New Wave had taken against convention—freeze-frames, overhead shots, 180-degree cuts, handheld Cinemascope, and high-contrast smears of white scene detail against preponderate blacks at night—Shinoda arranges them in films like Tears on the Lion’s Mane, Pale Flower, Samurai Spy, Assassination, and Punishment Island into a coherent syntax of matching tracks, scene bridges, and symmetrical openings and closings.
As with his slow-motion abstractions to music, Shinoda gets his dynamism in these movies from a concatenation of alternating angles, speeds, and motions. One pattern is to start with a hero’s close-up, then pivot centrifugally around him through 90-degree cuts till the camera has full scope of the scene and can circle on its own: the character becomes the scene’s central axis. But the technique slows and hardens in the mid-to-late ‘60s: a five-minute circling pas de deux in Utsukushisa to kanashimi to (With Beauty and Sadness, 1965), a seven-minute stage at the showdown of Punishment Island, a three-minute, deep-focused poison preparation in Petrified Forest. Still the characters, never points of access into the scene, are staked in the center of rooms like ornamental pillars. Except for Double Suicide, there are relatively few point of view shots in Shinoda: where classic Hollywood grammar works its way through a scene from the inside-out, through characters’ viewpoints onto it, Shinoda, like many of his peers, works from the outside-in so that the characters are set up as one object among many in a composition. The effect of near-silent montages, frequent in Samurai Spy, is usually of characters gliding in a weightless world and propelled by their own momentum. In the debates of Assassination, the characters playing out their political roles seem to become abstractions of themselves.
II. Way Out
The exception that could prove a rule is Double Suicide, Shinoda’s 1969 adaptation of a Chikamatsu play that begins as a backstage documentary as both Shinoda and the hooded stagehands, kuroko, talk on the phone. Shinoda, on the location he’s found for the graveyard finale: “But it captures the space on stage, the nothingness, a sort of fetishism of space, the vivid contrast between that and the bodies of the couple… the essential image needs to be captured.”
A thesis to decode the meaning and intent of Shinoda’s formal conceits seems unavoidable in a film that shows set changes, Shima Iwashita playing the double role of courtesan and wife, and ancient lovers performing their duty in suicide alongside kuroko performing their own duties on-stage to assist the killings, and off, answering the phone. The puppets, critics have said, are symbols of “Shinoda’s sense of the powerlessness of ordinary men,”(2) the stagehands symbols of the artist meting fates out at will, the Brechtian approach the marker of a stringent social conscience. “The emphasis on the artificiality of the drama serves the purpose of distancing the audience in a Brechtian fashion. The audience cannot identify with the individual characters, and is therefore forced to observe, much the same way as the kurago [sic].”(3) The whole thing is symbols, from the calligraphy on the walls to Iwashita’s double performances, each coded in traditional make-up. “Shinoda is commenting upon the significance of roles and signs in society. Cast in the role of courtesan, Iwashita becomes eroticized; cast in the role of wife, Iwashita becomes de-eroticized… And the very conventions that make Koharu an object of desire and Osan an index of obligation are the ones that inevitably drive Jihei to suicide.”(4) “The strain of tensions between the boundedness of the puppet play—the confines of the genre—and the limitlessness of cinema are immediately apparent.”(5) Or did Shinoda say that it’s cinema that frames the empty void of the stage to give it, almost arbitrarily, subject, context, and meaning—a fetishistic form?
If Double Suicide, a ningyo joruri (puppet play) adaptation, were demonstrating that men live as puppets—victims of circumstance in their theatrical formalities—it would, as Desser says of Shinoda’s Yasha-ga-ike (Demon Pond, 1979) only be institutionalizing old conventions as new ones. Shinoda’s explosion of puppet plays would be a puppet play, its code of meaning inescapable. And this is very nearly what happens a couple years earlier in Imamura’s documentary Ningen jôhatsu (A Man Vanishes, 1967): as the characters over tea discuss the nature of truth, as elusive to the documentarian as the vanished man, Imamura has his stagehands disassemble their room as he announces that “nobody knows the truth… this is a stage set, but you all talked as though it was really a cozy room. The set took on the life of a real room… This is fiction.” The moment is as much an attack on the manipulations of the subjects and filmmaker as their complicity with the audience: reality is simply the stage on which truth is manufactured.
By 1969 in Japan, more attempts at taking to the streets seemed to end in a hall of mirrors. Imamura’s trick-reveal, simultaneous to the French New Wave’s collusions between reality and fiction, ends with a line, “the film is finished, but reality is not,” matching Jean Rouch’s statement at the end of La pyramide humaine (The Human Pyramid, 1959) that “it’s not what happened within the film that mattered, just what happened outside of the film… the film ends, but life goes on.” But where Imamura indicts daily life as a set, Rouch sees a stage for revolution. By 1969, some Japanese directors seem to be trying for this theatre of revolt as well in mock-documentaries: Hani Susumu Hani’s Hatsukoi: Jigoku-hen (The Inferno of First Love, 1968), Shûji Terayama’s Sho o suteyo machi e deyou (Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets, 1971), Yoshishige Yoshida’s Erosu purasu Gyakusatsu (Eros Plus Massacre, 1969), and Nagisa Oshima’s Tôkyo sensô sengo hiwa (The Man Who Left His Will on Film, 1970) all concern filmmakers who may be inventing and projecting themselves into the world on-screen as a political act of revolution.(6) Or, alternately, may be trapped, like Imamura’s ruffled subjects, in their own subjective perceptions. Or objective habits. Or, alternately, may not be able to project themselves into their world of revolution at all except by—in more than one of those films—playing the projector light over their naked bodies.
In the Oshima, in particular, the mysteriously dull footage of houses from a dead man is unsatisfactory to the communist cell that watches it both because its intentions are illegible and because intentions, wherever they are, are necessarily subjective, and thus inadmissible to communal spirit: the footage belongs neither to the realm of subjective intentionality nor familiar, objective fact, but as unprocessed material in-between, and though the communists are attempting to overthrow both personal subjectivity and societal objectivity, they struggle to find either intention or indexicality in the film to make sense of it. Each needs the other. The footage needs some fundamental truth-value, as in Imamura or Rouch, in order to become meaningful as a contextualized stage, with props and a premise, for fiction and a revolution.
In some way these are also the questions of Double Suicide, a film severed from both subjective intentionality—the film is a staging and weaving of cultural traditions beyond any individual worldview—and any notion of objective realism—the closed world of ritual and ceremony that, as usual in Shinoda, men create and are created by. Are the actors and filmmakers witnesses or agents on-screen? Whose life is led when truth is a communal manufacture? Where is the worldview, and in 1969, the world?
The answer of Chikamatsu’s paper merchant to sophomoric questions of obligatory conventions is to flee from one lover to the other, while defaulting on his debt—however emotional, invariably expressed in economic terms—to whatever woman he’s just left. As Carole Cavanagh points out, paper, “on which the source text is calligraphed, and… on which all the private promises and legal contracts binding the characters together are written… draws together story, design, cinematic construction, and theme.” The merchant’s worldly ties are in paper, though as Cavanagh goes on, it is the contractual bond between the merchant’s two women—the wife asking the courtesan not to lead her husband to double suicide—that provides the “humanizing” touch. But this ostensible liberation and act of understanding is also what dooms the characters to more economic debts, as the wife tries to repay the courtesan by buying her freedom, and to the final suicides of the lovers, each alone. Even suicide is worldly: a symbol of money repaid, and thus a social currency. Every attempt of the characters to take agency of their lives results in subjugation to it: they’re all passive witnesses. And when the merchant, like the revolutionary in Eros Plus Massacre, tries to knock down the shoji—paper walls—he only reveals the larger stage.
In an inversion of A Man Vanishes, in which the stage is fake but the filmmaking real, here, the merchant’s rooms are the film’s only reality to believe in against an artificial studio. Unlike his contemporaries, Shinoda doesn’t stage a fictional documentary but a documentary of a fiction. In Double Suicide, Shinoda’s opening discussion about a tentative ending is neither the voice of an original authorial figure nor a faithful interpreter of Chikamatsu subjected to the dictates of the play, any more than the kuroko, whose faces are visible under the hoods as they sing like a Greek chorus, are shorthand symbols for the heavy hands of fate, nor, exactly, victims of the play’s demands. As Shinoda looks for bodies that will serve as presences over an absent space, his own role, like that of the kuroko, becomes one of a living performer playing his part willingly, and in the present tense, within the film’s discourse of documentary footage, long takes and diegetic realism, against the abstraction of the sets, the two-dimensional compositions, the traditional Kabuki acting. Not just a naturalist qualification to Kabuki, he’s also an elemental cog in a vast, material puppet machine: like so many Shinoda characters, a tool of his own actions.
The scaffolding of Double Suicide, then, certainly isn’t so simple as puppeteer and puppet, author and player, fate and victim, intention and sign, or even giri and its actors, the courtesans to social custom. It also isn’t so simple as ninjo vs. giri, since in the film’s complete exteriority, ninjo, personal desire, is already bound up with giri: personal desire, again, can only be expressed economically, and the concern of the play is not how a man and his mistress can run off together, but how they can do so within (not against) both their (financial) bonds to the people around them. Nor is the space even as simple as a predetermined staging of a predetermined plot of predetermined social conventions that Shinoda has undermined by placing such formalities over an indeterminate blank void: that would still be a thesis, a supposedly “Brechtian” revelation that there is no basis for their roles, that there is no origin for their strings, and that their “fated” actions are of their own, material devising in an empty world to which they’ve given arbitrary limits. Even that would imply some measure of potential intentionality on the part of the main characters, and they have none: the acting is traditionally declamatory, coded, and seen only through the sympathetic gazes of the kuroko watching a spectacle. Both the set and the kuroko are totally devoted not only to deconstructing the play as play, but to making it as beautiful as possible.
Instead, the tentative space of Double Suicide is one of inscription, the pure exteriority of signs: one of paper sets covered in words and pictures, sets in which characters can write their own histories on paper, but only in the worldly language of economic terms, and can only act as signs, so that Iwashita’s wife is coded by her blackened teeth, a traditional Kabuki make-up. Yet against the void, blank canvas of the graveyard, this writing of bodies on the ground, bodies seen and heard breathing and mostly watched walking, are some sign of material life that recalls Artaud: “The actors with their costumes constitute veritable living, moving hieroglyphs,” for whom words and signs are valued not for what they signify, but “for their shape and their sensuous emanations.” The bodies, performing specific, gestural variations on coded movements, become analogous to the calligraphy on the set’s walls that has a phonetic, meaningless meaning only at certain alignments, but is always expressive as an artist’s abstraction: frequently the writing on the walls breaks down to lines and curves and ink blots in which the original letter is hardly discernible. Similarly the characters, initially so coded, and even because of such codes, become almost pure, performing bodies without a pretense of interiority: as in dance, the differences between the character and the actor collapse in a costumed body no longer signifying anything but itself moving on-set. They are signs floating free from any meaning but their own action, beauty.
Double Suicide is not only a documentary of its impossibility as a documentary, but a real, beautiful documentary of bodies moving in rhythm across spaces: the film it is closest to might be Michael Powell’s Herzog Blaubarts Burg (Bluebeard’s Castle, 1963). Radical and traditional, its self-reflexive stagings are both another anti-establishment exposure of a manufactured landscape as well as a sort of foundational myth. The lovers die alone at the hands of the dutiful kuroko, but a final, handheld overhead shot restores them both to their ideal, eternal companionship as well as to the opening, handheld sequence, and thus the outermost layer of the text and set: Japan, 1969, where a kuroko answers the phone and dead lovers on the ground give a nearly standard image of the time—climaxing in films from Eros Plus Massacre to Akio Jissoji’s Uta (Poem, 1972) to Yuke yuke nudome no shojo (Go Go Second Time Virgin, 1969). Projected onto some eternal present that’s as much 1720 as 1969, the lovers are still just agents of their times.
- Shinoda interview, disc feature on Samurai Spy Criterion Collection DVD.
- Joan Mellen, program notes for Shinoda retro at MoMA in mid-1970s.
- Claire Johnston, Criterion DVD notes. Reprinted from Focus on Film #2, March/April 1970.
- David Desser, Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 177.
- Nina Cornyetz, “Scripting the Scopic: Disinterest in Double Suicide,” in The Ethics of Aesthetics in Japanese Cinema and Literature: Polygraphic Desire, London: Routledge, 2007.
- Desser provides a more sustained comparison of three of these films in his final chapter of Eros Plus Massacre.