Vertical integration — production, distribution, exhibition — is monopoly to a liberal, central planning to a leftist. It’s how Hollywood and Japan’s golden ages achieved such culture-consolidating unity; and, perhaps, why the 60s and 70s productions of the collective Art Theatre Guild, began as a theater chain buying its own imported attractions, seem of such a politicized piece in their form-jiggering reflexivity and unrestrained eros.
Shohei Imamura conceived of ATG’s fledgling production as a TV series called 24 Missing Persons, before picking one case to study. Equal parts detective story and anthropology, A Man Vanishes is an investigation — a dossier-like accumulation of photos and raw, unsynced audio-visual data — into the web of obligation ensnaring its absent everyman. Until, at an impasse, Imamura literally deconstructs his own inquiry, pulling away an interrogation room’s set-piece walls and speechifying on cinema’s finite truth-seeking capabilities. (Compare to Masahiro Shinoda’s black-box bunraku adaptation Double Suicide, in which the actors playing the doomed-by-circumstance lovers are manipulated by puppeteers in traditional black garb and hoods, enforcing the decrees of… God? Society? Dramatic convention?)
Most fervently revolutionary is radical/pornographer Koji Wakamatsu’s Ecstasy of the Angels, juxtaposing anarchist bomb-throwing with screaming orgasm. (Compare to his recent, agonized United Red Army). The politics seem hardcore as ever, the sex softer; but Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses still smells fresher than the taboos it buried. A drag update on tale-of-geisha performed sexuality, it comes off, in its chicly alienated time-splicing and taut queerness, as Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour cross(dress)ed with Genet’s Un chant d’amour. Though Matsumoto’s most ecstatic Western influence comes during the hippie-communal film-crew-within-the-film’s pot orgy — punctuated by a frame-filling Beatles poster.
February 18-March 1 Japan Society