November 21, 2006

Abstraction, Theatrical Artifice and Dutiful Geisha

double-suicide-012.jpgA well-balanced movie diet for Cinecultist includes both new releases and canonical classics. Hence our efforts to catch the new print of The Rules of the Game at Film Forum* a few weeks ago and renting Double Suicide on DVD last weekend. This Japanese movie from 1969 by Masahiro Shinoda is really spectacular; it gob-smacked CC. Based on bunraku puppet play, the story is about a middle class paper merchant who is in love with a renowned courtesan. He has promised to redeem her from sexual enslavement and in return she has reserved herself for him alone. Unfortunately, his wife's family doesn't really approve of their son-in-law squandering all of his money in the red light district. Jihei (Kichiemon Nakamura) and Kohura (Shima Iwashita) decide they must kill themselves in order to be together in the next life, even if they can't be in this one.

What's so arresting about this film is Shinoda's visual flare. The movie begins with a scene inside a theater, a director has some last minute consultations over the phone as performers prepare for a puppet production in ominous looking black costumes. But rather than fading away when the movie transitions to live action, the puppeteers remain as extra-textual elements reminding the movie audience about the story's artificiality. Shinoda also has an intriguing "double" theme running throughout, with Kohura and the dutiful wife Osan being played by the same actress and a mirrored opening and closing reference shot of the dead lovers stretched out on a reed mat. Also the refracting of the actors with wooden slats, screens and other architectural elements is really beautiful. You can tell each shot was painstakingly composed.

On a Great Movie high, CC decided to scan through the Criterion discs available on Netflix but quickly got waylaid in the riches. Sheesh, there are a lot of them out there and dauntingly, the company keeps producing more. Guess, that's what a whole life's worth of movie watching is for.

*BTW, Rules has been held over at Film Forum, so get your butt down there to see it.

PS. RIP for Robert Altman, the beloved director who passed away on Monday at 81. His film Shortcuts is one of the few that Cinecultist ever walked out of, though in our defense, CC was only 16 and our Dad and sister Laurie weren't into the film. Maybe now is the time to add it to the rental queue for a rewatch, it is available on Criterion after all.

Posted by karen at November 21, 2006 5:41 PM