mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Taishou Chic

Ages back I saw Suzuki Seijun's Kageroza, a surrealistic film set in a Taisho that never was. I knew he'd done an earlier film called Zigeunerweisen (and if you think that's bad try reading it in katakana) but no one ever showed it; what I only just discovered, courtesy of Suspect Video, is that he made a third Taisho-set film called Yumeji. I'm amazed: mostly because it stars a singer called Sawada Kenji and one of my two gaijin friends in Tokyo was a Sawada fangirl of epic proportions. I'm amazed she never made me watch it, because she certainly made me watch Makai Tenshou where Sawada played the ghost of (in RL, sixteen year old) Amakusa Shirou. Amakusa is one of those tragic dying teenaged boys so beloved by the Japanese culture cf Yoshitsune or Taira no Atsumori (beloved for very suspect Yukio Mishima reasons: Kumagae x Atsumori OTP). I should watch Makai Tenshou again if I get a chance: hadn't realized what an all-star cast it has, and hey- Sonny Chiba as Yagyuu Juubei!

However that means I got to watch Yumeji here, with subtitles. Really bad subtitles as all of Suzuki's films seem to have. It's not that the Japanese dialogue itself makes all that much sense, being clipped and dream-like and non sequitur, but the idiocy of the translator's choices turns what little sense it makes into ROTFL gibberish. (For balance, I found a Japanese review of Yumeji that complained that it made too *much* sense, unlike its two predecessors. Clearly a case of mileage varying.)

I'm not a huge fan of Suzuki's attitude to men, women, and dogs, if he'd put dogs in his pictures- this is the guy who made Gate of Flesh, after all- and I still think that these films look quite literally sophomoric: some undergrad film maker's attempt to be poetic and surreal. (Since I also think that the Great Surrealist, Salvador Dali himself, was a perpetual adolescent.) They tend to look pretty for the sake of looking pretty- lots 'n lots of still photos of Beautiful!Japan which irks this po-faced westerner no end. But they have their distinct pleasures: if they resemble bad JTB brochures, all bright red momiji, rustic farmhouses, patterned kimono and spacious tatami'd interiors, they do give a look of the period. Taishou is the great source of style in modern Japan. Meiji Japanese uncomfortable in their new Victorian clothes look frumpy, and everyone kept dying of TB. (One feels like Akama occasionally: 'Sheesh, why do Meiji writers die so easily?!') Shouwa Japanese were usually feeling the pinch (imperialism costs) and hence very subdued. Taishou had style and certainty and money. Go Taishou.

And the films all have gorgeous people in them. This time around it's Tomasaburo Bando, the onnagata.

I saw his name in the credits without seeing who he played (small print on small screen) and then couldn't figure which of the women could be him, because none of them looked like what I remember of him: in yet another long-ago film whose name I've only just remembered, Demon Pond. Certainly none of the quite gorgeous women sounded like, well, an onnagata. That's because he plays a man this time, the brilliant painter Inamura Gyoshuu who's Yumeji's senpai (you can tell from the forms of address. Otherwise confusing, because Bando looks younger than Sawada to my eye: but what does my eye know?)

Inamura is probably modelled on the painter Hayami Gyoshuu (bad picture there- there's a better version of it somewhere that I failed to bookmark.) He's made up to look like him too, with glasses and lacquered hair and a little moustache. And the voice... Granted I've been spoiled by a bunch of VAs, still, what a lovely voice he has.

Equally fascinating to listen to and watch are the Taishou women in Yumeji, particularly Yumeji's well brought up merchant-class girlfriend and the hostess of the inn. There's a classic way of moving and speaking that gets represented but not conveyed in manga. (Kurotsubaki, most recently, and the geisha youkai in 100 Demons' cat story.) You're supposed to be able to fill in the non-moving manga blanks from experience- and I must assume, experience gleaned from movies like this, because where else will you find it in modern Japan? Kabuki maybe, if you can get over the voices: but I can't.

(Should note that Takehisa Yumeji was a real person, but info on him is hard to come by. However googling that bit of Japanese cultural history is fascinating: artistic feuds between artistic factions, and the ever-recurring name of Okakura Tenshin.)

Utterly off-topic, my laugh out loud line of the day:
Cheer up, emo dachshund, at least they didn't put you in a wee hot dog getup.
Tags: film, japan

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