ASIAN FILM - Review
15:00 - 23rd January 2016, by NEO Staff

Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism Limited Edition

Despite his integral place in Japanese cinematic tradition, avant-garde director Kiju Yoshida remains something of an unknown outside of his native country. It’s due in no small part to the fact that, until now, his films were virtually impossible to watch outside of Japan. Love + Anarchism, a limited edition release of three of his most challenging and iconic films (often referred to as his ‘Political Trilogy’), Eros + Massacre (1969), Heroic Purgatory (1970) and Coup D’Etat (1973), aims to change that.

While only loosely connected, each bears the hallmarks of Yoshida’s idiosyncratic approach to cinematography, as well as his preoccupations with love, eroticism, and the ideological conflicts between feudal and modern Japan. More like concept albums than traditional cinematic experiences, their stark beauty and contemplative thematic links mean they make for provocative viewing.

Perhaps the most well-known film of the trilogy, Eros + Massacre centres on the life of early Japanese anarchist (and free love advocate) Sakae Osugi, particularly the 1916 incident in which he was stabbed by a jealous former lover. Intercut with this are scenes from 1960s Japan, in which two young people explore the same notions of free love and anarchism that Osugi championed. As well as the original, shortened 160 minute version (cut down due to complaints from the real-life counterpart of one of the main characters), this collection also contains the full 220 minute director’s cut, and it’s here that Yoshida’s vision truly shines through.

In his trademark style, his characters drift in and out of static shots, occluded by architecture as well as their own transitory positioning on the edges of frames. Their stories are veiled behind the voyeuristic nature of his camerawork, but nonetheless the thematic touch points of love, politics, and the nature of truth are impossible to avoid. Rightly hailed as one of the masterpieces of the Japanese New Wave, it makes for exhausting but evocative viewing.

The more accessible Coup d’Etat also centres on the life of a political philosopher, Ikki Kita, whose advocacy of a return to feudal Japanese and militarist values saw him attempt an unsuccessful coup of the Japanese Meiji Emperor in 1936. The closest Yoshida comes to presenting a direct narrative, it’s perhaps the easiest film to start with of the three.

Heroic Purgatory, meanwhile, is perhaps Yoshida’s least accessible work. With barely any narrative to speak of, it is instead a visual exploration of the political turmoil of Yoshida’s student days, when Communist uprisings and protests sought to remove Japanese obligations to the capitalist west. Its twisting corridors and fragmented scenes challenge the mind’s predisposition to create narratives where there are none, resulting in an intensely visual, if hard to decipher, cinematic experience.

The box set comes with some excellent commentaries and introductions from David Desser, as well as by Yoshida himself. For those wishing to delve deeper, there’s also an excellent documentary on Eros + Massacre. While they won’t be able to provide all of the answers, they do help in appreciating the context from which these works first emerged.

It probably goes without saying that Love + Anarchism isn’t for the faint of heart. Take on the challenge of understanding these films’ fraught cinematography and obscured meanings, however, and you’ll gain a valuable insight into one of Japan’s finest auteurs. A bold, brilliant, and utterly unique cinematic collection.
SCORE: 4.5/5
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