Thursday, July 22, 2010

Yasuzo Masumura - Irezumi (1966)

This flamboyantly nihilistic, erotic costume thriller from one of the bad boys of ‘60s Japanese cinema provides a good example of the interesting associations that can arise when you view so many films in such a short time. After seeing a number of mild-mannered movies about the national predilection for social accommodation and respect for tradition, it’s bracing to watch one that spits and scratches at the face of such proprieties with such bad-mannered fury. The titular body decoration (and it’s a doozy) is spread across the silky back of a beautiful and spunky young woman from a middle-class merchant family who is abducted into geisha work. Clearly not having seen enough Ozu, she takes advantage of her situation, and the think-with-your-penis stupidity of virtually every man she encounters, to wreak bloody vengeance. The ugliness of the premise is turned to beauty by the film’s black humor and sensuality: in what seems like almost every shot, Masumura puts to retina-singeing use an astonishingly varied palette of primary colors, without stumbling into garishness. The story is another matter, garish and perverse and gleefully proud of it. Moral clarity obviously isn’t this filmmaker’s bag, but Irezumi seems to be on the side of the underdogs’ right (obligation?) to bite back hard at any opportunity. Any explicitly feminist leanings are muddied by the movie’s ambivalence towards its antiheroine and its drooling fetishization of her body and face (not to mention a rather conventionally moralistic ending). Anyone who wants to accuse Masumura of misogyny might have half a case, but they’d have to contend first with the movie’s far more intense misandrony.

English .srt subtitles included
no pass