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GONZA THE SPEARMAN

Japan, 1985 (MIFF 1986)

Director: Masahiro Shinoda

Shinoda's second adaptation of an 18th century puppet play by Chikamatsu is very different from the earlier DOUBLE SUICIDE (1969) — more realistic, less flamboyant, less experimental in that there is no attempt now made to deconstruct the film image. However, despite the surface realism, and the exquisite photography of classical cinematographer Miyagawa. this film is more critical of the values of feudal lapan (and. by implication. modern Japan) than its predecessor. Though he confines himself very strictly to a "straight" adaptation of the 18th century play, with no interpretation or extrapolations, it is not hard to read it as a work of social criticism. The samurai, like the warlords of the 1930s and 40s, have given up warring with swords and taken up careerism, a perhaps more cut-throat form of civil war. Expertise with the sword is now less important than expertise at the tea ceremony Itoday the art of tea has been replaced by the art of Japanese business management, and survives only as a feminine accomplishment, taught in courses to bored housewives) and budding young careerists will do anything to get it. Their obsession with acquiring these skills and making a career results not only in sacrifice of their nearest and dearest personal relations but ultimately in their own self-destruction.

Then there are the absurd ritual codes of behaviour which have to be obeyed. Shinoda has noted in interviews that what interests him in Chikamatsu is the fact that tragedy occurs without causal connections: unlike classical western tragedy. Japanese tragedy is absurd. People are accused of and severely punished for crimes they haven't committed, but they behave as criminals and their families have to treat them as such. Natural feelings have to be repressed so that one can perform one's "duty". A cuckolded husband is obliged to kill his adulterous wife and her lover: a bereaved daughter is not allowed to mourn her murdered mother. The last shot of the film lingers in the memory: Osai's daughter totally expressionlessly but perfectly performs the tea ceremony — she has mastered the gestures, which are beautiful, but it is oh so chilling.

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