Salient. Official Newspaper of Victoria University Students Assn. Volume 40 Number 2. Feb 7 1977
Japanese Film Festival
A Japanese Film Festival is currently showing at the Penthouse in Brooklyn. The offering of only three works is not as broad as in 1975's Japanese Film Week, but what it lacks in breadth it certainly makes up in depth.
Rashomon (1950), and the Burmese Harp (1956), the two films still to come this week, provide a valuable chance for us to gauge Japanese cinema in its most outstanding decade.
Rashomon is a winner of the Grand Prize in Venice in 1951 and Best Foreign Film in the Academy Awards, the first Japnese film to achieve international significance.
The story is set in the 12th century, and taken from two modern short stories. Rashomon was the largest gate in the ancient capital of Kyoto, fallen into disrepair after four centuries and the ravages of civil war. In it three men sheltering from the rain — a priest, a woodcutter and a 'commoner' — tell the story of a murder that has recently taken place. The facts, that a samurai and his lady were waylaid in a forest by a bandit who raped the lady, and that the samurai died in the incident, his body to be discovered by the woodcutter, provide the basis for four different accounts. No one truth emerges, and the three men are left feeling, respectivity desperately hopeful, depressed, and gleefully cynical, about the state of man. The film ends with an incident which does something to override the frustrating relativity of truth, and adds a note of optimism to the deeper theme of the preservative instinct of the ego.
"Rashomon is, essentially, a ruthlessly honest film. Exquisitely made, electrically exciting, it reaches down — by means of these qualities — to a quiet, giant truth nestled in every one of us. Ultimately what the film leaves us with is candour and consolation: if we can't be saints, at lease we can be under standingly human."
— Stanley Kauffmann.
The Burmese Harp:
"The Burmese Harp is a sad poetic, mystical and semi-religious tale based clearly on certain elements in the Japanese ethos and the Japanese subconscious. The framework of the story concerns a soldier, presumed missing or dead, trying to make his way back home after the Japanese surrender. Dressed in Buddhist robes given him by a monk who sheltered him he sees every where on his way the corpses of his fellow countrymen, abandoned, forgotten and un-buried. It comes to him that it is, at the least, his duty to give them burial. And this task soon becomes his life, based on a kind of respect (the dead should be honoured) and a kind of expiation (why should they be dead and he still living?). These self-imposed duties are mingled with flashbacks to various wartime experiences with his unit; and the whole film proceeds on its path in a rather dreamlike manner, until we are willingly drawn into its mood of waking vision I had almost said sleepwalking — a vision touched with remorse, with regrets. In the end he falls in by chance with members of his old unit. They recognise him, despite his monk's habit, because he still carries the 'harp' from which he was always inseperable. But he does not overtly admit his identity, and in sympathy they let him go on his way. Let the dead bury their dead." - Basil Wright.
Ichikawa is among the most prolific of the world's directors (55 films to date), and is also one of the most stylistically diverse. Its quiet humanism should serve as a welcome antidote to the grandiose rubbish the American war-movie industry is continually foisting upon us.
- Simon Wilson.