EROS + MASSACRE (1969)
Director's Cut: Image B+ Sound B Extras B-
Theatrical Version: Image B Sound B Extras B
starring Mariko Okada, Toshiyuji Hosokawa, Yûko Kusunoki, Etsushi Takahashi
written by Masahiro Yamada & Yoshishige Yoshida
directed by Yoshishige Yoshida
HEROIC PURGATORY (1970)
***/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B
starring Mariko Okada, Kaizo Kamoda, Naho Kimura, Yoshiaki Makita
written by Masahiro Yamada
directed by Yoshishige Yoshida
COUP D'ETAT (1973)
***½/**** Image B+ Sound B Extras B
starring Rentarô Mikuni, Yasuo Miyake, Akiko Kurano, Tadahiko Sugano
written by Minoru Betsuyaku
directed by Yoshishige Yoshida
by Bryant Frazer In director Yoshishige Yoshida's restlessly erotic trio of films dealing with Japanese radicalism (aptly dubbed "Love + Anarchism" by Arrow Films), past and present merge as easily and ineluctably as the personal and the political. Released between 1969 and 1973, they were made at a politically turbulent time in Japan, when the New Left movement gained social currency and student anarchists, the Zengakuren, challenged the status quo by occupying buildings at universities and high schools around the country. In that conflict between anarchy and order, Yoshida saw reflections of Japan's past--earlier generations of radicals who challenged societal structures in the same way that new activists were pushing back against contemporary norms. Yoshida was not inspired to make anything as simple as a series of biopics or historical dramas; instead, he embarked on a series of formally elaborate films that evaluated the struggles of radicals and would-be revolutionaries from decades past in light of the then-current political moment.
While some of his Japanese New Wave contemporaries have become familiar to Western audiences, Yoshida remains fairly obscure in the U.S.. That may be to some extent because of his embrace of avant-garde techniques, but it's also because his celebrated trilogy on radicalism requires a familiarity with Japanese history and culture to parse. Eros + Massacre is partly a portrait of the leftist Sakae Ōsugi, whose practice of free love paralleled his promotion of anarchism, and Coup d'Etat wrestles with the military nationalist Ikki Kita, whose vision of the so-called Shōwa Restoration was a totalitarian state headed by Emperor Hirohito that he felt could fight off Western imperialism. Sandwiched by those two films is Heroic Purgatory, a consideration of the Communist party in Japan that's arguably the most difficult of the three, as it features no specific historical figures to serve as a guide to its politics. The formal rigor of Eros + Massacre, with characters from two different eras meeting at the centre of the film, serves as preparation for the highly-structured narrative of Heroic Purgatory, which layers timeframes on top of each other as though connecting them via a wormhole. The trio then closes with Coup d'Etat, the most conventional drama of the three and maybe the easiest for non-Japanese audiences to decipher.
Tackling the set chronologically means diving into the deep end with the film widely hailed as Yoshida's masterpiece, Eros + Massacre. Yoshida's original cut is 216 minutes long and even the shorter, theatrically-released version runs 165; either experience is immersive. Visually, it's immensely satisfying. Yoshida is a master of using scene geometry to define or enhance his bracing shot compositions, and cinematographer Motokichi Hasegawa's overexposed widescreen photography is suffused with soft white light and halation that sometimes threatens to obscure the actors entirely. The techniques give the film something akin to the dreamy, half-remembered quality of Last Year at Marienbad. Likewise, Yoshida's narrative strategy is anything but straightforward, so it pays to know a bit of history going in. Much of Eros + Massacre is ostensibly set in the Taishō era, a part of Japanese history in which the government began to crack down on the Left in advance of the coming hard move towards totalitarianism and nationalism in the run-up to World War II. Having already been arrested and imprisoned in 1908, Ōsugi escaped a subsequent police round-up, the High Treason Incident of 1910, that resulted in the execution of twelve alleged conspirators in a plot to assassinate the Emperor. (Ōsugi's eerie haiku reflecting on that incident is featured near the beginning of the film.) The political climate of the time is important because it informs Yoshida's take on Ōsugi's behaviour. Specifically, government oppression made it difficult for Ōsugi to practice straightforward political agitation, but Yoshida sees Ōsugi's embrace of free love as an even more radical manoeuvre--it subverted Confucian family values, undermined the patriarchy, and, like anarchism, threatened the very existence of the state. That helps explain what became known as the Amakasu incident, in which military police arrested, brutalized, and murdered Ōsugi, his then-partner Noe Itō, and the six-year-old nephew who happened to be staying with them in the disastrous wake of the Great Kantō earthquake that levelled Tokyo in 1923, killing well over 100,000.
Toshiyuki Hosokawa plays Ōsugi as a handsome rake with darting eyes and devilishly well-groomed facial hair. Yoshida clearly sees him as a formidable figure, but doesn't entirely swallow his vision of free love, which privileges the desires of the man over the preferences of his female lovers. Ōsugi describes his wife (Kazuko Inano) to his first mistress, Itsuko Masaoka (Yûko Kusunoki), as "an illiterate, simple woman," while insisting that she is nonetheless suitable as the partner of a revolutionary. Ōsugi is more interested in the younger Itō (Mariko Okada), a budding anarcho-feminist whose love affair with Ōsugi drives a wedge between him and Masaoka. Attempting to maintain relations with all three women, Ōsugi comes off as a romantically ambitious but insensitive dipshit, insisting that he loves each of them equally and declaring his expectation that each will maintain financial independence and respect the others' "sexual freedom." When he tells Itsuko that Noe loves him, Itsuko responds with a chilly poker face and mutters, "Lucky you." In the film's pivotal scene, twice repeated, she goes after him with a knife. Well, that's anarchy for you, at least if your politics fail to account for human nature--envy, jealousy, and resentment.
Despite its recasting of historical events, Eros + Massacre is not a historical drama--not really. The title refers to the then-recently published Eros and Civilization, in which influential New Left theorist Herbert Marcuse attempted a Marxist reading of Freudian theory. Further, using a framing story set in contemporary Tokyo, Yoshida makes it explicitly clear that his film is about the modern era. It doesn't seek to correctly place Ōsugi and Itō in their historical context as much as it wants to show how their ultimately failed struggle against the state relates to the travails of the New Left. And so, at the very beginning of the piece, we are introduced to a pair of college students researching Ōsugi's life and philosophy: the microphone-wielding Eiko Sokutai (Toshiko Ii), and man-with-a-movie-camera Wada (Daijirô Harada). They make an odd couple--Wada is apparently impotent, while Eiko responds to Ōsugi's free love philosophies by dabbling in prostitution. (Her part-time lovers include the film director on whose sets she and Wada hang out.) Eiko spends much of Eros + Massacre partly undressed, unembarrassed but also unhappy. She's not much of a revolutionary--after attracting the attention of a shifty police detective, she can't even get arrested. And Wada is less partner than voyeur, a responsive but flaccid audience in attendance at the spectacle of her attempted sexual awakenings.
Yoshida ties Eiko's yearnings directly to her interest in the lives of Ōsugi and Itō. In the opening scene, Eiko is attempting to interview a woman named Mako (Okada); Eiko says Mako was seven years old when her mother, Itō, and her lover, Ōsugi, were assassinated. The interview is more like an interrogation, with Eiko bristling at Mako's silence. "One remembers many things from when they were seven," she suggests. Mako does not respond, though we do see her cover her face, a gesture I interpreted as shame or discomfort. As cited by Isolde Standish in her critical volume Politics, Porn and Protest: Japanese Avant-Garde Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s, what Japanese critic Inuhiko Yomota sees here is a reference to Noh theatre and an actor's donning of a mask. (This makes intuitive sense to me; this sequence reminded me of Ingmar Bergman's Persona--the title itself, of course, is Latin for mask.) Mako then alludes to the death of her mother and begins talking somewhat cryptically. Her own mother no longer exists, she says. But, "if we speak about the mother of the mother of my mother, well then," she says with a dramatic pause before pointing directly at the camera, "you." When next we see Okada on screen, she is wearing the metaphorical mask; she has taken the role of Itō. Yet we understand that she cannot really be Itō: she is representing Itō as Eiko sees her, and perhaps as we see her. Further pressing the point, Yoshida allows the two timeframes to overlap. At one point, Noe Itō, in full Taishō costume, rides a commuter train into modern-day Tokyo. At another, Eiko herself is allowed to confront Itō in person, mic at the ready, to question her directly. Here, past, present, and future have collapsed. The film ruminates on the decades-long gap between pre-war radicals Ōsugi and Itō and the politically aware post-war youth reckoning with--and perhaps destined to repeat--their legacy of failed revolution.
Fortunately, Eros + Massacre is not just a tract--it's also a gorgeous cinematic wonder that benefits from Yoshida's weirdly off-centre way of framing the world, a formal strategy that's aggressive and distancing yet utterly engrossing. The Taishō scenes have a classical elegance (as in the shots where women's parasols, opened across the full height of the widescreen picture, define circular cut-outs in the rectangular frame) compared to those set in modern Tokyo, where carefully controlled modernism lives side-by-side with modish self-reflexivity. Yoshida rejects both traditional Hollywood-style cutting as well as Eisensteinian montage; traditional reverse-angle and over-the-shoulder shot sequences are absent and expressionistic edits are the order of the day. The decisively unbalanced compositions emphasize negative space, sometimes drawing attention to the air between characters, oftentimes windowing them in smaller rectangles within the larger frame, always emphasizing the artifice of narrative technique and the way narrators force their own frames and subframes onto the stories they interpret. At the same time, Yoshida's storytelling approach can seem surprisingly dry and expedient. Many of the Taishō scenes amount to artfully composed tableaux of people standing around explaining things to each other--listing their achievements, describing their personal philosophies, enumerating their relationships. These expository signposts help chart the film’s references to historical events, but they’re a clunky counterpoint to Yoshida’s completely assured grasp of cinematic style.
At its best, Eros + Massacre transcends the need for context or interpretation. The film's most justly famous scene is probably its first recreation of Itsuko's attack on Osugi, featuring a balletic struggle that culminates in a riveting handheld shot following Itsuko through the house, around corners and from room to room before panels of shoji panels begin toppling over as her wounded lover staggers down a hallway. Eventually the last panels fall, highlighting Osugi's prone form at the centre of the frame. I also love the weird psychosexual stuff set in modern times, like the sequence where Eiko and Wada run around a Tokyo construction zone--in an attempted verbal seduction, Wada shares an erotic monologue à la mid-'60s Bergman/Godard on a landscape borrowed from Antonioni--and finally take their positions on a cross that towers over the site, tied back to back: Wada immobile, Eiko writhing slowly against the wood. Does it help to realize that the cross can be seen as a product of cultural imperialism, and to know that Osugi himself dabbled in Christianity before becoming more politically active? Maybe. Regardless, this stuff is a treat. It's borderline ridiculous but richly suggestive. It's fearless. More to the rhetorical point is the scene where Wada, taking in the strips of workprint hanging in the director's cutting room, declares, "The man who shot this film is a good-for-nothing." (The question hangs in the air: which man? Which film?) Moments later, Eiko wonders brightly, "Hey, is he going to use this in a commercial?," before projecting slideshow images of the earthquake-induced devastation, with countless bodies piled across the landscape, that gave cover to Osugi's state-sponsored murder. Part of what makes the movie work is just how spooky and affectless these two sexually-frustrated tyros seem, making Eros + Massacre a supremely creepy, mournful communion with the ghosts of Japan's radical past.
As opaque as Eros + Massacre can seem in its particulars, it's actually fairly accessible to anyone with an appreciation for beautiful imagery and a reasonable interest in the avant-garde. More specifically attuned to time and place, Heroic Purgatory is harder to find a way into. It's keyed to important dates in the wake of the Treaty of San Francisco and Anpo Treaty between the United States and Japan, both of which were enacted in 1952. The film is set in 1952, 1960 and 1970, when widespread protests accompanied 10-year renewals of the pact, and in the then-future year of 1980, when Yoshida no doubt expected renewed resistance. The story begins in 1970, when married couple Shoda (Yoshiaki Makita) and Kanako (Mariko Okada) take in Ayu (Kazumi Tsutsui), a lost teenage girl. A man shows up claiming to be her father, having traced her location with a hidden microphone sewn into her clothing, but she says she doesn't know him. ("She doesn't like me" is part of his attempted explanation.) Perhaps the mystery girl is a radical feminist (or, you know, Radical Feminism) and her purported father is the patriarchy desperate to keep her under its thumb. In one scene, she insists on making a plan to kill all of the "daddies," complete with elaborate fantasies that include beheadings, beatings, and gas chambers, while Kanako absently flips through a fashion magazine. The encounter seemingly triggers a kind of reverie in Shoda, who follows the girl down a rabbit hole back to July of 1952 and spends the remainder of the film unstuck in time.
If Eros + Massacre suggested Bergman by way of Antonioni, Heroic Purgatory seems more directly influenced by the films of Alain Resnais, chiefly his time-traveling 1968 science-fiction film Je t'aime, Je t'aime. At the same time, it would be hard to make a time-travel film in 1970 without Chris Marker's 1962 short La Jetée as a touchstone. Comparisons to fellow Japanese New Waver Nagisa Oshima's Night and Fog in Japan are similarly inevitable. Heroic Purgatory is no rehash, though, as Yoshida's visual sense remains singular. His preoccupation with industrial design and architecture, checked by Eros + Massacre's period interiors and airy, spacious exteriors, is pushed to the fore here, with the narrower aspect ratio encouraging geometrically rich yet oppressive picture compositions. Where the 'scope frame of Eros + Massacre seemed to give its characters room to explore the political and sensual potential of the world around them, the squarer Academy ratio closes in claustrophobically, in keeping with a story about a man whose present and future are boxed in by a radical past. Ceilings bear down from above and floors rear up from below to push tiny human figures into ever-smaller compartments within the frame. Hasegawa returns as cinematographer, and many shots have that same brilliant bloom of background light threatening to obscure the characters seen in silhouette. Sometimes this stuff verges on self-parody, like when Yoshida first frames a scene with a massive amount of headroom, then reframes it with the camera rolling, tilting downwards so the composition is reversed and negative space dominates the bottom of the frame, or when the camera dollies forward energetically in order to isolate a character even more aggressively in one corner of the shot. But the rigor and consistency demand respect. Yoshida's camera moves are often galvanizing, particularly when the handheld camera prowls through interior spaces, following women as they curl around corners. It's a cliché to call every frame a painting, but damn near every shot here is startling and provocative.
Like Eros + Massacre, Heroic Purgatory is a tale of failed revolutionaries and their disillusionment. Just as Yoshida seemed impatient with Ōsugi's repurposing of anarchist philosophies as a justification for treating women badly, he's not optimistic about this film's hoped-for communist uprising. He has Shoda's co-conspirator Onko describe how she took solace in the visage of "Joseph Vissarionovitch" (better known to you and me as Joseph Stalin), who she says appeared "many times" to smile at her, and that can't be good. At one point she complains, "It wasn't the plan that was at fault. It's our phantom democracy that's to blame." Well, yes and no. Also like Eros + Massacre, this film has sex on its mind, perhaps as a counter-indicator to revolution. In the final reel, Shoda's maybe-lover opts out of violence, choosing to strip in Shoda's living room as the deadline for delivering a weapon to her comrades approaches and passes. "It's not because I was afraid," she insists. "I know," Shoda responds, bending over her nude body. "The uselessness of all this overwhelmed you."
The final film in the trilogy, Coup d'Etat, maintains some of Yoshida's characteristic formal discipline but otherwise plays as a relatively straightforward biopic. Protagonist Ikki Kita (Rentaro Mikuni) was a right-wing thinker in pre-World War II Japan who is sometimes credited as a father of Japanese fascism thanks especially to his 1919 book An Outline Plan for the Reorganization of Japan. The film's Japanese title, Kaigenrei, translates directly as "Martial Law," which was Kita's hoped-for state of affairs. As it's spelled out herein, he felt that a military dictatorship would bring order to Japan under the rule of the emperor. Without explicitly participating in its planning, Kita was able to help bring about through his writings an attempted military coup--the so-called February 26 Incident of 1936. The second strand of narrative deals with a fiercely loyal young soldier (Yasuo Miyake) who gets caught up in the faction of young military officers preparing for revolution. He is prepared to give his life for his emperor, and his ailing wife seems ready to embrace widowhood for however long her own life turns out to be in exchange for the fulfillment of his idealism. It's here that the film is arguably hardest on Kita, showing him cajoling the young man into an unwitting suicide mission for the revolution but insisting all the while, "This has nothing to do with me." The picture's treatment of the February 26 Incident itself is striking--it unfolds at a distance, far off-screen, and Kita keeps up with events via telephone. It's brilliant and ironic understatement. Coup d'Etat is about the contagiousness of ideas, but also about the cowardice of styling one's self as a revolutionary by proxy.
Coup d'Etat is probably the strongest film in the trilogy when considered solely as a traditional narrative: Its story is straightforward and elevated by the presence of Mikuni, a great actor who cuts an imposing figure. Gaze focused, brow forever knitted, he portrays Kita as a self-regarding patriot, utterly secure in the virtue of his ideas and serenely comfortable at the prospect of bloodshed. The film opens with the killing of Zenjirō Yasuda, the octogenarian founder of the Yasuda cartel, in an act of political defiance inspired by Kita's writings. The assassin, Heigo Asahi, instructs his sister to deliver his bloodied shirt to Kita, who uses it as leverage to bully Yasuda's competitors. In one of Mikuni's best scenes, Kita shows up at the offices of Yasuda's rival Mitsui with Asahi's bloody shirt wrapped up in a bundle. "It seems the number of people who hate the cartels is growing," he notes, ominously, then encourages the salarymen to smell the stain, which he says mingles the businessman Yasuda's blood with his killer's. The salarymen decline his offered snort, but they do give Kita a small wad of cash--protection money, evidently, although Kita also accepted money from the cartels in exchange for information--that sends him on his way. Mikuni plays the scene completely cool--and not Eastwood cool, either. He doesn't act like he's toying with the men, or amused at their weak stomachs, but rather like he's barely aware they're in the room. He's seeing The Big Picture, and comes off as mildly annoyed that he has to bully these functionaries as part of the grand political scheme. It's a supremely and unsettlingly imperious performance, certainly the best in all three films.
Though Coup d'Etat shares formal characteristics with the two earlier features, Yoshida's visual adventurousness is notably more restrained, less of a deliberately alienating factor. Returning cinematographer Hasegawa does especially great work with light and shadow this time around, crafting shots that recall film noir in general and the angular expressionism of Orson Welles in particular. Frames from Coup d'Etat are still masterful photographic compositions, but they're less aggressive in drawing attention to themselves; in considering Japanese ultranationalism, it seems, Yoshida became less interested in indulging his experimental tendencies and more in presenting a clear critique. Screenwriter Minoru Betsuyaki, a well-known playwright, lays out Kita's philosophies as even-handedly as possible. Kita is not power-hungry; he admits that a dream in which he became emperor of Japan frightened him. He loves his country but he doesn't trust his countrymen, complaining that, left to their own devices, they lack coordination and make needless mistakes. And so he is a fan of discipline, his ideals aligning naturally with those of the military. Chillingly, he muses aloud that "martial law imposes order on disorder." But Betsuyaki's Kita is haunted, too. Frequently remembering a childhood where he was punished through physical abuse if ever he showed signs of fear, he slices himself with a razor when he recognizes those feelings in his adult self. There's a dialogue between Kita and his wife in which they argue about their lives together and what it is that frightens them, where they swim in similar waters as the husbands and wives in Bergman's great black-and-white psychodramas. The material is elevated, no doubt, by Yoshida's formal mastery. Though some of the later scenes in the film--e.g., those that have the secret police explaining and commenting on Kita's beliefs, or junior military officers stoically weighing the pros and cons of martial law--are perhaps overly didactic, the film still triangulates a position with regard to his brand of totalitarianism-as-justice. It shows how a leader can espouse a coherent and even attractive political philosophy, and still be a madman.
Taken as a whole, Yoshida's trilogy is a mammoth piece of work. Eros + Massacre is the crown jewel, a sensual, fiercely intellectual triumph that can hold its own against anyone else's oddball masterpiece, but each film benefits somewhat from its proximity to the others. The general air of disillusionment driving Eros + Massacre informs the absurdist extremes of Heroic Purgatory and the sober approach to Coup d'Etat; Yoshida's disdain for the left-wing Communists balances his distaste for Kita's right-wing militarism. And all three films engage with Japan's past as a way of questioning the New Left's ability to follow through on any vision for its future. As Yoshida told CAHIERS DU CINÉMA on the release of Eros + Massacre in 1970, "Reflecting on the present is also reflecting on the future: it is at the same time wanting to change the present and seizing a hold of that which will become the future . . . The fundamental theme is: how to change the world, and what is it that needs to be changed?" Almost 40 years later, these three films still resonate as troubled, cerebral meditations on the role of the individual in the face of history--the ways that men and women of principle struggled against the roiling storm surge of a bloody, deeply fucked-up 20th century.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Originally released in the UK as a limited-edition, dual-format Blu-ray and DVD box in 2015 on the Arrow Academy label, "Love + Anarchism" made its way to the U.S. earlier this year in a box set containing seven discs in total--four DVDs and three Blu-rays--and given another limited run of 3,000 copies. On Blu-ray, one BD is dedicated to the 165-minute theatrical version of Eros + Massacre and another to the 216-minute extended version Arrow is calling the director's cut. A third BD includes both Heroic Purgatory (118 minutes) and Coup d'Etat (110 minutes). The combined running time of the latter two films is pushing the realistic limit of a BD-50, though these movies seem to have survived the compression process unscathed. That all four titles are completely black-and-white must have helped, as well as the fact that neither the 'scope frame of Eros + Massacre nor the much narrower ratio of the other two films (Heroic Purgatory is transferred at 1.35:1* and Coup d'Etat at about 1.33:1) comes close to filling the full 1.78:1 HD frame with moving images.
The long version of Eros + Massacre looks marvellous in HD, thanks to a 2.35:1, 1080p transfer that contributes a cinematic feel by emphasizing the grainy brightness of Yoshida's overexposed frames. The look is inconsistent, alas; a handful of scenes have a dupe-y appearance, for lack of a better word, and certain shots have noticeably lower white values. At the same time, some of the scenes that are notably bright in the director's cut are significantly darker in the theatrical version. Making matters worse, the director's cut is comparatively missing a significant amount of picture information on all four sides of the frame (the aspect ratio of the theatrical version, for what it's worth, is closer to 2.38:1), hurting some of the more extreme shot compositions. It's unclear whether these inconsistencies are due to a variance in the quality of available source materials, timing differences between the different cuts of the film, or simple inconsistencies in the film-to-video transfer process. What matters is that we have two solid versions of Eros + Massacre for home viewing. I quite prefer the more extreme look of the longer cut despite having no real reason to believe that's what was intended.
If Heroic Purgatory isn't as striking in HD, the picture quality is at least comparable. The layer of soft haze that shrouds much of Eros + Massacre is gone, yielding a consistently higher-contrast and finer-grained image with deeper blacks and a broader dynamic range that reflects the film's low-key lighting set-ups. What with its less commanding blacks and much lower white values throughout, Coup d'Etat suggests a step down of sorts. Though the image is smoother with less grain, it lacks in overall detail, displaying softer edges and an overall muddiness. Fortunately, Coup d'Etat's even more aggressively noir-ish lighting schemes help make up for the reduced dynamics. Audio is presented in monaural PCM across the board and exhibits no problems worth mentioning. With its fairly robust dynamics and high fidelity, Heroic Purgatory sounds the best and brightest of the three; the other two tracks feel a tad more constrained and are a bit muffled. The subtitles boast a new translation of all three films.
Extras are critical for a set like this, comprising as it does films about which relatively little English-language scholarship exists. Arrow has chosen the logical commentator to host this collection: David Desser, whose book on Japanese New Wave cinema is in fact titled Eros + Massacre. Desser's yak-tracks for these films are disappointingly if understandably abbreviated--providing illuminating commentary for the full duration of the trilogy would be a daunting task. Instead, Desser drops some introductory remarks in front of each entry before weighing in on select scenes. Although he sometimes falls into the trap of spending too much time simply describing what's happening on screen, he is at least attuned to Yoshida's aesthetics, and his intros are incredibly helpful viewing aids that place these films in a temporal and political context that would otherwise be obscure to many Western viewers. For instance, his introduction to the theatrical cut of Eros + Massacre (11 mins.) explains that Ichiko Kamichika, the basis for the character of Itsuko, considered the picture an invasion of privacy, spurring Yoshida to dramatically re-edit his original cut for theatrical release and relegating the "director's cut" to a future DVD release. And yet Desser sounds skeptical of the merits of the so-called "director's cut," using his pulpit to consider several of the restored scenes in terms of whether or not he feels they add anything substantive to the complete work. In his preface to the longer cut (9 mins.), he starts by discussing The Seven Samurai, observing that nobody disputes the superiority of Kurosawa's preferred longer version of that film. After a helpful digression on the evolution of the Japanese New Wave, he returns to the subject of Eros + Massacre and argues that its shorter version feels more avant-garde than the alternative, thanks in part to its reduced focus on the Taisho era compared to modern Japan.
A few supplements are held over from an earlier Allerton Films release, among them the French-language documentary "Yoshida ou l'éclatement du récit" ("Yoshida or the Explosion of the Story" (30 mins.)), directed by Jonas Rosales and featuring commentary from film historians Mathieu Capel and Jean Douchet as well as interview segments with Yoshida himself. Notably, Yoshida comments on the "blindingly bright light" of Eros + Massacre. "Past and present were randomly placed together, so tomorrow doesn't come after today," he says. "The timeline gets disrupted in an instant. By adding this blinding light, it signals that this isn't usual storytelling and it doesn't follow a timeline. The space and time we experience here together doesn't exist in the real world." And then Douchet ventures, "compared to this film, Godard is still very shy." Capel reveals that Kamichika went so far as to sue over the film, and suggests that only Yoshida's extensive cutting allowed the release to go ahead. Rounding out the platter is a theatrical trailer (3 mins.) rife with sex and violence; as it was for the European art-film market in America, nudity was obviously considered a commercial advantage.
Heroic Purgatory gets another helpful Desser intro (9 mins.) discussing the picture's political context. Desser makes it clear that the film is about Japanese Communists and that Yoshida and Oshima shared a dim view of the Communist party. Another intro (6 mins.) comes from Yoshida himself (drawing on outtakes from the aforementioned doc), who underscores the importance of the Korean War in dividing the world "into East and West" and dividing Japan into pro- and anti-U.S. factions. The Communist party, he says, insisted on an "armed struggle," which he considers the end of revolution. "Power struggles always result in more power struggles, and armed struggle ends in more armed struggle," he opines. "To break the circle, we have to declare it as a farce. We have to condemn the power struggle as mere comedy." An especially well-edited theatrical trailer (3 mins.) is also included, foregrounding the film's spooky score...and spotlighting a bit of nudity.
Desser's intro (9 mins.) to Coup d'Etat notes that it stands alone in this trilogy in dealing with a character and events that would be familiar to Japanese viewers and then explains them for the benefit of Western audiences. He adds that it would be the last feature Yoshida directed until 1986. Yoshida weighs in, too (5 mins.), noting that the attempted coup of the title actually took place in 1936, when he was three years old. He can't recall the event itself but says he remembers well the era of Japanese militarism it ushered in. The revolutionaries "were against the government of the time. They thought that the government didn't care about the people, and they thought that poor people especially were disenfranchised. They rose up in revolt, driven by a sense of justice." An ominous theatrical trailer (3 mins.) warns: "Martial law envisaged by Ikki unfolds as Japan's innate irrationality becomes a blinding image." Also, nudity.
An advertised 80-page book featuring new writing by Yoshida experts Desser, Standish, and Dick Stegewerns was not provided for review.
*Actually, the transfer's aspect ratio seems to vary slightly; I measured some shots at 1.33:1 and others at 1.35:1. return