Shuji Terayama  

Eclectic avant-garde Japanese artist that wrote many books and plays and was involved in art, theater and film. Most of his movies consist of experimental shorts varying widely in style and theme. In his early period he was more involved in social politics and somewhat naive revolutionary provocations, a firm believer in action and learning from activities like boxing rather than books. In his more mature period he made beautifully surreal movies usually involving explorations of memory and the past. His shorts involve bizarre, extremely artsy and impenetrable imagery that sometimes rivals Chien Andalou, or theatrical pieces. The theater group was involved in his longer movies as well, performing bizarre dance numbers. Other recurring themes include a mature woman raping a young man, clocks and time, white faces, and stage settings falling away to reveal real scenery. He also made an artsy but mostly conventional S&M erotic movie (Fruits of Passion) and a drama about a boxer. Died in 1983.


Farewell to the Ark  
A fascinating final creation by Terayama that merges his personal surreal explorations of memory and a touch of his earlier social commentaries. The theme is old ways vs. modern life, progress and our personal connections with our past, both good and bad. The story revolves around an isolated village where clocks literally make the sun rise and set, and they therefore buried all clocks but one. Clans, chiefs, gossip, fears, legends, superstitions, and chastity belts run amok as two cousins get too close and are warned about the dangers of getting involved with each other, resulting in beastly offspring. After he kills the chief, they leave to get married, exploring the forbidden, but are haunted by madness, forgetfulness and ghosts. The village starts to get plagued by more clocks, dead clocks, electricity and technology, the villagers learning to overcome fears and local scary legends in the form of a virginal girl in the woods, and a black hole in the ground that keeps growing as they slowly abandon their traditions and hometown for the city. Women and their roles, their liberation and sexuality are explored as well. The dense symbolism is mostly obvious but the film itself is unique, bizarre and sometimes fascinatingly beautiful, featuring some strange rituals and dancers, absurd touches like a hole in the ground where boys become men and women go to die, anachronistic and wild costumes, colorful surreal imagery, and lots of strange behaviour. A beautiful ending wraps it all up warmly.

Pastoral: To Die in the Country  
In what may or may not be an auto-biography, Terayama explores his past and the relationship we have with our memories in what feels like a Fellini movie by way of Jodorowsky without the flaws of neither. As a 15 year old who grew up in the country, he has a suffocating relationship with his overbearing, over-protective mother, and a crush on a local depressed married woman. The village is plagued with gossiping women with eye-patches and is haunted by a resident freak-show, containing, amongst other things, a woman who wears a fake fat inflatable body. Felliniesque grotesqueries mix with poetic symbolism, bizarre surrealism, haikus, sad tales of love and innocence, beautiful scenery and interesting cinematography, all wrapped in a self-referential, intellectually thought-provoking exploration of how our lives are affected by our childhood memories which change over time. A magnificent balance between indulgent surrealism and thoughtful objectivism.

Of Some Interest

Grass Labyrinth  
10 years later, Terayama revisits the same territory of his masterpiece Pastoral, only without the metaphysics and exquisite balance. The surrealism is boosted however and we are given a personal dream-experience that turns into a nightmare. The smothering mother is back, a next-door neighbour tries to seduce/rape him and his mother accuses her of madness and nymphomania. Akira's childhood, teenage coming of age and sexual awakening mesh together in a surreal experience as he tries to trace back memories of lullabies, toy balls that keep popping up and becoming bigger and more ominous, sexual lures and dangers weaving in and out of memory and repressed feelings, magic calligraphy on skin, strange toys, prostitutes, and a chase that becomes nightmarish as a troupe of bizarre humans jeer and tease him. Exquisitely and beautifully strange, this is Terayama's most non-linear work but it's an experience that feels like someone else's personal exploration and nothing more.


Emperor Tomato Ketchup  
An artsy, surrealist attack on Japanese culture, war, and state policies and oppression of the time. The idea of sex as power and control of people, the policies of violence and fascism, and the new and young overthrowing the old are portrayed in a sequence of overlong random scenes involving children in army uniforms abusing adults, having sex with adults, a midget decapitating a chicken, two insane men playing games where the loser gets frantically abused by the other, an old woman dancing in the field, children in decadent costumes enjoying the modern life and adults bound and gagged, etc. Wild, shocking, dull, messy. There are two versions going around, the sepia 70 minute version being a strange extended version released in 1996 which splices itself together with the shorts 'The Cage' and 'Paper-Scissors-Rock War'.

Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets  
Although not as transgressive as Emperor Tomato Ketchup, this socially didactic experiment is just as wild and even more inscrutable. The portrait of a lost, alienated youth and his family is explored via loosely strung together vignettes and surreal interludes. Everything is attacked in wannabe-revolutionary style but actually comes off more as naive angst and anarchy. The teenager seeks manhood via football and team-mates who turn out to be gang-rapists, via sex with a prostitute who services the football team, fantasies about flying, independence from family, etc. His grandmother is a pathological liar, his father a pathetic, unemployed peeping tom, his sister hates men and is into bestiality, and mothers are attacked for... something or another too. From this horrible world we are rallied into throwing away books and committing to action, learning from experience, focusing our energies and rage, and, by attacking the audience and our cinematic detachment, to avoid watching movies as escapist entertainment. Godardesque colors and avant-garde, energetic cinematic deconstruction carry this mess of a confrontational experiment that doesn't really have anything to say.

1999- by The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre Table of Contents