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Archive for August 24th, 2010

by Allan Fish

(Japan 1970 143m) DVD2 (Japan only, no English subs)

Aka. Mujo

A smile of self-mockery

d  Akio Jissoji  w  Yoshiro Ishido  ph  Youzo Inagaki  m  Toru Takemitsu  art  Niriyoshi Ikeya

Akiji Kobayashi (the monk), Ryo Tamura (Masao), Michiko Tsukasa (Yuri), Eiji Okada (Master Mori), Kotobuki Hananamoto, Kin Sugai, Minori Terada,

In writing about Akio Jissoji’s film on Midnight Eye, Roland Domenig compared Jissoji to Bresson and Dreyer, and wondered why Jissoji wasn’t better known.  The answer is fairly obvious; Dreyer and Bresson are accessible to all, not just spiritually from a western standpoint but films that can be watched by anyone, whereas Jissoji’s films deal with bestial desires as much as faith, turning Buddhist simplicity into virtual nihilism, or an extreme form of post-modernism, depending on your point of view.  Where the only nudity in Bresson’s films is chaste and brief, in Jissoji’s films it’s rampant, with enough disturbing sex scenes to send the hard right into a seizure.  The irony is that Jissoji had two simultaneous careers, one producing increasingly sexually dominated films, the other making children’s fantasies for TV; half Miyazaki, half Oshima.  This Transient Life was and remains Jissoji’s most famous film, and if the sexual content seems mild compared to his later Eros trilogy, it’s still a shocking, bracing experience.

            Set around a remote Buddhist monastery, it features Masao, a young son of a rich merchant who doesn’t want to follow his father into business or go to college, preferring to study under a famous Master how to make Kannon statues of the Goddess of Mercy.  At the same time, his sister Yuri is struggling to find a potential husband, only for it to explode when their horseplay in masks one day leads to an incestuous consummation that brings disaster to all.  They fall in love, she gets pregnant but it’s assumed to be someone else’s, who she marries.  A monk at the monastery knows the truth, and confronts Masao, who goes off instead to the master sculptor to be his assistant, only to then begin another affair with his wife, who in turn seduces her young son who, in horror, blames the whole business on Masao and sets out to kill him.  (more…)

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