by Allan Fish
(Japan 1971 120m) not on DVD
Aka. Sho o suteyo mchi e deyou
p Eiko Kujo, Shuji Terayama d/w Shuji Terayama ph Masayoshi Sukita ed Keiichi Uraoka m Kuni Kawachi, Ichiro Araki, Itsuro Shimoda, J.A.Seazer art Seiichi Hayashi
Hideaki Sasaki (boy), Masahiro Saito (his father), Yukiko Kobayashi (Setsuko, his sister), Fudeko Tanaka (his grandmother), Sei Hirazumi (football captain), Keiko Nitaka (Midori, the prostitute), Maki Asakawa (other prostitute), Akihiro Miwa (Maya at the hell),
Considering my general love of Japanese film, I have to admit there are some directors whose films have not had the impact on me they might have had. Take a look through the fortunate selected films here and you will find nothing by Kei Kumai, by Kazuhiko Hasegawa, Juzo Itami, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takeshi Kitano, Koichi Saito, Yoshitaro Nomura or, perhaps most shamefully of all, by Yoji Yamada. Some of them I have admired individual films, but not to the level required for admittance, and in some cases admit it’s probably a deficiency on my part, not theirs.
Take the period in question; the turn of the seventies, the most revolutionary period in Japanese movie history. Yoshida and Oshima were at their zenith, while Adachi, Wakamatsu, Matsumoto, Jissoji and their fellow anti-iconoclasts were tearing down all around them. Imamura, Ogawa and Tsuchimoto were also taking on the authorities in the documentary form. And it was the peak of the anything goes trash genres of pinku, girl gangs, Hanzo the Razor, Stray Cat Rock, Lone Wolf and Cub, the yakuza overkill and the beginnings of what would become anime.
One figure who stands apart from all remains Shuji Terayama. Indeed to this day he’s still barely known in the west, and yet in his way was he not the most ruthless wrecking ball of them all? One can see the influences on his work – Fellini, Wertmuller, Godard, Oshima, Makavejev, Jodorowsky, Mishima – but Terayama’s films are more uncontrolled than any, cinematic joyrides that have come loose from their supports. All of which may be enough to make one think they had no structure, but that would be doing him a great disservice.
Here one must concede that I haven’t seen many Terayama films, but adding in my defence that he only made seven feature films in all. Farewell to the Ark and Pastoral – To Die in the Country are worth seeing for their audacity alone, but are very acquired tastes, while Fruits of Passion is essentially little more than Just Jaeckin-like softcore porn with a blowjob thrown in. Throw Away Your Books is something altogether different, a piece of agitprop impossible to summarise and do justice to. Look it up on the IMDb and it’s said to be about an angst-ridden teen taking to the streets to get away from his dysfunctional family and the series of vignettes that intersperse with it. From the outset, we know we’re in a movie. After a minute of black screen, the protagonist engages the audience in a medium close-up and berates them for waiting so long. Hanging around won’t do us any good, we’re told. Two hours later, the cast talk in longshot to the director in a group about their 28 day shoot and finally they bid him adios and the screen goes white. But even then we’re given several minutes of a leftwards tracking shot along the cast like an identity line-up to nowhere.
In between are sequences that will stay with you for life – the protagonist is taken to a prostitute to lose his virginity, a small boy runs from a group of mad young women who want him to suck on their breasts, a father brings his daughter a rabbit as a pet…a decade or so late, a group of schoolgirls sing atop a fence of what they’ll do when they grow up into a whore. The overall effect will brainstorm you, like finding “here’s looking at you, kid” in hieroglyphics on the wall of a pharaoh’s tomb and being on the receiving end of the Monty Python fish slapping dance. Nobody knows who I am, our hero tells us. You might feel similarly disorientated by the film’s end.