“A film that must have been an excellent, visionary one in its entirety, but in its incomplete and wordless mystery, it becomes a challenging enigma.”
To begin with, this is right at the top of my list of must watch movies for any cinema lover.
Made during the reign of Emperor Taishō (1912 – 1926), this is one of Japan’s lost silent films, which was rediscovered in the director’s own garden shed in 1971. The entire film does not exist, almost one-third is missing, the background score was composed after rediscovery and the ‘benshi’ i.e. the person who narrated the story during the film’s screening, is missing. There are no inter-titles in this hour-long film and thus the entire story depends only on the viewer on how he/she would piece the film together. All the above reasons make this a unique movie nobody should miss, because it is an involving and exciting exercise, and as a reviewer correctly said, this is probably the most genuine cinematic fossil out there. You cannot know the full story, you can only find out a part using your logic and imagination, and the film exists in a sort of impenetrable isolation, the narrative and motives lost in time forever.
Now, about the film itself, it is exceptional. Made by the group who called themselves School of New Perceptions, it is a stellar achievement in the formative years of the film medium. I am not very knowledgeable about films from this era, but this must have been the one that challenged every convention at that time. We move into the unsettling world of a hospital for the mentally challenged, through a raging and thunderous storm and suddenly we cut to a ballet dancer without audience and in some time, back to the same lady and the same dance, only in rags and tattered clothes. This is the first of the many film techniques used in Kurutta Ippeji , in fact the director’s masterful application of the same makes this film as stellar as it is.
Was it a first-of-its-kind movie? Most likely, yes, because I doubt many films from the era had such a daring vision and finally, the iron guts to pull it off. Too many techniques could have spoilt the broth, but not when he knew what to use when. The story takes us through an old janitor’s attempts to rescue his wife, who is a patient at the hospital, and how like a Venus Flytrap, the hospital and its inmates gradually absorb the janitor’s sanity. We are also presented a series of flashbacks to explain how the wife got there, though honestly, I think very crucial parts are still missing. But the hospital sequences are freaking masterworks – the escape plan going wrong due to unprecedented reasons, the shifting perspectives of sanity and insanity – made possible by every camera trick that can be employed, the dark room in the thunderstorm, the women laughing even as the janitor slips into transformation; but the cakegoes to two special moments – firstly, the dancer being watched by the inmates (this is like strong, fermented poetry) with brilliant music, secondly, the penultimate sequence of a surreal mask-party and the fable-like, mentally inverted reunion of the couple, what a mesmerizing gathering! And there is much more in the film, you need to watch it carefully as if you are the narrator ( 😛 )! And if you are a detective at heart, this is most certainly going to be a thrilling watch.
A film that must have been an excellent, visionary one in its entirety, but in its incomplete and wordless mystery, it becomes a challenging enigma. I have already watched it multiple times to bridge the gaps in my perception, and everybody will need to do that – like sprinkling breadcrumbs on your way through an unknown terrain. A superbly made film that has been turned into an experience by the touch of time.
Check out a 5-minute preview of the movie including the coveted dance with brilliant music & some crazy visuals:
Another crazy scene of a dance riot inside the asylum:
Check out almost the full movie (rather the available parts of the movie) here: