Plot: A series of portraits of the patients at a Japanese mental asylum. A husband has gotten a job as a janitor in order to be near his wife who is one of the inmates.
is a legendary silent Japanese film. Its reputation is widespread and it has been the subject of a number of academic essays, even an entire book. may well also be one of the most academically acclaimed but least actually seen films in history it is barely known outside of film societies. In recent years, it has gained a new life being revived at film festivals along with live accompaniment by various musicians this was one such screening at the 2004 Wellington International Film Festival, with accompaniment by Sheffield-based twin brothers Klive and Nigel Humberstone, who jointly perform as In the Nursery.
was made by Teinosuke Kinugasa, a director who has developed a certain legend, almost singularly because of . Kinugasa is an interesting figure before becoming a director, he was one of the last onnagata performers (men who traditionally played womens parts on stage and would often dress as women in their everyday lives) before the tradition began to be phased out and women actors employed. The print of was believed lost along with many other Japanese films from the silent and early sound era that were destroyed during World War II until Kinugasa himself found a print (rumour has that he found everywhere from his garden shed to buried in a rice barrel). Teinosuke Kinugasa made nearly 100 films within his lifetime but only one other of these has ever been released in English-language prints the period drama (1953), which won the Palme dOr at Cannes and a special Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1955. Several other of his films have fantastic seeming titles (1923), (1923), (1928), (1940), (1957), (1963) although there is no further information to hand concerning any of these.
What has made such an acclaimed classic is the novelty of its style. At a time when silent cinema was just beginning to blossom beyond its initial novelty and starting to discover the artistic possibilities inherent in the medium, Teinosuke Kinugasa was way ahead of his time. There are many similarities between and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919), which Kinugasa claimed never to have seen before making the film. Both and break away from literal depiction and move into subjective space to show the interior worlds of mad people. While is distorted and exaggerated in terms of lighting and the sets, goes the opposite way. It is a frenetic barrage of editing and shifting points-of-view, where Kinugasa flips and changes points-of-view between the objective and interior spaces of the mad, between the present and flashback with a feverish regularity. You could say that while is clearly Expressionist, is an Impressionistic film. Teinosuke Kinugasa claims that his influence of style was Sergei Eisenstein, who patented the montage edit, while many of the lens distortion effects are unquestionably borrowed from Abel Gance. Equally so, in many way looks forward to the surrealistic deadpan montages of early Luis Buñuel works like Un Chien Andalou (1928) and LAge dOr (1930) and Jean Cocteaus The Blood of a Poet (1930).
That said, I must confess that I found myself admiring more for its avant garde artistic flourish more than I actually enjoyed watching it. The surreal montages and abrupt changes between different people or objective and subjective points of view is completely disorienting, while the film lacks anything that even remotely resembles a narrative. The problem here is that these modern musical accompaniments tend to remove from its original mode of presentation. There are no intertitle cards explaining what is happening in the film whereas was made in the Japanese silent cinema tradition where the script that was narrated live by benshi (storytellers). The benshi tradition became such that many of these performers became stars in their own right. However, bereft of these storytellers today, is a bewildering kaleidoscope that makes little sense to the observer. That said, the images are often striking. I particularly liked the ending where calm is eventually restored by the janitor placing Noh masks on each of the inmates and the final fadeout of him calmly mopping the floor.
Full film available online here:-
Kinugasa Teinosuke’s 1926 film, A Page of Madness (Kurutta ichipeiji), is celebrated as one of the masterpieces of silent cinema. It was an independently produced, experimental, avant-garde work from Japan whose brilliant use of cinematic technique was equal to if not superior to that of contemporary European cinema. Those studying Japan, focusing on the central involvement of such writers as Yokomitsu Riichi and the Nobel Prize winner Kawabata Yasunari, have seen it as a pillar of the close relationship in the Taisho era between film and artistic modernism, as well as a marker of the uniqueness of prewar Japanese film culture.
But is this film really what it seems to be? Using meticulous research on the film’s production, distribution, exhibition, and reception, as well as close analysis of the film’s shooting script and shooting notes recently made available, Aaron Gerow draws a new picture of this complex work, one revealing a film divided between experiment and convention, modernism and melodrama, the image and the word, cinema and literature, conflicts that play out in the story and structure of the film and its context. These different versions of A Page of Madness were developed at the time in varying interpretations of a film fundamentally about differing perceptions and conflicting worlds, and ironically realized in the fact that the film that exists today is not the one originally released. Including a detailed analysis of the film and translations of contemporary reviews and shooting notes for scenes missing from the current print, Gerow’s book offers provocative insight into the fascinating film A Page of Madness was—and still is—and into the struggles over this work that tried to articulate the place of cinema in Japanese society and modernity.
Aaron Gerow is assistant professor of Japanese cinema at Yale University and has published widely in a variety of languages on early, wartime, and recent Japanese film and culture. He is the author of Kitano Takeshi (BFI, 2007) and a forthcoming book on Taisho film culture from the University of California Press, as well as the co-author of Research Guide to Japanese Film Studies with Abé Mark Nornes (Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2009).