Saturday, October 9, 2010


"Cinema is dead", still from Les fruits de la passion, Terayama Shuji 1981
(the film involves Klaus Kinski as the main actor)

Before I saw any film of Godard, I remember once I read some article that posed Terayama Shuji as "the Japanese Godard," but I can't find the sources anymore and I can merely remember the points in the article.

Terayama Shuji (1935-1983), is a Japanese director/poet/playwright and so on. For film, he made a mad bunch of experimental short films, and 6 feature films. (You can see his shorts on ubu, although some of them was designed to screen with live performances so maybe are not that interesting to watch on-line). I can hardly see his work directly influenced by J-L Godard. But it is interesting for me to think about the social-culture environment of a certain era, the whole left-wing, student movement thing in the 1960s. In the other hand, the French New Wave influences the later German New Wave and Japanese New Wave and the cinema movement in other countries.

Terayama's two early works Tomato Ketchup King and Throw Away Your Books, Go Out into the Streets! are classified as Japanese New Wave on wikipedia. Tomato Ketchup King is an experimental short about a child dictator; the later one I haven't seem yet, but I heard it's more realistic than his later works. Terayama as the late Japanese New Wave director (in some perspective against the Ozu classical, elegant style) might have some different opinion on the idea of revolution/liberation than who he follows, it's interesting for me that his influence is not only in the "serious" genre of art cinema but now can be seen in popular culture like manga (or cartoon), while the the idea of revolution/provocative in the '68 generation globally transforms into different form or decadence, or turns into the "inward looking generation" in Japan especially in teenager culture like otaku nowadays. (Shoujou Revolution Utena, which is one of the most popular animation works of the 90s was literally influenced by Terayama and even uses the same composer J.A. Seaser, who led the theater troupe after Terayama's death.)

Another point is how theatrical theories like Brecht's distancing effect influences the various new wave cinema movements. It's everywhere in Terayama's works like Godard's, like the captures, the color shifting and the actors staring at the audiences, and so on. While a lot of the elements Terayama uses literally come from the folk theater tradition against the ideology of development in the post-World War II context [they are remarkable compatible with the techniques developed by Brecht in Western culture to "alienate" the viewer so as to keep him/her from being absorbed into the fictional landscape].

One of his best work To Die in the Country is screening at Spectacle Theater this weekend.

-tzuan wu

1 comment:

  1. It says something about the complexity of Godard's work that a post linking Godard to Frederick Wiseman would be followed by one linking him to Shuji Terayama! As I pointed out to Tzuan earlier, and will repeat here if anyone is interested, a new book-length study on Terayama's work is about to be released by Steven Ridgely and titled "Japanese Counterculture: The Anti-Establishment Art of Terayama Shuji." Also: might I note that the more common English title for "Tomato Kechappu Kotei" is "Emperor Tomato Ketchup," which also happens to be the title of the best Stereolab album. (I didn't realize at the time that the title was lifted from this experimental short, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised since one of their songs, on another LP of theirs, is named "Brakhage.")