Heat-Haze Review

I’ve just finished watching Seijun Suzuki’s “Taisho Trilogy” and I still feel like some its characters–befuddled, bewildered and enchanted. These three films, all of them set in Japan during the short-lived Taisho period–a period roughly corresponding in spirit, though not in time, to our 1890s–are, I suppose, supernatural tales. The first, “Zigeunerweisen” (1980) certainly has the trappings of a ghost-story, although it could just as easily be called a metaphysical mystery. It takes its tone from the writings of a Taisho-period author, Hyakken Uchida, who seems to have specialized in tales of ghostly doings. The second “Kagero-za,” but also known as “Heat-Haze Theatre” also borrows from a Taisho-era author, Kyoka Izumi, renowned for his gothic tales. I’m not certain how closely the screenwriter Yozo Tanaka followed these sources, and I must say that “Kagero-za” (1981) really stands or falls on its visual and aural qualities. It’s a dazzling piece of film, but it doesn’t seem to have much of a narrative thread to hang onto. The third film, “Yumeji” appeared a decade after the second installment of the trilogy and rather than relying upon Taisho-era literature for its inspiration, it turns to the life of a leading artist of the period. Yumeji seems to have been a bit of a Japanese Aubrey Beardsley and although the film isn’t strictly a biographical drama, it manages to play like one, and, as might be expected of a film about an artist, it relies heavily upon its visuals.

While I’m not really sure that I liked the trilogy (“Zigeunerweisen” excepted) I do think it is an important contribution to the language of film. Suzuki had reached back to his country’s past to suggest to its aspiring film-makers what might be done in the future.

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