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New Way of Intermingling in Jûjiro
New Way of Intermingling in Jûjiro
Special Feature──Research on the development of Pre-War Japanese Avant-garde Cinema: Discussing Avant-garde Cinema in Germany, France, and Soviet Union (V)

Translated by Chang Chun-Yu (張竣昱)


“My job is to find a method to make actresses laugh or cry, or to kill a character in an artistic situation.”

Words as such appear in an interview of Teinosuke Kinugasa’s late years (1972). Indeed, this effort can be seen even in his most avant-garde films, especially in Jûjiro (十字路, 1928).

But in fact, Jûjiro is not quite fit in any category. Compared with avant-garde ones such as A Page of Madness (1926), it is rather like a very “conventional” feature film. One of the few avant-garde parts in it is at the moment the younger brother is being set up by the opponent and temporarily loses his sight.

Perception of the “Avant-Garde?”

【Click here】The 16 shots in Jûjiro (字路, 1928).

All these 16 shots can be categorized as three different attributes.

The first series is to briskly put in color blocks, fast as almost invisible, and only by playing per frame can they be seen. The blocks seem to be flickering and out of the reach of visual persistence. In the last shot, the blocks become dots and are sprayed all over the screen, which seems like that they burst along with the younger brother’s pain. This series of blocks on the screen is reminiscent of works of Hans Richter.

The second one is to rapidly change compositions, and to insert a thunder mark on the screen, appearing for two times briskly and thus seems like animation. The two shots in different depths of field on the brother are separated by the two thunder mark clips. When he is pushed back and falls on the ground, the new shot takes from contrasting angle, like looking down and up. In this way, the confrontational visual effect is infused with acting.

The third one is to present a circulating object, which should be a huge circulating lantern in this Yoshiwara archery and gaming center (when Kinugasa took this film abroad, he substituted its name as Shadows of the Yoshiwara). The object in his illusion comes close to and frightens him to fall back. The interplay of object and perception here is similar to another film Ballet mécanique (1924), in which a circulating object coming close to camera also appears.

This part is one of the perceptional peaks in the film. Based on ideal of the New Perception School, Kinugasa put in such a “retrograde” work the only avant-garde element at here, highlighting its significance. Indeed, it is an important turning point. The brother misunderstands that he has killed someone accidentally. When he and his older sister are back at home, she is struggling whether to be a prostitute in order to pay for medical cure for his eyes. At the same time, a police impersonator covets her. Finally, after taking a short break, the brother finds that he has recovered, while she kills the impersonator accidentally when trying to break free from his enforcement. They decide to flee as a result.

There may not be an obvious reason of Kinugasa’s choice of taking Jûjiro to Europe, but it may rest in a ramshackle rented room where the brother and sister in the film live, due to their economic condition. Elements such as decaying window papers endows this Expressionist scenery with some “realist” momentum, making it as a remarkable yet less deliberate attraction.

The scenery of The Cabinet Of Dr.Caligari (1920), From Morn to Midnight (1922), Waxworks (1924),  and Jûjiro (十字路, 1928).

Different from those in The Cabinet Of Dr.Caligari (1920), From Morn to Midnight (1922), and Waxworks (1924), the scenery of Jûjiro is mainly consisted of very limited necessaries (an embroidery machine, for instance), window frames, lost window papers in a minimalist space, and certainly the indoor shadows. Record has it that “in order to present the looming atmosphere indoors, Kinugasa only filmed at evenings, and all the realist elements in the scenery were painted grey.” This statement may be true if we take the method acting inspired by his own field work experience. Tadao Satō (佐藤忠男) mentions this scene in his work: “The scenery was like a patchwork of old wooden materials and fruit crates, which were all painted grey to reduce their visual defects.” But Satō also mentions that the “Expressionist” effect in the film, referring a crossroad, a central scene as the film title suggests, is made in full consciousness: “In order to make the crossroad stands out amid the black night scene, it was deliberately pigmented with white sands on the ground.” By this, we can realize significance of the scene in which the sister, unable to find her brother, is standing at the center of the crossroad. However, as what Jean Louis Schefer has elaborated on, “Shadows does not attend any event. They are attachments to the construction of characters, additions of the interior (stairs, mirror, stool, wall, to name a few). Actors must put into actions the additional emotions that these shadows carry.” That is the raison d’etre of repetitive act of the brother: to outline a realist space of Expressionism, in which there exists identicality in some aspects between subjects, objects, and the situations they are in, and consistencies in these objects and situations still remain through those subaltern subjects.

Determination of Retrograding to “the Classical”

The brother’s acts (and fates) are fully presented with his three-time return to Yoshiwara. But apart from this, the arrangement of “three times” is also a frequent in classical feature films. We can see that from clothes the sister made originally for their landlord to repay rents, but then becomes the brother’s love token. It is set to be the reason the brother goes back to Yoshiwara after recovery from getting hurt in the last-night fighting, and the opponent is also set to be bandaged when the brother back to there.

It is not easy to determine whether these classical arrangements is Kinugasa’s expertise since his other works are all lost. If they are, A Page of Madness is indeed a bold move, and although Jûjiro focuses on plot as other German Expressionist works, it still manifests Kinugasa’s ambition to some extent.

But we notice that Jûjiro, released in May, 1928 and co-produced by “Shochiku Kyoto Studio (松竹京都)”, is different from A Page of Madness, co-produced by the “New Perception School Film Alliance” (新感覚派映画連盟) and “National Film Art” (ナショナルフィルムアート). Investment from a major film studio may influence the narrative strategy of Jûjiro to go back to the conventional. In fact, Kinugasa chose to cooperate with Shochiku Kyoto Studio around this time, and with Toho Company (東宝) in 1940 and Daiei Film (大映映画) in 1950. Jûjiro is the last film of Kinugasa Film Alliance (衣笠映画聯盟). Had he not known the fact that the pure avant-garde strategy in A Page of Madness would not be working, he could actually be able to produce similar copies to continue his experiment (if there is any).

Rather, what made him to take to abroad is his revisionist works or eclectic attempts. Compared with A Page of Madness, in which no intertitle is adopted and thus is hard to understand, Jûjiro has 96, which are only the necessary and simple ones without explicating the plot. If this is the ideal type of film in his mind, would it not be doomed even before it is rewarded with fame?

Kinugasa did write a sad story; however, he did not abandon the form of Kammerspielfilm. The brother is arranged in the plot that he“must act”, but the room they live is like a center of gravity continuously pulling him back. The center starts to lose its effect only when the landlord says he wants “the second floor for rent.” But all these incidents are still centered around that “apartment.”

Another thing is that a sudden shower of rain outside rips off their chance to escape. Rain as a blockage or barrier from the outer world, the shudder and hopelessness it brings, is basically the same as in A Page of Madness. (In A Page of Madness, the rain persists for a short period of time, whereas in Jûjiro it becomes an active part in the plot.)

Although Kinugasa is supposed to have much to gain from his “journey to the west”, he has to face the reality: the appearance of sound film hinders him from experiment.

Even Dziga Vertov, to whom some European critics compared Kinugasa, can only have two more works doing sound experiments in the era of sound film. He may not be able to produce his second one if his previous one is not propaganda alike, Three Songs About Lenin (1934). Abel Gance’s works in this period are also less of experiment, and for marketing they all need to be of “popular” themes, for instance, Beethoven’s Great Love (1936). Indeed, sound accelerates realist trend of film art, and major experimentation becomes marginalized. In the following time, no such trend as German absolute films movement and French Cinéma pur, with only a few amount of rather short-length works, has great impact on film art in its mainstream historiography.

“Condensation” of Time Nowness and its Practice: Kammerspielfilm

Among all those silent-film masters, perhaps Carl Th. Dreyer is the only one capable of continuing his “avant-garde” experiment while persisting the form of Kammerspielfilm. As a result, only for almost every ten years can he ever produce one long-length film. Under condition of low-frequency creation, his ambition in these long films is not appeared in some documentary short works during these time intervals.

The form of Kammerspielfilm ensures the legibility of Kinugasa’s various shots of “discontinuity”, “inconsistency”, including ineffective cross-cutting (generally used in “last-minute rescue”, which in Jûjiro the brother does not catch up), and an “apperceptive” appeal to the viewer to associate the sister’s visage, knife in her hand (with no blood), and the man on the ground in a way as Gestalt Psychology: “She just killed him.” Also, the brother makes up a murder case in the same way while he is blind, in which the murder is himself.

Dreyer’s and Kinugasa’s work seems the same as a result, but the latter one, especially discontinuity between shots, is the result of economical producing process, and it even embodies the “nowness” specifically in Japanese narrative art:

“There is no auxiliary verb for the present and the past in Japanese language. What is reflected in Japanese is not a temporal structure for this world, nor a world order positioning all things in a timeline divided in the past, present, and future. Instead, it is the response from a speaker to things, the extent of certainty on a topic (determination or inference), the recall of memories, the will to take action, or persuasion.”

From that, we can understand the great influence of the New Perception School to film production, especially on Kinugasa’s avant-garde films.


 

  • This article is an inviting article from ET@T’s criticism project “Archive Eyes: Taiwan’s Avant-Garde Culture and Its International Perspective” (2018-2020), which was subsidized from “Visual Arts Criticism” project in 2018, by the National Culture and Arts Foundation (NCAF).
  • Sponsors of “Visual Arts Criticism” project: The National Culture and Arts Foundation (NCAF), Winsing Arts Foundation, and Ms. So Mei-Chi.

Editor: Yeh Hsing-Jou
Proofreading: Yizai Seah

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肥內(王志欽)Wang Chih-Chin
肥內(王志欽)Wang Chih-Chin
電影文字修行者,畢生研究歐弗斯和小津影片。著有《在巴洛克與禪之間尋找電影的空缺:馬克斯歐弗斯與小津安二郎電影中美學的呈現》(2014)與《尋常——小津的女系詩學》(2020)。