Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Territory (1981) Raoul Ruiz

A small group of wanderers find themselves lost in wilderness, and as time draws on become increasingly, violently unbound from the conventions and sanities of everyday society. It's a classic stock narrative of horror and prosaic drama alike, something that by now holds only a little interest. Happily The Territory is less concerned with grubby inhumanity nor grim adversity that drives it, but headspace. The action of mind, how it churns in isolation and the quirks and follies that spring, this is the concern, while the events may have parallels in reportage and history, may be considered a microcosm of societies at large, the concern is focused on the small.

So we see the urge to collect, to classify. Lists, numbers, repetition, order, theory and prediction. This urge, these expressions and their opposition, the playful, the absurd, the truly questioning that seeks beyond. Not unfamiliar stuff, but the loose, weird approach works very well. The notion of wilderness itself is important, compare with other films of like interest. Mind portrayed as virtually limitless wilderness, ever shifting and dotted with the inexplicable, captures something both more hopeful and more daunting than the similar horror of dark houses or sprawling hotels with characters digging in. Under roof one might be trapped but can still adjust, can make ones cosy nook, in wilderness one might ever roam, have ever the possibility of escape but never quite be safe. The execution is top notch, vivid photography and lighting bringing many pleasures. Red-orange sky like something apocalyptic, a coat of wintry snow, camera pulling slowly out into water, reflection of land giving way to clear and a few dead animals floating. A quite remarkable sequence as one man strides straight and boldly to find a way out, only for the very image to shift and blur out of focus into mocking unreality. And more of course, more weirdness and some violence besides.

There are a few of the flaws one almost expects from such a work, it is unfortunate to note. Moments of stiff acting and stilted dialogue, characters that maintain a sort of intellectual distance from the viewer where at times they should simply grip, some mis-calculations, abrupt ending. While it does work as a genre film it is art film at heart and at some points it is hard not to wish for a gnarlier punch. But whatever it's still pretty great, and if you've gotten here without skipping to the end you might like it as well. So, you know, go watch...

The Woman With Red Hair (1979) Tatsumi Kumashiro

Bound in the conventions of a Nikkatsu picture but straining with a little art and fire to grasp something beyond, firmer and more meaningful, The Woman With Red Hair manages to be a quite reasonable watch while not altogether an especially compelling one. It begins striking, the fine titular female walking lone down the highway, shortly before a couple of thuggish labourers Kozo and Takao rape their bosses daughter under a pier. Driving home the woman with red hair hitches a ride, later entering a relationship with Kozo. Takao meanwhile grapples with the aftermath of his earlier relations, the possibility that he may now be a father. As with his earlier film Black Rose Ascension, director Tatsumi Kumashiro shows a talent for marginal society. Tough, crude men toiling to no discernable great end and hoping only for the prospect of more work, unable to relate to others in any other than brutal terms, oppressed without mercy by rain. They are trapped in their world, escape is futile, and the woman with red hair finds the same, she has sought to escape some kind of abusive partner, shadows of drug addiction, yet finds the same recurs.

This should be a powerful, emotive tale of rough passions boiling in claustrophobia, spitting and streaming over into savagery, but while the intense atmosphere is quite well sustained it does little to escalate and so becomes more wearying than gripping. There's a lot of sex, suitably joyless with breasts shots enough and skillfully shot to avoid the need for optical blurring, it no doubt suggests a certain intentional sobriety of approach while fulfilling the needs of the studio. But after a while the scenes exhaust what they have to say about the couple, and after that exhaust their own lack of meaning. The same is true for the dialogue, its banality stales not long after its purpose is clear. And worse, when events finally descend we get kid gloves rather than furious pummeling.

Still the cast at least draw things out nicely. gorgeous genre regular Junko Miyashita handles the title role, high strung and burning, yearning, hungry yet sad within. Frequently shrill yet she works rather well, for the character is without artifice, her fires are from her alone. Renjo Ishibashi is equally good as Kozo, in a somewhat more difficult role, his character truly isn't very likeable and yet he suggests with skill his irresistible drives and conflicting internal shifts. Kai Ato supports nicely albeit with considerably less screen time and hence reduced impact as Takao, something of a mirror image to Kozo, while the rest are decent enough.

In all, this is somewhat interesting but a little difficult to really recommend outside of serious genre enthusiasts and those with a deeper knowledge of Japanese culture and society. Without full on sleazy kicks or deep insights it's a smart but slight affair that rather tails off, by no means a "bad" film but not something impressive or all that memorable. Not one to get excited about hunting down then.