Sunday, July 29, 2007

Coup d'etat 戒厳令 (Yoshida Kiju 吉田喜重, 1973)

Firstly, apologies for being so long out of touch.

Yoshida "Kiju" Yoshida (whose Eros Plus Massacre this blog is named after) directed his last film for some time in 1973. This was a strange biopic about a military obsessive and nationalist socialist named Ikki Kita, somewhat in the style of Hitler, who encouraged a coup against the Japanese government in 1936 (infamously known as the "February 26th incident".) I say strange because a number of choices were made which gave the
film a unique place in the history of biopics and specifically historical reenactments of the coup. Rarely has a biographical film been done with such a confident and dramatic touch.

Yoshida's framing is the stuff of film legend, nearly always placing figures at the edges of cinema (and therefore not altogether video friendly, before the advent of DVD that is.) It's a nearly dizzying effect handled graciously, which lends the events a larger than life feeling, that feels artistically justified instead of rammed down your throat. The black and white colors are used to their most effective ends, with entrancing expressionistic details. Textures of wood and granite play a large part in setting moods, along with a lack of establishing shots and action sequences, making this a more quiet film than anyone would expect of its reputation and name.

The music choices of Ichiyanagi Sei, who worked on a number of Yoshida films, recalls Jissouji's Mujo (or This Transient Life) which seems as interested in minor key fiddle flourishes as Takemitsu styled percussion explosions. The score also boasts a twice repeated analog keyboard motif, which shows the melancholy and absence of life among the militarists. It underscores both a reprehensibly dour dream sequence, and channels an avant funeral march before the credits roll. Watkins' Edward Munch and 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould come to mind in the use of music effectively rendering someone's life story to film.

In regards to its place among reenactments, as Joan Mellen noted in Waves at Genji's Door, most filmed versions of this story encourage a sentimentalism of the officers involved, as they were merely doing the most honorable thing they could imagine by assisting the Emperor in getting rid of the waste of civilian bureaucracy. The officers are treated with sympathy, but more for their naivete in the face of the unknown future, rather than Yoshida siding with their proto-fascists ways.

The major emotional issues in the film stem from Ikki's childhood and paternal issues towards his stepson, and how that carries over into his dealings with one of the more inept but sincere acolytes. Ikki's dealings with authority figures is flippant at best, and he seems to regard society as a mere gesture, with martial law being the only true way for humanity to progress. Yoshida's rendering of these beliefs should be held up with his even more powerful Eros Plus Massacre, where Taisho anarchism and the late 60s student movement are entangled and commenting on one another. There, Yoshida appears to be telling us something about the nature of humanity, in that it doesn't really change, but only cons one into thinking it will. In Coup d'etat, Yoshida seems to be saying not only will things remain the same, but they're usually worse than you realize.


Shura said...

Thanks for your text, it's not the kind of movie to be reviewed everywhere on the web. It's good to find at least some good informations about it !

By the way, it may interest you, some Yoshida's movies will be released next year in France in dvds (& a retrospective is planned for April 2008 in Paris, Yoshida should be there !).

Hope to read other text from you on rare movies ;)

Steven H said...

I appreciate the kind words. I'm a massive Yoshida fan, and of course I would buy anything that came out in France with his name on it. I've spent years trying to track down subbed versions of his work, but with little results. I've seen all of his films without subs (and a handful with, including Coup d'etat.)

What company in France is interested in Yoshida? I would imagine Wild Side (as their Kudo and Uchida releases are inspiring), but it could be a couple others.

I have a lot of rare movies, but little time to comment. I hope I can get around to more as well!

shura said...

Wild Side will stop releasing "old" japanese movies next year (with some roman porno), that's what they said in their last "interview". (they want to focus on italian cinema)

Now, it's Carlotta. They've already released The Human Condition and Harakiri (criterion print is far better) last year. Teshigahara is next (the three same movie done by criterion - what happens to The Ruined Map ?!), same for Oshima (Street of love and hope/ Cruel story/Sun's burial/Night and fog/Pleasures of the flesh). And so, Eros + Massacre and others (still unknown) for 2008 (including the retrospective !).

There's so much japanese oldies to release, but not enough people to buy them (for example, the Uchida box was not at all a success - enough to give up the idea of releasing more of his work for the moment. It seems to be the same situation for the Naruse Box).
Quite a shame :/

Steven H said...

I suppose its difficult to market these kinds of films, and none of them have any name recognition thanks to decades of neglect by their own producers. DVD production is expensive enough, as well, without all the hangups these companies seem to have (even the few I'm aware of.)

I don't like the idea of releasing box-sets for testing the waters on filmmakers. It seems the best way to go is a high profile, lower priced release, with a healthy amount of scholarship to let people know its "important". Also, DVD review sites, magazines, retrospectives, and festivals are important marketing tools that are underused.

But in the end, foreign cinema of the "non cult" variety will always be of limited interest.

Exciting news about Carlotta, but that still leaves all my favorite Oshima films out of the loop (late 60s early 70s). The Ruined Map has rights issues; maybe money, maybe since Katsu was involved, I don't know.

Ian C said...

Will the Carlotta DVDs be released with english subs? Thanks.

peter said...

just found your blogspot

thought you'd like to know eros + massacre (165 minute version) available with english subtitles at

Steven H said...

Thanks for the info, Peter! Actually, I think that's my copy they have! I hope everyone checks out this amazing film.