Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

June 19, 2006

Classical Film: "Onibaba" by Shindo Kaneto

The film Onibaba (1964) by expressionist director Shindo Kaneto came as a shell shock when I finally saw it last week. It is an aggressive masterwork from the heyday of Japanese cinema that hits you squarely in the face – in a most pleasant way. Just as its contemporary The Woman in the Dunes by Teshigahara is completely dominated by shifting sands, so Onibaba is in the grip of fields of waving long susuki grass.

“I was enslaved by the waving susuki field,” says director Shindo. The grass hides beauty and savagery, terror and death, and supports the attempt at survival in times of war by a few poor peasants.

A mother and her daughter-in-law hide out here to kill stray, wounded samurai and sell their weapons and armor on the black market. The bodies are dumped unceremoniously in a deep hole in the center of the grassy realm.

Then a young man of the village returns and reports the son and husband killed. He and the young woman, now widow, are sexually attracted to each other and meet in scenes of violent eroticism – the grass now becomes the swaying of sexual impulses.

The mother fears she will loose her livelihood if the daughter-in-law leaves her and tries to shock her away from her lover by donning a demon mask she has stolen from a samurai she kills for the purpose.

Thus she becomes the Onibaba, the “Devil Woman,” of the title. But there is a catch: she is not able to remove the mask anymore, and when she finally succeeds with the help of the young woman, after much pulling and wringing, her whole face is disfigured...

The film is shot in fierce contrasts of black and white, extreme close-ups are mixed with long shots, long silences alternate with the thundering sound of drums. It is the kind of minimalist art film that invites thick tomes of commentary, but I would say, see it for yourself...

June 6, 2006

Jellyfish for relaxation in Japan

Healing, iyashi, is much sought after in Japan since the economic crisis.

It has given rise to a whole new culture, which is typically Japanese. People are willing to spend a lot of money on stress relief, sponsoring a $30 billion industry.

Traditional massage and herb therapy are a long passed station. Now you have animal therapy ("rent-a-pup", which is better than buying your own pet which brings stressful chores!), aromatherapy, luxurious "day spas", and exotic "high end" massages.

The Japanese spend six times as much money on these treatments than on acquiring new flatscreen televisions.

The most popular way to relieve stress, as reported by the Washington Post? You would never have guessed: watching jellyfish.

Apparently, it is soothing to see jellyfish slowly sliding through an aquarium. Many people buy their own jellyfish for at home, but that, too, may be stressful.

The Enoshima Aquarium in the vicinity of Tokyo offers the perfect solution. It organizes stay overs in the aquarium, enabling you before retiring for the night to leisurely watch a big tank where jellyfish dance to the sound of New Age music...

P.S. In Kurosawa Kiyoshi's film Bright Future (2002), one of the protagonists also keeps jellyfish - but poisonous ones. When these are in the end released into the canals of Tokyo, they bring about some unexpected results...

P.S.2. There is a lot of "Fake News" going around about "how weird the Japanese are," but the jellyfish story is true...