October 29, 2008
Eros Plus Massacre, 1969
Like Shohei Imamura's A Man Vanishes and Nagisa Oshima's The Man Who Left His Will on Film, Yoshishige Yoshida's dense and self-reflexive Eros Plus Massacre explores the murky, often turbulent intersection between reality and fiction, history and memory, angst and revolution - the implication of what Yoshida prefaces as the viewer's "ambivalent participation" - in the wake of the collapsed left movement. From the early shot of an impassive student, Wada (Daijiro Harada) indiscriminately knocking on the doors of an anonymous love hotel in search of his companion Eiko (Il Riko) (who was seen earlier being propositioned at a train station by a film director) before waiting in an adjacent room for the lovers to consummate their negotiated encounter, Yoshida establishes the complicity and voyeurism implicit in a spectator's passive gaze, Wada's obsession with setting fires serving as a reflection of his impotent rage. Interweaving the aimless adventures of student radicals Eiko and Wada in contemporary Japan with re-enactments of episodes from the lives of assassinated, turn of the century revolutionaries, feminist Noe Ito (Mariko Okada) and her anarchist lover Sakae Osugi (Toshiyuki Hosokawa) shortly after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 (in what would come to be known as the Amakasu Incident), Yoshida's fusion of fictional and non-fictional storylines reflect the illusive and ambiguous nature of truth.
Visually, Yoshida prefigures this sense of illusion in Ito's arrival at the Seito (Blue Stocking) compound, her introduction to staff journalist, Hiraga Haruko illustrated as the inverted image of their reflection on a pond, and crystallizes in the extended sequence of Osugi staggering through the rooms after being stabbed by his other mistress, Itsuko Masaoka (Yûko Kusunoki) in a jealous rage, the collapsing of shoji screens evoking the dismantling of walls in A Man Vanishes. The imbalanced, hazy, false horizon created by Hiraga and Ito's reflection from the footbridge also reinforces the idea of disjunction that is similarly prefigured in the highly stylized, theatrical opening sequence of Ito's daughter (also played by Okada) being interrogated about her faint memories of the past that breaks with the aesthetic formalism of the succeeding images.
Eiko's transformation from propositioned, sexually liberated young woman in one scene to a militant interrogator in another scene also reveals an underlying cultural (and generational) amnesia that has enabled role-playing as a substitute for identity and conviction, an ambiguity that is reflected in a shot of Eiko and Wada projecting a selection of archival, wartime photographs depicting destruction, violence, and genocide in search of images for use in a commercial advertisement (superimposing film on the female body in a figurative animation - and eroticization - of images that is similarly explored in The Man Who Left His Will on Film). In essence, Eiko's burning of film stock, then her stockings as a means of arousing Wada not only implies a metaphoric rejection of the past in its invocation of the "Blue Stocking" feminist movement, but also suggests a paradoxical correlation between liberation and destruction, empowerment and emasculation. Culminating with the Taisho-era actors posing before Eiko and Wada for a cast shot to wrap up production on a film that Wada speculates will be an important historical document, Yoshida reinforces the idea that revolution - like the act of filmmaking - is an artificial construction: the conjuring of an unreconciled (and ultimately doomed) past, forged equally by displaced ideological and sexual impulses.