Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2015: Ejima Ikushima, Hideo Oda, 1955

The film registers a quiet breakdown of social order that starts with a forbidden gaze: a harem woman witnessing an older, more priviledged woman having sex with her lover. The older woman can't stand herself beeing exposed even to this one gaze (that isn't even dublicated by a cinematic one - we just see how the door slides open and how the face of the witnessing woman freezes in shock), and urges the younger one to start an affair with a Kabuki player.

Next to the tale of the cheerful, city-bound orchard sisters this was probably my favourite among the early japanese colour (yellow leaning, actually) films screened in Bologna. Its formal mastery, the patient style and the melodramatically charged use of classical japanese architecture are matched by an intriguing narrative premise: after hefty (+ largely offscreen) clan infighting, the country is left with a much too young shogun, and the prospect of a rule by proxy of several years. A written title announces trouble: this basically never worked out in history. But this time, the abscense of the potent, male ruler doesn't result in civil warfare, but in a much more subtle, ambivalent uproar in the court's woman's quarters.

Actually, in the subtitles, these woman's quarters are calles "harem", though it isn't really clear if the women confined in these thoroughly feminised spaces are normally supposed to sleep with the shogun and his subordinates. At least that doesn't seem to be their only or even principal duty. It's more important that they learn how to sing, play the Samisen, be tender, and feminine in a decidedly non-threatening way. For example, they should not, under any circumstances, leak liquids out into the male world. This is exactly what happens in Ejima Ikushima, though, in a scene rather late in the film, when a group of harem women visit a Kabuki performance and poors sake all over the place. 

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