Friday, October 26, 2007


Finally got around to reviewing this Teshigahara boxset for my "VHS or Beta" column over at Idolator. Tried in vain to seek out the soundtrack for Woman of the Dunes, so as to post it here (it's on Volume 4 of the Film Music of Toru Takemitsu CD set that came out a few years back), but I guess the whole OiNK bust didn't help (not that I use bit torrents, but I often ask friends who do to do my dirty work for me).

Anyhow, since it's not about Britney Spears (though I asked Gawker graphics department to Photoshop Britney's face onto the nekkid woman of said dunes to guarantee five-digit hits), I doubt it'll get many reads. Perhaps to make it easier to digest, I cut out two paragraphs of background on Teshigahara, writer Kobo Abe, as well as the other (fatally-flawed) movies of the set. Putting them here instead:

Teshigahara is an intriguing figure in Japanese cinema. He was the son of Sofu Teshigahara, who founded a flower arrangement school and art discipline, Sogetsu. It’s one thing to rebel against a father who wants you to be a shoe salesman, but quite another to buck against one who invented an entire aesthetic. Still, Teshigahara avoided the family business and began to dabble in surrealistic painting, indebted to the likes of Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali, and Antonio Gaudi (he would make a documentary about Gaudi in 1984) before moving into film. He worked outside of the studio system (a rarity in those days), setting up his own production company, making documentaries about woodblock artists and heavyweight champions before adapting the books of Abe for the screen.

The pair's first collaboration is the confounding Pitfall (1962). Part ghost story, part murder-mystery, part documentary exposé, part allegory, it’s a morass (it's not everyday that a young boy eyewitnesses four brutal deaths and then gets to eat all the candy he could ever want) held together by Takemitsu’s outbursts of prepared piano, harpsichord, and scrapes that resound as if from the bottom of a cistern. For 1966’s film The Face of Another, Takemitsu juxtaposes a stately Viennese waltz with eerie swells of glass harmonica. It can’t quite make the story of a man who has a face transplant work, though. John Updike once called Abe’s no-exit situations “cheap suspense” and a good source of “readerly exasperation,” and these two films are prime examples of it, feeling more like over-extended episodes from The Twilight Zone, pregnant with an inescapable dread.