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Zigeunerweisen - Taisho Trilogy (Suzuki Seijun 1980)


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Zigeunerweisen
[Tsigoineruwaizen]

Genre: Taisho Era Macabre Mystery

review in one breath

When university professor Aochi runs into his former colleague and friend Nakasago, his otherwise placid life takes a sudden turn toward disequilibrium. The circumstances under which they meet and Aochi's quiet observations increasingly cause him to doubt the moral and mental stability of Nakasago. And yet the more certain he becomes of Nakasago's dark nature, the more disturbing and chaotic his own life and relations become. This is a highly memorable horror tale by famed director Suzuki Seijun.


intro

Here is a remarkably eerie and wholly uncharacteristic film by director Suzuki Seijun. If you haven't seen this film, yet think you know what to expect from director Suzuki, you'll be forced to rethink your position in light of Zigeunerweisen, a film which Suzuki himself considers "horror".

This is the first of the so-called Taisho Trilogy recently released by KimStim. The Taisho reference derives from the fact that all three films in the trilogy take place within the culturally tumultuous Taisho Era wherein sudden Westernization and modernization threatened the sheer survival of traditional Japanese notions and ways of life.

The three films in this trilogy are:

Zigeunerweisen - 1980
Kagero-za - 1981
Yumeji - 1991

Unlike many of Suzuki's other films which gained popularity (and eventually cult status) only after a flop in the box office, Zigeunerweisen earned widespread critical acclaim and popularity immediately following its debut, receiving both the 1981 Japanese Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director.

According to interviews with Suzuki contained on the DVD, production of this film followed a nearly ten year hiatus from directorial work. (But Suzuki is in fact attributed as director on several productions during this "hiatus", some of which were for television. Thus, based on his statements, he must either deem his directorial role in these as inconsequential or the works themselves as trivial?) Though not actively working on films during this period, he and his staff regularly met and through such meetings the idea for the trilogy and the specific films therein came into being.

Whereas the box offices of the time were brimming with "action" films, Suzuki and his team decided to pursue non-action films, which for Suzuki virtually amounted to a new endeavor. But the result of this effort, particularly as regards Suzuki's indisputable directorial skill, comes through so uniquely and remarkably in Zigeunerweisen that few seriously looked at Suzuki the same way again. In many ways this film clearly demonstrated to even critics that Suzuki Seijun had clearly earned and deserved his reputation as director extraordinaire.

The film runs at 144 minutes and is thus far more epic than any previous Suzuki project. (But the other two films in this trilogy are nearly the same length.) In place of (characteristically) over-exaggerated and colorfully vibrant characters and sets, the entire tone of this film is set in rather shadowed and expansive shots. Similarly, in place of ridiculously fast-paced character development, audiences are themselves here convincingly pulled down the same dark paths as the horrified characters. Thus all in all, this is not your stereotypical Suzuki film, but instead comes across as a very mature, nuanced, and amazingly creepy justification for loving Suzuki Seijun.

The narrative is rather loosely based upon the novel Sarasate no ban (The Song of Sarasate / year?) by author Uchida Hyakken. Both Uchida's novel and Suzuki's film are named after the 1878 Zigeunerweisen, a violin and orchestra piece composed and conducted by Pablo Sarasate (1844-1908). The film (and I can only presume the novel also) abstractly revolves around a(n allegedly) unintelligible vocalization made by Sarasate during the recording of Zigeunerweisen.

[mongip's lament: I here apologize that I, despite my most clever methods, have been unable to ascertain for you (and me) whether or not the "Sarasate vocalization" is in fact a reality or simply urban legend.]

story

When university professor Aochi runs into his former colleague and friend Nakasago, his otherwise placid life takes a sudden turn toward disequilibrium. The circumstances under which they meet and Aochi's quiet observations increasingly cause him to doubt the moral and mental stability of Nakasago. And yet the more certain he becomes of Nakasago's dark nature, the more disturbing and chaotic his own life and relations become. This is a highly memorable horror tale by famed director Suzuki Seijun.

verdict

Upon reflection, you'll notice that the unintelligible (yet unquestionably meaningful) blurt of direction by Sarasate on his decades old recording precisely mirrors the initially substantial yet increasingly obscure perceptions of Aochi. The voice is there and is obviously important, but what does it say?? The clouded voice on the recording seems to represent Aochi's clarity of reason and logic, which the more closely he strains to hear, the more garbled the message becomes.

The eery experience of this film results from the fact that even you, the observer, will also be forced to admit: the voice (of compelling reason and logic) is there and is obviously important. But what is it saying???

I think that's all I'll say. :P

I highly recommend you see this (far more so if you've seen other Suzuki films). This is substantially contemplative fare, so give yourself some time and an optimal setting while viewing. (Rice wine won't hurt either.)

Version reviewed: Region 1 Subtitled DVD (available at all mainstream venues?)

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Perhaps the most highly acclaimed film by director Suzuki Seijun. Only comedic depictions of physical violence. Narratival discussions of possible violence are much darker. Seduction, lust and infidelity are prominently discussed (yet only slightly depicted). This Suzuki film is impressively eery. I confess this inspired a (new) nightmare the evening I watched it.

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