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November 3 – November 27

Shuji Terayama, Emperor of the Underground

Poet, playwright, novelist, photographer, sports critic, filmmaker and cultural agent provocateur Shuji Terayama (1935-1983) was among the most broadly influential and innovative figures active in the post-WWII Japanese avant-garde. Throughout his all-too-brief but astonishingly prolific and multifaceted career, Terayama deliberately confused boundaries between high and low, between history and myth, while working inventively across different media. Terayama’s intermingling of theater, film and photography was an especially important inspiration for his visionary art practice. Beginning with his precocious and often controversial engagement with traditional tanka poetry as a mere teen, Terayama held tight to his belief that genuine artistic creativity was rooted in the act of shattering molds in order to cast them anew. Cinema was a source of fascination for Terayama ever since the childhood days and nights spent in his uncle’s cinema in remote Aomori Prefecture. Casablanca remained a talismanic favorite, cryptically cited throughout his poetry and multimedia practice, appropriated and reinvented in a similar manner as the work of Jean Cocteau and Luis Buñuel. The early death of Terayama’s father would cast a long shadow across his films, art and writing, which are haunted by absent or ambiguous figures of authority. By extension, the questioning of masculine authority that informs so much of Terayama’s art found especially rich expression in his films and their frequently radical destabilization of meaning. Among Terayama’s best known film is Emperor Tomato Ketchup, a mesmerizing fever dream that follows the strange adventures of a child king wandering through his anarchic kingdom and encountering costumed women who worship and, most controversially, erotically frolic with their boy-ruler. Often compared to Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963), Terayama’s film showcases the kind of transgressive performance central both to his cinema and his work as founder of the radical Tenjo Sajiki theater troupe, while also making clear the call for dissent and even revolution that resounds across all of Terayama’s films, perhaps most explicitly in his play, later adapted into a celebrated feature, Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets.

Difficult to summarize, the many different facets and strands of Terayama’s remarkable career are best appreciated in the films that are today finally receiving the wider recognition they deserve, thanks in part to the preservation work of the National Film Center in Tokyo as well as a wave of important new scholarship exploring his cinema and career.  This retrospective gathers and presents, for the first time in the US, all of Terayama’s pioneering short films together with his feature films, while also inviting Terayama collaborator and expert Henrikku Morisaki to enact two of Terayama’s cinema performance pieces. – Haden Guest

Curated by Go Hirasawa and Julian Ross with Haden Guest.

Film descriptions by Haden Guest and Becca Voelcker.

Presented in partnership with Anthology Film Archives; National Film Center, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and the George Eastman Museum with the generous support of the Kinoshita Group.

Special thanks: Theodore C. Bestor and Stacie Matsumoto—Reischauer Institute, Harvard; Hisashi Okajima, Akira Tochigi and Chizuru Usui—National Film Center, The National Museum of Modern Art,; the Japan Foundation; Jed Rapfogel—Anthology Film Archives; Julian Ross; Go Hirasawa.

         

  


Friday November 3 at 7pm

This program of early and mid-career works includes Terayama’s first film, The Cage, which makes clear the deep hold of Surrealism upon the young filmmaker. The opening film, Butterfly Dress Pledge, offers a striking introduction into the theatrical trance world inhabited by so many of Terayama’s films, while also showcasing his interests in breaking through the screen itself.

Butterfly Dress Pledge (Chofukuki)

Directed by Shuji Terayama
Japan 1974, 35mm, color, 12 min

 

The Cage (Ori)

Directed by Shuji Terayama
Japan 1964, 16mm, color, 11 min

 

The Labyrinth Tale (Meikyutan)

Directed by Shuji Terayama
Japan 1975, 16mm, color, 17 min

 

Emperor Tomato Ketchup (Tomato Kechappu Kotei)

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Keiko Niitaka, Salvador Tari, Taro Apollo
Japan 1971/1996, 16mm, tinted b/w, 27 min. Japanese with English subtitles

 

 

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Friday November 3 at 8:30pm

Pastoral Hide and Seek
(Denen ni shisu)

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Kaoru Yachigusa, Keiko Niitaka, Masumi Harukawa
Japan 1974, 35mm, color, 104 min. Japanese with English subtitles

Terayama’s autobiographically inspired feature is an avant-garde cine-memoire and the fullest expression of the mythopoesis of childhood, family and history that recurs throughout his films and writings. Set in the rural North where Terayama spent his formative years, the visually dazzling Pastoral Hide and Seek glides seamlessly between past and present, oneiric theater and cinematic kaleidoscope in a cascade of collaging and overripe symbols that are simultaneously offered as critical and emotional reflections upon Terayama’s past and the traumatic history of post-WWII Japan.

Preceded by

Father (Chichi)

Directed by Shuji Terayama
Japan 1977, 16mm (digitally restored version), color, 3 min

 

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Saturday November 4 at 7pm

Fruits of Passion
(Les fruits de la passion)

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Illiers, Arielle Dombasle
France/Japan 1981, 35mm, color, 90 min. French, Japanese, English & Cantonese with English subtitles

A heady admixture of sexual and anti-imperialist fantasy, Fruits of Passion is a loose adaptation of Pauline Réage’s sequel to her erotic classic The Story of O and stars Klaus Kinski as a lecherous and wealthy wastrel. Although operating in a more lush and theatrical vein than Nagisa Oshima or Koji Wakamatsu, Terayama shares his contemporaries’ fascination with the possibilities and limits of the intermingling of sexual and political revolution.

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Saturday November 4 at 9pm

These two longer form works reveal different but related sides of Terayama’s cinema: the performance-based corporeal work showcased in A Tale of Smallpox and the narrative reimagination of childhood and memory in Grass Labyrinth.

A Tale of Smallpox (Hosotan)

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Keiko Niitaka, Yoko Ran, Takeshi Wakamatsu
Japan 1975, 16mm, color, 34 min

 

Grass Labyrinth (Kusa-meikyu)

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Takeshi Wakamatsu, Hiroshi Mikami, Juzo Itami
Japan/France 1979, 16mm, color, 40 min. Japanese with English subtitles

Macabre and sexualized, Grass Labyrinth plunges into the subconscious of Akira, a teenager haunted by the desire to remember the lyrics of a song his absent mother once sung. Akira’s mother is framed yet inaccessible—withdrawing into water, paper screens, a tune that has lost its lyrics, and the mists and shadows of memory. The mother spins and works a loom, and binds her son with rope. Later, Akira is otherwise entangled with a nymphomaniac and a prostitute. Abandoned by his own mother, Terayama imbues the film with the phantasmagoria of his childhood, including the ghost tales of Aomori—recalled by a chorus in whiteface—and the experience of growing up in a house adjoining a cinema. His expressionistic projections are further amplified by composer J. A. Seazer’s portentous birdsong, wind chimes and operatic crescendos. Once writing that all dead people become words, Terayama wrestles with language and loss through this labyrinthine search for lyrics and the lost mother they represent.

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Monday November 6 at 7pm

Farewell to the Ark
(Saraba hakobune)

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Tsutomu Yamazaki, Mayumi Ogawa, Yoshio Harada
Japan 1984, 35mm, color & b/w, 127 min. Japanese with English subtitles

Inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Terayama’s final and most elaborate feature film takes place on a remote Okinawan island ruled by a kind of mythical time that gives shifting shape to memory, fantasy and even death. Released shortly after his premature demise at the age of forty-seven and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, Farewell to the Ark seems to point towards a new direction in Terayama’s cinema, closer to the international art film with its casting of major stars and slightly more legible narrative structure, here the intergenerational struggles of a dynastic family. Nevertheless, the film brims over with classic Terayama tropes of surreal violence, frustrated sexuality and oneiric, ghostly imagery.

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Sunday November 12 at 7pm

The Boxer (Bokusa)

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Bunta Sugawara, Kentaro Shimizu, Masumi Harukawa
Japan 1977, 35mm, color, 94 min. Japanese with English subtitles

Terayama’s most traditional film, The Boxer reveals his passion for pugilism as a pure form of theater, improvisatory and unabashedly violent. The Boxer tells the story of a scrappy adolescent who spends his last monies to travel to the city and enroll in boxing school. Forging a difficult bond with his eccentric and at first reluctant coach, the young boxer suffers the tumults and pains of life in the ring before being thrust onto the largest stage of them all. Terayama brings a documentary verve to the film, casting celebrated Japanese boxers in bold cameos.

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Monday November 13 at 7pm

Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets (Sho o suteyo machi e deyou)

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Hideaki Sasaki, Masahiro Saito, Yukiko Kobayashi
Japan 1971, 35mm, color & b/w, 137 min. Japanese with English subtitles

Combining raw discomfort and unexpected beauty, Terayama’s first feature follows socioeconomically marginalized Eimei, who rages against conservative, “efficient,” and unjust systems that bar him from following his dreams. The subsequent rallies read as documents of an anarchist moment in Japanese history—seen through poetically placed colored gels and jaunty camera angles with graffitied literary references littering the streets. Meanwhile, if Eimei’s prospects seem bleak, those for women are worse. Terayama closes in on the catastrophic gulf between male projections of female experience and women’s actual experience through sexualized and violent images—which may or may not operate by the same logic they critique.

Opening with darkness and a whirring that could be either a camera or a projector, the film inserts us between its production and its consumption. Eimei confronts us in this darkness: “What the hell are you doing?” Later, he asks for the studio lights to be switched on. Images of the cast without costume scroll instead of credits. Challenging audience passivity through such reflexivity, Terayama relates the film to its book and theatrical versions, and his concurrent experiments in expanded cinema. Throw Away Your Books ends with Eimei bidding farewell to film—“Sayonara eiga!”—but Terayama’s images stay with us.

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Introduction by Julian Ross & Chizuru Usui
Friday November 17 at 9pm

Young Person’s Guide to Cinema (Seishonen no tameno eiganyumon)

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Henrikku Morisaki, Masahiro Saito, Sueshi Sasada
Japan 1974, 16mm, color, 3 min

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Reading Machine (Shokenki)

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Toshihiko Hino, Keiko Niitaka, Takeshi Wakamatsu
Japan 1977, 16mm, color, 22 min. Japanese with English subtitles

In this Borgesian satire on knowledge and technology, bibliophilic desire leads to the construction of a pedal-powered reading machine. Resembling a combination of gymnastic contraption, printing press and early cinematic apparatus, the machine’s purpose remains ambiguous. And like this machine, Terayama’s film connects his work in poetry, motion picture and graphic design by weaving together printed and projected, still and moving images. Alphabetic characters are shuffled across a board game, and costumed characters shuffle through a cityscape to the tune of J. A. Seazer’s imaginative soundtrack. The camera lingers on an image of a man crawling through a screen—a premonitory illustration of Terayama’s interest in rupturing façades, illusion and identity. The final book we see is blank, and the film ends in a funeral dance. Such ambivalence articulates Terayama’s interrogation of written and cinematic language, evident elsewhere in inky strikethroughs (Video Letter) and Brechtian transgressions (Laura).

 

Les chants de Maldoror (Marudororu no uta)

Directed by Shuji Terayama
Japan 1977, 16mm, color, 27 min. Japanese with English subtitles

A “reading film” of delirious image and text, Les chants de Maldoror takes its title and inspiration from Comte de Lautréamont’s 1869 proto-Surrealist poetic novel which, for instance, describes beauty as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table. In the novel’s six cantos, a young misanthrope indulges in depraved and destructive acts. Unexpected encounters abound, with turtles and birds joining Terayama’s regular cast of snails and dogs to wander over books and bare torsos. Feverish video processing posterizes, inverts and overlays images that are further colored by sound—pushing the limits of his literary adaptation. Terayama wrote that the only tombstone he wanted was his words, but, as Les chants de Maldoror demonstrates, words need not be confined to carved monuments or bound hardcopies.

 

An Attempt to Describe the Measure of Man (Issunboshi o kijutsusuru kokoromi)

Directed by Shuji Terayama
Japan 1977, 16mm, color, 19 min. Japanese with English subtitles

Using bluescreen video techniques, Terayama playfully—and with a silent film theatricality—posits a series of postmodern vignettes featuring realities-within-realities as his protagonist attempts some kind of relationship with a nude woman on the screen-within-the-screen. In his struggles to “free” her, he exposes the absurd flimsiness, deceptiveness and mutability of both the cinema experience and our human dimension.

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$12 Special Event Tickets
Presentation & Performance by Henrikku Morisaki

Saturday November 18 at 7pm

Featuring some of Terayama’s most dazzling and truly experimental films, this program includes his haunting meditation on shadow and/as cinema, Shadow Film, as well as his celebrated The Eraser, which gives rough texture and violence to the intertwined acts of memory and forgetting. Henrikku Morisaki will introduce the program and enact Terayama’s important film performances, Laura and The Trial, the latter a radically interactive film that invites the audience to join in a symbolic desecration and reinvention of the movie screen.

Shadow Film: The Woman With Two Heads (Kage no eiga: nito onna)

Directed by Shuji Terayama
Japan 1977, 16mm, color, 16 min

 

The Eraser (Keshigomu)

Directed by Shuji Terayama
Japan 1977, 16mm, color, 20 min

 

The War of Jan-Ken Pon
(Janken senso)

Directed by Shuji Terayama
Japan 1971, 16mm, b/w, 12 min

 

Laura (Rora)

Directed by Shuji Terayama
Japan 1974, 16mm, color, 9 min. Japanese with English subtitles

 

The Trial (Shinpan)

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Keiko Niitaka, Yoko Ran, Sueshi Sasada
Japan 1974, 16mm, color, 34 min

 

 

 

Followed by a conversation between curator and scholar Julian Ross; Chizuru Usui, Assistant Curator, National Film Center, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; long-time Terayama collaborator and Tenjo Sajiki member Henrikku Morisaki and Alexander Zahlten, Associate Professor, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard.

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Monday November 27 at 7pm

Video Letter

Directed by Shuntaro Tanikawa and
Shuji Terayama
Japan 1983, digital video, color, 74 min. Japanese with English subtitles

Pensive yet playful, Video Letter is a meditation on identity, death, and the limits of language. Made in collaboration with friend and poet Tanikawa Shuntaro (who also experimented with video and sound technology), it draws inspiration from renga poetry, a traditional form in which two poets correspond in alternating verses. Terayama and Tanikawa film themselves alone, sifting through possessions, unpacking nesting boxes, and leafing through poetry and photographs (as in so many of his films, Terayama is haunted by images of his mother). They share a phone call, and use intertitles and voiceovers as missives. Indeed, words are repeated and relished, obliterated with a marker pen, and swallowed in a wink and half-smile for the camera. The addressee of Tanikawa’s final intertitle is left blank, and Video Letter closes with the scrolling electrocardiogram that Tanikawa took from Terayama’s bedside. The cardiogram traces Terayama’s final moments in a cursive verse that underlines a life’s work.

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700