Friday, June 13, 2008

REVIEW: Ecstasy of the Angels - Kôji Wakamatsu (1972)

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

Ecstasy of the Angels (1972, directed by Kôji Wakamatsu) is solid proof that you really do need more than sex and violence in order to make a good movie. It focuses on a small number of characters who are all part of a terrorist organization referred to as the Four Seasons Society and code-named after various seasons, months and days of the week (October, Fall, Monday, etc). After a botched weapons robbery from an American military base, the characters split into separate factions and turn against each other, gradually tearing apart the Society in the process. Annoyingly, it is never made clear what cause these terrorists are exactly fighting for. There are occasional montages of newspaper headlines that announce their targets and victims as police boxes and apartment buildings, but the main end result the terrorists seek to achieve remains a mystery. Ultimately, this is just one of many faults that lie within this lackluster film.

Judging from the limited number of locations and actors used, priority given to dialogue over actual depicted actions, the mostly black-and-white photography (with a handful of deeply-saturated color scenes that seem to have been chosen at random) and a laughably bad special effect using a model apartment building to simulate a bomb explosion, it is logical to assume that the filmmakers had limited funds made available to them in making this film. There is nothing wrong with this (after all, many a fine film was made on a shoestring budget), but what is disappointing is the filmmakers’ lack of imagination to match. There are mainly three kinds of action that comprise the film: flat, unmoving dialogue sequences concerning the various operatives, their individual motives and how they affect the Society, sex and violence. Sadly, since the film lacks both a plot and characters that the viewer actually feels compelled to care about, all three elements come across as rather empty. The sex and violence (including a rape scene, several instances in which characters spontaneously jump into bed together at the drop of a hat and an unexplained photo shoot between two young girls that looks like it was thrown in at the last minute) often seems gratuitous and contrived, laying bare the shameless exploitation motives of director Wakamatsu and writer Izuru Deguchi. That leaves the plot material surrounding the terrorists and their ongoing fight, but again, things are never made clear or written well enough for the viewer to actually care about the characters or get a good idea of their goals. Little to no real progress is made in terms of character development, and from beginning to end, the party members remain as hollow and superficial as their code names. While this might be part of a clever commentary on the robotic nature of political organizations that was poorly handled or I just didn’t get, I more strongly feel that the movie was never really sure of what it was trying to say regarding terrorism, but it was careful to pack in enough sex and violence to try to make up for it. Sadly, Ecstasy of the Angels never really compensates for its lack of substance, thus earning itself a less than ecstatic response.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog.


Marc Saint-Cyr said...

Note: the screenwriter for "Ecstasy of the Angels," who I cited here as Izuru Deguchi (an alternate name of his), is better known as Masao Adachi.

Nicholas Rucka said...

While 'Izuru Deru' is typically associated with Masao Adachi it's actually a Nom-de-plume of several Wakamatsu Pro screenwriters including occasional actor and screenwriting collaborator, Kazuo “Gaira” Komizu.

Of note, the kanji is: 出口 出。On Wakamatsu's recent "Cycling Chronicles" the name is being listed in English as 'Deguchi Deru,' which is an alternate reading.