Friday, December 5, 2008
Running time: 92 min.
Reviewed by Chris MaGee
I want you to imagine what it would be like if a distributor somewhere in the world picked up David Lynch's surreal 1977 cult masterpiece "Eraserhead" and thought, "Man, this movie's too slow! This guy with the hair, all he does is wander around. It just doesn't make any sense! I know what this film needs... some action! Maybe kung fu fights, and we'll shoot 'em in colour!" Blasphemy, right? Of course it's blasphemy, but the thought of someone doing that to Lynch's film is so preposterous that we just laugh the idea off, but what if that had happened, not to "Eraserhead", but to a classic Japanese film, one that defined a genre, and that shared a lot of the same sensibilities as Lynch's dark vision of repressed sexuality. Well, for an example of that kind of cinematic butchery you need look no further back than Tetsuji Takechi's 1964 pink film "Daydream".
Takechi began his career as a theatrical critic who counted such artistic heavyweights as author Yukio Mishima and butoh dance founder Tasumi Hijikata as friends. In the 1950s he put his money where his mouth was and started his own kabuki company which mounted modern interpretations of Japan's stage classics. Then in 1963 he began dabbling in film, directing a documentary titled "Women... Oh, Women!" which he followed the next year with "Daydream" based on a short story by famed Japanese novelist Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. It wasn't the first time that Tanizaki's work had been turned into a film. "Fires on the Plain" and "Tokyo Olympiad" director Kon Ichikawa had already released his film "An Odd Obsession" four years earlier. "Obsession", a dark erotic story based on Tanizaki's 1956 novel "The Key", told the story of an old antiques dealer who repeatedly drugs his wife and takes erotic photographs of her, even going to far as to encouraging his young doctor to have an affair with her. "Daydream" explores the same kind of twisted territory by delving into the sexual fantasies of a woman, Cheiko (Kanako Michi), and a man, Kurahashi (Akira Ishihama) who cross paths one afternoon on a visit to the dentist. A few appreciative sidelong glances at the lovely Chieko from Kurahashi turns into an extended dream sequence once the two are put under with a few whiffs of nitrous, but the dream turns into a nightmare when the dentist (Chojuro Hanakawa) intrudes on their reverie, trapping Chieko and subjecting her to a series of sadistic scenarios.
Many people have cited "Daydream" as being the first widely distributed pinku eiga, or Japanese softcore pornographic film. It definitely has a lot of the hallmarks of the genre, x-amount of nude scenes to satisfy the male audience plus a beautiful, helpless female lead gets to suffer through being bound and generally mistreated. While I can't really get behind the abuse of women that often occurs in the pinku eiga genre I did find that the hyper-sadism of the dentist in "Daydream" fit well with the overall feeling of dread that permeated the film. By enlisting the composer Sukashisa Shiba to provide the dischordant ambient soundtrack and cinematographer Masayoshi Kayanuma (who actually went on to lens Nagisa Oshima's "Violence at Noon" and "Sing a Song of Sex") to deliver the grainy 16mm footage Takechi created what to me seemed like the equivalent of a cinematic bad dream along the lines of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali's "Un Chien Andalou", Maya Deren's "Meshes of the Afternoon" or the aforementioned "Eraserhead".
When you think of "dirty movies," though, you don't think existenial angst and dream imagery. You think boobs and butts and boners and that's exactly what got grafted onto "Daydream" once it was exported to America. Exploitation producer/ director Joseph Green, the man behind the B-movie classic "The Brain That Wouldn't Die," could obviously not see "Daydream" being shown at stag parties, so he decided the best thing to do would be to spice it up with his own luridly-coloured dream-within-a-dream sequences featuring totally nude models wearing psychedelic-looking masks. To justify the additional eye candy Green had the nude models take whatever erotic subplot was implied by Takechi and make it as explicit as a 1966 skin flick could be. Cue the groping and pelvic thrusts.
So somewhere out there there is a print of "Daydream" without these laughable nude models, but where? Here we have the case of a film that could easily be numbered amongst the other cutting edge masterpieces of the nascent Japanese New Wave had it not been for some horny hack director splicing a bunch of bare flesh into it to sell tickets. Maybe one day it will be restored to its true glory but until then "Daydream" has been relegated to being just another "dirty movie". A shame, a terrible shame.