Sunday, July 17, 2011

REVIEW: The Noisy Requiem

追悼のざわめき (Tsuitō no Zawameki)

Released: 1988

Yoshihiko Matsui

Kazuhiro Sano
Toshihiko Hino
Simon Kumai
Yukiko Murata
Isamu Ohsuga

Running time: 150 min.

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

Somewhere around the late 90's the image of Japanese film began to change. For years before that the term "Japanese film" would bring to mind the top-knotted samurai of Kurosawa and the serene, sad interiors of Ozu. The farthest into darker and more existential territory most mainstream European and North American audiences would venture might be the critically-lauded films of Hiroshi Teshigahara, typified by his 1964 film "Woman in the Dunes". Then come the 90's a whole new batch of films and film-makers began to emerge from Japan's independent and V-cinema scene that would drastically change the perception of Japanese film and the people who seek it out. People like Shinya Tsukamoto and Takashi Miike, and to a lesser extent Shozin Fukui, Kazuyoshi Kumakiri and Hisayasu Sato, began gifting us with shocking, abrasive and irreverent visions where bodies morphed, blood flowed and nary a ray of brightness would reach. In a few years North American and UK distributors were releasing films like Tsukamoto's "Tetsuo the Iron Man", Miike's "Audition", Fukui's "Rubber's Lover", Kumakiri's "Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts" and Sato's "Splatter: Naked Blood" in stores. These films formed the dark side of the J-Horror boom, something dubbed "extreme cinema", and for young cult movie fans these pitch black visions eclipsed much of what came before from film-makers in Japan. What many didn't know is that there was a director who was working a decade before who had not only released a film that would anticipate this dramatic shift, but also drew direct inspiration from earlier classic cinema. That director was Yoshihiko Matsui and his film was "The Noisy Requiem".

At its narrative core the gritty black-and-white "The Noisy Requiem" is a serial killer film, although one that follows none of the previous or subsequent genre trappings. In the heart of Osaka's run down Shinsekai, or New World" district a killer is hiding in plain sight amongst the bums and the beggars. We first meet Makoto Iwashita (Kazuhiro Sano) as he is strangling and wrenching the head of a pigeon. It's only seconds later that we see that his cruelty is in no way limited to animals. What follows is a montage sequence in which we see Iwashita at work, killing women in back alleys by bashing them over the head with a small crowbar and then carving out their reproductive organs. What he does with these is shove them into a cavity he has hollowed out between the legs of a wooden mannequin which he has lovingly laid out on a bed on his rooftop hideaway. Stomach-churning indeed, but somehow Matsui, who also wrote the screenplay for "The Noisy Requiem", begins to make us somehow empathize with this most anti of anti-heroes. One way he does this is to introduce us to a series of other Shinsekai natives equally as repulsive as Iwashita.

There are a pair of street musician/ beggars, both injured and shell-shocked WW2 veterans who howl and contort on a street corner. Iwashita isn't even convinced these two are Japanese and he brutally beats them, but still they return to their street corner. There is a homeless man portrayed by butoh dancer Isamu Ohsuga who is caked with dirt and feces and drags around a log with an instant resemblance to a woman's buttocks and groin. There are the midget siblings, bother and sister, whom Iwashita gets a job from. The sister was burnt as a child and bares horrible scars on her torso. When she isn't spending time masturbating with an electric dildo she is having relations with her own brother, something that was apparently dictated in their mother's will so that her daughter would know what being with a man was like. Iwashita lays beside his terrifying bride each night pondering the people, horrible like "jellyfish" who are "shoved into his eyes" each day. Navigating amongst this knot of grotesque creatures are a silent couple -- a young man and a little girl. Their presence is a calming one often accompanied by melancholic piano music. If looking for an easy interpretation then these other homicidal, homeless and incestuous denizens of Osaka's underworld might be demons while the young man and the girl are possible angels in the scenario. Even they dramatically fall from grace in the final third of the film though, giving us some of the most shocking images and ideas in "The Noisy Requiem".

As we first watch "The Noisy Requiem" we wonder two thing. First, we wonder if the debased characters that inhabit the film aren't just everyday folk as seen through Iwashita's lens of hatred and violence. This would give us as an audience an easy way to interpret Matsui's film, or maybe escape or distance ourselves from some of its more nauseating imagery. We soon learn, though, that Iwashita is just one of many damaged and deranged individuals that crawl through the muck of Shinsekai. It's a realization that both gives "The Noisy Requiem" its power, as well as making it a film that many have had problems sitting through. If Iwashita is just another human whose darkest fantasies have erupted into his conscious life then what does that say about us as audience members and fellow human beings?

That brings us to the second thing we wonder, why? Why the violence, why the depravity heaped up by Matsui and "shoved into our eyes" in the same way Iwashita is assaulted by his own world? That brings us to Matsui's important place in Japanese film history. One of Matsui's self-confessed creative heroes was avant-garde poet, playwright and film-maker Shuji Terayama. This is the same Terayama whose remarkable films have yet to catch on in North America due to his debut feature, also a gritty black-and-white film called "Emperor Tomato Ketchup". It, like "The Noisy Requiem", is set in a decaying and surreal world, but it also features simulated sexual encounters involving minors. This has made Terayama, a major intellectual figure in Japan, verboten in the U.S. and Canada. Matsui doesn't take his power to shock though just from Terayama. One only needs to look at the 1960's films of New Wave pioneer Shohei Imamura to see the tradition from which Matsui has come. From 1961's "Pigs and Battleships" straight through to 1968's "Profound Desire of the Gods" the world of Imamura was one steeped in murder, obsession, lust, pornography, incest and black humour. As Imamura was often quoted as saying, "I am interested in the relationship of the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure." Yes, the characters in "The Noisy Requiem" are extreme, but they would not look out of place in the Imamura universe. Instead of being connected to the waist down "lower part of the human body" though Matsui's characters inhabit the creases in our flesh, between our legs, under our armpits, in places we never see, can't reach, the places that breed disease, but are still necessary to our being. Maybe it's this that today's "extreme" film-makers draw from when looking at a film like "The Noisy Requiem".

The work of Yoshihiko Matsui is a wonderful, if often uncomfortable, bridge between the likes of Imamura and Terayama and contemporary violent and confrontational films that pack theatres at genre film festivals worldwide. Impossible to find legally in North America and very expensive to purchase in Japan, "The Noisy Requiem" is a revolting masterpiece, revolting in the true dual meaning of being both at times disgusting, but always revolutionary. A difficult dose of film, but one that is well worth the effort.


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hou said...

In the heart of Osaka's run down Shinsekai, or New World" district a killer is hiding in plain sight amongst the bums and the beggars.
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