In memoriam Jissoji Akio

Steven C Harrison harrisonstevenc
Tue Dec 19 00:44:56 EST 2006

  I too was saddened by the loss of Jissouji.  I've tried to familiarize myself with his ATG films, so I'll take a stab at responding (though my ignorance will surely show compared to many in this group.)

"Is Jissoji suggesting that conventional sexual morality is irrelevant in the face of a greater truth - that life is transient? Or is he hinting, by contrast, that this Buddhist doctrine is inadequate as a response to the very real suffering we've witnessed? The same question could be asked about Uta."
  I think it's the latter.  His works don't seem to follow the "conservative" view of "mono no aware", rather there's a transience at play (particularly in Mujo, which I believe is his masterpiece) which is dangerous.  His characters display amorality, and are usually doomed by the end.  Such a negative ending can only connotate a negative stance when such a powerful play of words and images appears to reenforce it.  I believe one of Mujo's strongest points to be that Buddhist dogmatic thinking is ultimately so enigmatic and convoluted that it can lead to feelings of worthlessness and self-sacrifice (a clear attack on conservative Japanese values, I believe, and therefore dogmatic religious thought.)
  "Also, how does the incest in Mujo relate to this concern with traditional culture - given that incest is a recurrent motif in ATG films, and Shinoda's Himiko, for instance, finds incest at the foundation of Japanese society?"
  I can only surmise that his attraction to traditional art is connected to the previously covered stance, but I also believe there's an amount of fetishism, maybe a lingering ideal that before modernity there was purity (this could be said about Himiko as well, I believe, and more importantly about Imamura's Profound Desires of the Gods.)
  "3) Jissoji's ATG films are all full of startling imagery, and Mujo in particular uses some very remarkable tracking shots, often moving in different directions from the actors. My question here is how integrated people feel these images are into the narrative and thematic concerns. I often felt that certain aspects of the film were used purely for their formal impact. But would some people make a case for Jissoji's style being more expressive than I felt it was? How, in other words, do people interpret form and content as relating in his films?"
  This reminds me of Yoshida Kiju's take on Ozu, that his characters are appearing from the POV of inanimate objects.  If people are moving away from the camera, it is because the camera is nature, the wind, moving independantly of the characters within it.  So freely that it is actually distracting from the plot and narrative development (particularly in Mujo.)  The violent yet highly controlled camera movement might be the most conservative aspect of Mujo, in that in distancing itself from it's poisonous human presences and ideas, in moves toward "purity".  I also believe there's a good deal of the entertainer in Jissouji.  He comes from television, and knows how to keep the audience engaged.  When you're giving in to overt symbolism and constant dialogue, what better way to retain viewer attention than striking imagery and sound?
  "4) A question no doubt made necessary by my incomplete competence in Japanese... where precisely are the films set?"
  I share your incompetence.
  Steven Harrison
  Greensboro, NC

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