Aug 13, 2011
As someone who likes to indulge in the literary works of Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, I was somewhat disappointed by Paul Schrader’s bio-pic Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985). Although the film is a piece of cinematic art in it's own right, I feel that it fails to capture the true essence of Yukio Mishima. When it comes to the authentic Mishima in visual form, I believe that Japanese photographer Eikoh Hosoe did the best job portraying the tragic master of pen and sword with his relatively small set of photographs featured in his book Ba-ra-kei: Ordeal by Roses (1961–1962). Although many people believe that Mishima was a perverted megalomaniac, the candid carnal snapshots featured in the book Ba-ra-kei: Ordeal by Rose reveal that he was quite the multifaceted character who could be humorous and humble while still maintaining his militant and melodramatic persona. Before his legendary photo shoot with Mishima, Eikoh Hosoe directed the atomic 1960 Japanese arthouse short film Navel and A-Bomb (Heso to genbaku); a work that manages to meld eccentric homoeroticism and nuclear doom and gloom in a distinctly exquisite manner. Hosoe was given the first name “Toshihio” at birth but later changed it to “Eikoh” to symbolize the new post-samurai Japan that he was living in. Had I never had the blessed opportunity to devour Hosoe's delightfully deranged and thoroughly decadent artistic works, I would think his name change was purely the act of a pretentious Jap art fag on the rag. At the very least, Navel and A-Bomb is a stark yet erotic expression of an artist whose internal suffering is only matched by the atomic explosion featured in the film. Unlike Yukio Mishima, Hosoe was able to accept that Japan would no longer be the land of Samurais but, instead, an economic and technological powerhouse with a western capitalist taint that can never be undone. That being said, I think it is only fitting that Hosoe captured the most iconic photographs of Yukio Mishima; the last famous Japanese figure to commit Seppuku.
For many viewers, Navel and A-Bomb will be a brief yet undesirable exercise in cinematic torture (a metaphorical "ordeal by roses", if you will), but, for the already initiated, the film acts as a therapeutic mini-vacation through the ashy beaches of the Land of the Rising Sun. Indeed, Navel and A-Bomb features plenty of bare belly buttons of all ages and sizes and an exploding atomic bomb, but they are used in a symbolic nature that reflects the zeitgeist of post-World War II Japan. Upon turning an invisible knob over a dejected younger’s x-marked navel, an atomic bomb explodes in a blazing blind fury that brings near darkness to the relatively tiny island country. While the grown men featured in Navel and A-Bomb move around absurdly with a combination of playful pantomimes and seemingly possessed hysterics, the young boys remain fairly immobile; barely even able to crawl and stand on the beach that their elders seem quite comfortable with. Like European children of the same era, these post-WWII Japanese youths are lost in their homeland and remain detached from their own ancient culture. One only has to watch modern Japanese cinema to realize that there is a serious spiritual and psychological crisis that is weighing down on the westernized citizens of Japan and the country's economical prosperity is merely a poor and wholly materialistic substitute that can never fill the irreparable void of organic kultur. Navel and A-Bomb also features one of the most excruciating performances from a live (or barely alive) chicken that it makes the furious dancing fowl scene at the conclusion of Werner Herozg's Stroszek (1977) seem like a concert encore from Rock-a-Doodle. When it comes to Japanese cinema, I wouldn't exactly call myself a diehard fanatic, thus, for me, Navel and A-Bomb is nothing short of a hidden cinematic gem.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 11:35 PM
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