Dec 19, 2011

Pastoral: To Die in the Country

As far as I am concerned, Pastoral: To Die in the Country (1974) aka Pastoral Hide and Seek directed by Shūji Terayamav – a work that manages to bring together the masterful technical precision and craftsmanship of Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick and the salient surrealism of auteur filmmakers like Arrabal and Buñuel – is one of the greatest , most original, and downright creepiest Japanese films ever created. Not only is Pastoral: To Die in the Country a film of Japanese origin but it is also a complex cultural dichotomy of ancient rural life and the technocratic Westernization of the tiny Übermensch Northeastern Asian nation and an intimate personal history of the country as expressed so vividly yet abstractly by Shūji Terayamav. To say that each individual scene and segment of the film manages to illustrate critical issues that post-post-modern Japan is facing would be an one-sided understatement. Of course, being the refined artistic Renaissance man that he was, Terayamav brings up these issues in a most wonderfully carnal-carnivalesque and self-indulgent manner that would even bring a blush to Maestro Fellini’s tanned ½ Roman face in this brilliant film-within-a-film. Transcending all cinematic conventions, genres, and forms of storytelling, Pastoral: To Die in the Country is a work that revamps cinema in general and demands unwavering attention and commitment from the viewer. But more than anything, the film is Shūji Terayamav’s reflective post-pastoral quasi-tribute and personal-obituary to Japanese rural life and culture. Like fellow Japanese artist Yukio Mishima, Terayamav especially focused on his awkward and hopelessly petrified adolescent encounters with members of the extra-fairer-fairer Japanese sex. In the city, the confessing protagonist is merely a nameless and faceless ant in an intimidating ant metropolis, but his disheartening past life in the country lives on in his memory as if the tortured souls of formerly known ghosts have taken residence in his often tormented mind.

 In the world of Pastoral: To Die in the Country, mothers stare in joyous awe at their deceased fetuses, elder women rape young boys, bare-bottom beastesses/temptresses roam wild and the narrator contemplates killing his mother over 20 years after various traumas had taken place during his ominous adolescence. For the thoroughly perturbed protagonist, the past violently bleeds (both literally and figuratively) into the future. Whereas the rural world of Pastoral: To Die in the Country is a kaleidoscope of cut-throat colors and nefarious intrigue, the urban world is a culturally-retarded realm of restricting electronic-based banality where technology has seemingly trumped and triumphed over nature and has turned man into a mere insignificant cog in the machine.  Unsurprisingly, this post-industrial phenomenon has left a a somewhat appreciated hole in the soul of the protagonist. For most people, nostalgia is something to be cherished and retained, but for the protagonist of Pastoral: To Die in the Country, past memories are an agonizing and tormenting army of ghosts who have taken his mind hostage. Despite all the unwanted memories that have conquered his mind, the protagonist also seems to have a vague bit of fondness for a past that he has no option of forgetting. Most violently tattooed on his mind’s eye are the protagonist's various female encounters; the most penetrating being the unforgivable sins of his sadistic mother. As a child, the protagonist tells his mother, “Mommy, I want to get circumcised.” Of course, this young man would grow up to live in a spiritually and culturally circumcised post-World War II Japan, a time and place where the ancient code of the Samurai was disposed of in a manner as careless and unsentimental as outdated technology. The folk of the protagonist's rural hometown also suffer from mental and physical degeneration as they no longer have the spirit and organic health that enabled the humble peasants of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) to fight for the livelihood and preservation of their community. The world featured in Pastoral: To Die in the Country is certainly symbolic/symbiotic of German historian-philosopher Oswald Spengler’s quote, “It is the Late city that first defies the land, contradicts Nature in the lines of its silhouette, denies all Nature. It wants to be something different from and higher than Nature. These high-pitched gables, these Baroque cupolas, spires, and pinnacles, neither are, nor desire to be, related with anything in Nature. And then begins the gigantic megalopolis, the city-as-world, which suffers nothing beside itself and sets about annihilating the country picture.” 

Pastoral: To Die in the Country is a work that certainly demands a lifetime's worth of re-viewings as the man who created certainly assembled of lifetime-size collection of autobiographical mise-en-scènes that encompass the joys of madness, misery, and menacing mammary glands. The fact that Pastoral: To Die in the Country remains a somewhat obscure work in the Occident is nothing short of baffling. Predating the Japanese Cyberpunk explosion by around a decade, Pastoral: To Die in the Country is certainly a first-class film that has failed to get its due as a revolutionary artistic and cultural work of the most grand cinematic kind. If it were not for Pastoral: To Die in the Country – a splendidly freaky flick that acknowledges the miserable death of the country and the birth of the technocratic bureaucracy – it is doubtful that the inevitable birth of the Cyberpunk genre would have been so timely, potent, and necessary. In short, Pastoral: To Die in the Country makes Akira Kurosawa’s nostalgic Dreams (1990) seems like the innocent childlike recollections of a kindly old man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  I know if I ever live long enough to suffer the retarded delights of that mind-disintegrating old timer's disease, I will still be mentally cognizant enough to name Pastoral: To Die in the Country as my favorite film from the Land of the Rising Sun.

-Ty E


jervaise brooke hamster said...

This was released in late December `74, almost a year to the day before Heather was born.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The character that this movie revolves around sounds just like me ! ! !.

Anonymous said...

Is this the first time you`ve reveiwed one of Terayama's movies ?, surely some of his other films are ripe for disection on this site as well, like: "Emperor Tomato Ketchup", "Throw Away Your Books, Lets Rally In The Streets", "Grass Labyrinth", and "Farewell To The Ark".

eddie lydecker said...

Its interesting to note that "Black Christmas" was released in North America just 8 days before this movie was released in Japan.