May 4, 2013

Emperor Tomato Ketchup

While Japanese culture and cinema is full of all sort of sick and seemingly nonsensical scatological imagery, including petite ladies with big bulging pricks, feces-fueled necrophilia, electric robot sodomy, lesbian nuns with unholy uses for cock-sized crucifixes, and just about any unhinged rape scenario that one could ever imagine, radical Japanese Renaissance man Shūji Terayama’s dystopian avant-garde trash piece Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1971) aka Tomato Kecchappu Kôtei—a work that was originally only as a short film at 27 minutes upon initial release in 1971, but was later edited into a 75 minute feature (modeled after a lost 1970 "director's cut") in 1996, 13 years after the director's death—is certainly a standout work in terms of seemingly lunatic Jap libertinage. A dual assault against both the left-wing and right-wing that were making news around the time of the film's release, especially novelist Yukio Mishima and his failed coup and tragic suicide, Emperor Tomato Ketchup is nothing short of being an absurd and aberrantly audacious piece of celluloid aesthetic anarchy about deranged children in revolt who have taken over the Japanese empire and carry out cruel revenge against adults in the name of “children's joy.” Featuring totally taboo images of borderline child pornography, including adult women that look like asiastic Werner Schroeter-esque drag queens fondling grade school boys and boy soldiers supping on mature diva nipples, Emperor Tomato Ketchup is as offensive and morally repugnant as films come, even putting Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974) to shame in terms of its woman-whippersnapper wantonness and exceedingly erratic esoteric political message of the quasi-incoherent variety. Described by director Shūji Terayama himself as, “A joke but not a comedy,” Emperor Tomato Ketchup is like Lord of the Flies meets Harmony Korine's Gummo (1997) as a sort of superlatively scatological and sadomasochistic children’s film for the apocalypse made for infantile and hedonistic adults of the putrid postmodern age. Unlike his keenly kaleidoscopic works like Pastoral: To Die in the Country (1974) and Fruits of Passion (1981), Emperor Tomato Ketchup is an innately amateurishly directed black-and-white (although later color-tinted) work with unwaveringly gritty footage that is oftentimes overexposed and even indiscernible that looks somewhere in between an early 1960s ‘pink film’ (softcore porn) and an archaic silent film from the birth of cinema as assembled in post-samurai Japanese Sodom by Satan himself after overdosing on bath salts. For better or worse, Emperor Tomato Ketchup is certainly the sort of uniquely uncompromising celluloid that reminds cinephiles of the power of cinema as a potentially unsettling and subversive art, even if it looks like it was directed by some of the bloodthirsty rebellious youths that star in it.

 As one learns towards the 'zany' conclusion of Emperor Tomato Ketchup, “if you have a beard, you can have an empire,” even if you’re a 7-year-old sadist with a fake beard. Resembling Werner Herzog’s kraut cult classic Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) in its crude pseudo-cinéma vérité aesthetic, except all the more anarchic and socially deformed, Emperor Tomato Ketchup depicts what might happen if a bunch of jaded Jap youth were to run a successful revolution and restore the Japanese empire, albeit with an infantile hedonistic focus on aberrant activities you might expect from youngsters who were the victims of sexual abuse might perversely partake in. In the name of some delusional God that seems to have an Adderall-addled persuasion, loves having fun with feces, and engaging in subversion for subversion’s sake and self-indulgence for self-indulgence’s sake, children as a collective are king and have the following freedoms: freedom of conspiracy, freedom of treason, freedom to practice sodomy, and the freedom to use the bible as toilet paper. Opening with a dubious quote from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, “Capitalism is destroyed at the base if its motive is pleasure, not the accumulation of wealth” as if one of the main motivations of achieving wealth was not the desire to achieve pleasure, and featuring a pretty pink pastel pecker on the title scene thus indicating neo-pagan worship of the phallic, Emperor Tomato Ketchup immediately establishes an antagonism for what seems to be American capitalism and the so-called sexual revolution it ultimately helped sire. In the film, the nice and cheap blood-colored condiment ketchup is the sacred national symbol in the eccentric empire of oversexed child killers with a keen proclivity for camp aesthetics. As the true people and proletariat, the child rulers have declared false messiahs like Mao and Marx, as well as Jean Harlow and Mikhail Bakunin, to be enemies of the state. Fairy-like ladies in goofy wigs and preposterous pancake make-up provide sacred sexual rites and carnal knowledge to novice child nymphomaniacs and any adult that makes the mistake of impeding on a kid's right to eat, fuck, or fight is executed without mercy. For the upper echelons of the militaristic child society, absurdist and sadomasochistic games of “rock-paper-scissors” (or “Janken-pon” in Japanese) are played to the death and one especially heated game is played by a Jap imperialist and a Jap nazi with a sacred swastika armband, who drop rocks and trash in one another’s underwear, but not before engaged in a strikingly scatological game of gymnastic sodomy. Language has also been revamped and defined by the kiddy rebellion. For example, the word “cat” has many new and inventive definitions, including (but not limited to): “Cats are…ruminators with excessive hair growth…carnivores that can’t be eaten…mystery authors who don’t write…hedonists with no property…the only political domestic animals…descendants of Machiavelli…” Clearly inspired by Yukio Mishima and his early predilection to sexual perversion, the children also engage in S&M bondage, tying up statuesque naked individuals with a sculpture-like physique and putting them on display for all to see, while more grotesque adult’s corpses are merely dragged through the streets like dogs. If America destroyed irreplaceable buildings, monuments, and aristocratic DNA when they nuked and firebombed the Japanese into the oblivion and infected with the country with a cannibalistic blend of consumer-based capitalism, the creepy yet strangely charismatic kids of Emperor Tomato Ketchup have undoubtedly secured the apocalyptic end of the alpha-East-Asian race. 

 As a man who once brazenly admitted that Yukio Mishima “should have died at cherry blossom time” (apparently a reference to the fact that Japanese fighter pilots reference to themselves as “falling cherry blossoms”) and with a depiction of a muscular man in bondage that is clearly modeled after the ill-fated novelist, it is quite clear that director Shūji Terayama used Emperor Tomato Ketchup as both an aesthetic (no matter how perverse Mishima’s literature ever was, it pales in comparison to the film) and thematic assault against the writer’s desire for Japan to return to the way of the samurai and restoring the order of the ancient emperor. Of course, while depicting Mishima as an outmoded fool who promoted an anachronistic worldview, Emperor Tomato Ketchup is no more flattering to Trotskyite types who made up a large segment of revolutionary leftist types in Japan at that time. Groups like the “Sekigunha” (aka Japanese Communist League-Red Army Faction), who desired a permanent global revolution, not unlike those in Germany at that time (Red Army Faction aka Baader-Meinhof Group), were engaged in much more treacherous and deleterious activity than Mishima ever was, including plane hijackings, hostage taking, and coldblooded political murders; the sort of idiotic behavior quite reflective of the crazy children of Emperor Tomato Ketchup—a film that portrays Japan as a maniac microcosm where lack of self-control is used as a pretext for sexual savagery and social insanity. The irony of these loony leftists in Japan at the time is, while loathing their parents for their the Rape of Nanking and what not during the Second World, their behavior was no less violent than their parents, which director Terayama symbolically portrays via Nazi armbands on a boy general in Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Indeed, like the German leftists of the late-1960s, the Japanese Marxist epitomized self-loathing and ethno-masochism to an ungodly extreme, so it is no mistake that the Tomato Ketchup Constitution includes the line: “We despise Our Imperial lineage.”  Even in the context of Emperor Tomato Ketchup, if Mishima was a sexually depraved reactionary then the Marxist left was merely retarded.

A self-described, “revolutionary terrorist of the imagination,” Shūji Terayama proved with Emperor Tomato Ketchup that he was very capable of celluloid iconoclasm in its purest form, yet the film is far from his greatest work as a filmmaker, even if it is his most arcane, anarchistic, and unrelenting work. An S&M and scat-driven satire of the most sardonic, subversive, and snarky sort, Emperor Tomato Ketchup is in good company with the films of Christoph Schlingensief (Mutters Maske, The German Chainsaw Massacre), Dušan Makavejev (W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism, The Coca-Cola Kid), and even Paul Morrissey (Trash, Madame Wang's), though something will undoubtedly be ‘lost in translation’ to Occidental viewers. If nothing else, Emperor Tomato Ketchup provides evidence that there might be more to the foul fetishistic fixations some Japanese have for eyes in vaginas and filming themselves molesting young girls in public. 

-Ty E

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