'A Page of Madness' revelation to Japanese cinema

There is nothing to say about the screening of Teinosuke Kinugasa’s “A Page of Madness” except that it was a revelation. The film, from 1926, is notable for going against common editing practices of Japanese cinema at the time with moments that give a similar impression to soviet cinema. The screening was introduced by Abe Markus Nornes, a professor of Japanese film at University of Michigan, who discussed the history of the film and issues with screening availability. One of the problems mentioned was with the Michigan Theater itself in trying to book the film. After attending the screening, the effort was commendable for the life that it breathed into a classic Japanese silent cinema.

The narration for the film was performed by Ishiro Kataoka, who also performed at the Michigan Theater for Ozu’s “Dragnet Girl” earlier this month. It was interesting watching Kataoka perform on stage -- occasionally he would emote while performing lines. This gave an interesting dimension to the film, as you could switch attention between the film or the musicians or Kataoka himself. He was accompanied by “The Little Bang Theory” who performed an original score on a collection of musical toys.

I think the highest compliments that I can give any accompaniment for a silent film are that they are enjoyable to listen to while help engage you in the film. The “Little Bang Theory” certainly fulfilled these exceptionally well. The film is widely available online, but whenever this film is released on home video (or for streaming) this score is easily the best to accompany it.

The film itself is a fascinating piece of Japanese cinema history and the way in which it melds forms of pop-culture and experimental art makes for an interesting combination. The film was written in collaboration between Yasunari Kawabata and many different members of the “Shin kankakuliteraturemovement.” The film uses a fairly standard plot from Japanese Melodramas of the time, a man driving a woman insane and as a form of penance sacrificing his own life to take care of her, but combines it with formal and narrative experimentations that make it more interesting than the sum of its parts. In the film a man (given the name “The Custodian” in the opening credits) has given up his life to work in the insane asylum his wife was committed to after the death of their child.

One element of its experimentation is that the film has no intertitles, relying mostly on the strength of the images and narration to tell the story. However, because the images are not just pictorial beautiful, but communicate the narrative wonderfully by itself. The film is more interested in using filmic techniques to communicate the thoughts and feelings of the character’s.

While the film mostly concerns itself with “The Custodian,” it also, to a lesser extent, explores his relationship to his wife and daughter. However, the relationships between characters and even much of the plot of the film use an episodic, elliptical style which might leave loose ends for people not interested in how the film wants to tell its story. Yet, for those who are interested in films where narrative is more an excuse to examine the characters’ subjectivity, this film succeeds remarkable well in combining it with its technical experimentations


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