Produced in Japan
Released in 1927
Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa
Writing credits Yasunati Kawabata and Teinosuke Kingugas
Running time: 60 minutes.
Cast: Masao Inoue, Toru Kurashima, Masao Inoue, Yoshie Nakagawa, Ayako Iijima, Hiroshi Nemoto, Misao Seki and Elko Minnami.
An elderly man, a former sailor, works voluntarily at odd jobs in a lunatic asylum where his wife is confined after having attempted to drown her baby son in a fit of madness many years ago. It honestly depicts a rather unpleasant subject and gives a subjective view of the hero's world which is as surrealistic as "The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari."
Although Kinugasa made dozens of films, the first Japanese film to be noticed by the West was when Rashomon won the grand prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1951.
The Japanese cinema developed under conditions that kept it about ten years behind the cinema in the West. The Japanese early cinema period extended into the mid-twenties due to various conditions. There were commercial and technological reasons, a lag in organizing the industry and problems with machines and films. One of the major reasons was aesthetic. Women did not appear in Japanese films until the mid-twenties, with women's roles being played by female impersonators. This sacrifice of naturalness and authenicity tended to keep the Japanese cinema tied to the theater where men also played the female roles. The cinema was unable to assert the naturalness that gradually evolved in the films of the West between 1905 and 1915.
Another hindrance was that the Japanese cinema was considered an extension of the theater and used a narrator to explain the film to the audience. Called the benshi, the narrator eliminated printed titles, so the Japanese cinema developed its own cinematic grammar and rhetoric. It became dependent upon the bensgi so that the film did not need to "speak " in its own unique style. The benshi were both beloved and rewarded. In the advertisements of the period, their names were often larger than the titles of the films they were ostensibly accompanying. In the West, Griffith, Murnau, Eisenstein and others had discovered ways to make a visual image communicate without a narrator.
In the raging fires of American retaliation against Japan during World War II, much of Japan's cinematic history went up in flames and was destroyed. A curious and fascinating survivor of the war was that the original negative of "A Page Of Madness" survived because Kinugasa had stored the negative in a rice barrel in his country home.
Teinosuke Kinugasa (1896-1982) entered films in 1917 as an onnagata, a man who specialized in female roles. At the time, Japanese cinema was evolving away from staged performances of Kabuki to become a unique cultural art form unto itself, though conventions from the theater, such as the onnagata, remained. Kinugasa turned to film making in 1922, and managed to produce several silent features until the industry began to change after the infamous 1923 earthquake which leveled Tokyo and killed thousands of people.
The quake also signaled the beginning of an unprecedented influx of Western ideas into Japan which had remained years behind the rest of the world. Modern buildings rose from the rubble, and European ideologies became fashionable among Japan's intellectuals. Japanese cinema began changing rapidly, as well, and their films were directly influenced by European directors. "A Page Of Madness" is widely credited as the first mature Japanese avant-garde film, and one of the finest examples of international experimental cinema.
The movie's dizzying, fragmented portrait of an insane asylum featured both an expressionistic aesthetic akin to "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and elliptical editing that recalled Sergei Eisenstein's use of montage editing. The film was entirely self-funded, which almost broke Kinugasa. Fortunately, it was a surprising box-office success, and he eventually went abroad and studied under Eisenstein in the Soviet Union. Upon his return to Japan, Kinugasa settled into a prolific career as a studio director, and during his long career that ended in 1977, he directed almost 80 feature films.
copyright 2001 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.
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