This screening will pair the rival spirits of ShūjiTerayama and Yukio Mishima in their respective roles as trickster and samurai, with the Grand Guignol horror of Terayama’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup and the highly formalised violence of Mishima’s Patriotism, The Rite of Love and Death. Yukio Mishima was Japan’s most iconic modern writer when in 1970 he shocked his audience by committing suicide in the warrior manner of seppuku after attempting to incite a unit of Japan’ civilian army to a coup d’état. This act of ritual disembowelment was anticipated in harrowing detail by Mishima himself with the film of his short story, Patriotism: The Rite of Love and Death.
Terayama had mocked Mishima’s conflation of aesthetics and politics when they engaged in a public debate transcribed in the journal The Tide. Terayama’s film Emperor Tomato Ketchup visualises a disturbingly comic counterpoint to the seductive beauty of death in the name of a ‘poetic mythical Emperor’. The successful coup d’état in this film is a topsy-turvy crowning of an amoral, role-playing child, who immediately proclaims the vulgar condiment of the film’s title as the national symbol. Carnivalesque images of children brandishing rifles to enforce martial law satirise not only Mishima’s ultra nationalist fantasies but the political context of a moment when leftist and nationalist factions were contesting the ideological space vacated by the formally divine Emperor Hirohito at the end of World War Two.
This programme is introduced by the legendary British film critic and one time collaborator of Terayama, Tony Rayns. It opens with Terayama’s short film, The War of Jan-Ken Pon, in which cataclysmic historical forces drive the two boy protagonists dressed in makeshift military uniforms to behave less like generals than actors in a martial theatre in which dramatic action has spread like pandemonium.
The War of Jan-Ken Pon (JankenSensō)
Shūji Terayama, 1971 Japan, 16mm, 12 min
Patriotism: The Rite of Love and Death (Yûkoku)
Yukio Mishima, 1966 Japan, 35mm (screened on DVD), 27 min
Emperor Tomato Ketchup (Tomato Kechappu Kōtei)
Shūji Terayama, 1971 Japan, 16mm, 27 min