Highly symbolic (in the verge of obscurity), Pastoral: To Die in the Country by Shuji Terayama tries to grasp obsessively the memories of its own author. Time, as we understand it, can only be perceived as a slowly and severe destruction of bodies.In this hieratic and complex scene, we see the film's director playing shôgi (japanese chess) with himself, twenty years ago. Let's see how Terayama - with the help of symbols, metafors and a deep sense of irreality - communicates a nostalgic, cinematic vision of his own life.
1st cut [00:00-00:43] - Although the camera stands still in its absence of movement, the framing is very complex, thus destroying a single reading. Comunication in Terayama's work is often given in poetic ways, that is to say, in a deep effort to symbolize reality. The truth is that imagetic poetry (or cinematic poetry) uses symbols to confine reality into a meaning, but creating a symbol is also playing with its natural ambiguity. It always goes through multiple readings. That is why Terayama's symbols, sounds and poetic imagery are intrinsicly associated to his life experience. Some of them are strange for us, (and therefore, close to him) but others are related to universal meanings. We often understand cinema as a general experience, which is to say, an experience made by everyone to anybody. In Terayama's poetic cinema, the artist drags every viewer into a single experience made by multiple readings lost in the creative process. Therefore, Terayama's cinema is an experience made by one to everybody turned now into another.
As we can notice, there are three main images happening in the first cut: the shogi game of the main characters, a little boy getting his hair cut by a barber and a young man leaving his country, supposedly going to war. Each one of these happenings will be transformed thus representing the anarchic and unstoppable flow that, ultimately, time is. Terayama, as we can see, tries to film time, the slow-turned-into-quick changing of things:
1st cutJust look at the farewell ceremony of the young man leaving his village on the picture above. We know he'll certainly die for his country. Meanwhile, the two main characters (which will be refered from now on as I-Young and I-Old) talk about game choices.
1st cutWe notice a subtle ellipsis as if the war had already finished. Now, the man returns to his family with the embers of his dead fellows. Terayama's memory of war experience is still very present (his father died in the II World War).
The cinematic space turns into theatrical space (the camera is still although everything seems to happen). The local of drama communicates, first of all, the experience of loss. And time itself is the greatest loss. An eternal loss of the same turned into another.
2nd cut [00:43-00:46] & 3rd cut [00:46-00:51] - I-Young and I-Old talk about the irreversibility of time. Freedom doesn't exist if someone talks with his older self. The future revealed to the present can only be perceived as a deterministic prison in which the present can't escape. Such is the same with the past revealed to the present: if a thing like that would exist it only would predict the mechanisms of the being here and now. Hence, the present time is a prison between the previsibility of the past and future. The dice are already thrown. Freedom is a nostalgia of its absence.
4th cut [00:51-01:04] - Time waits for no man and in a sudden move of opacity, everything changed in the background. Look what happened to the child on the barber seat:
4th cutHe has been transformed into a grown-up as we can notice in the image above. The very instant of having his hair cut is the same vertiginous moment of the continuous death of beings. Meanwhile, a man and a woman lay in the grass, preparing to make love as a silhouette slowly leaves the framing on the background. The recurring theme here is escaping as the mirror reflects our condition, as beings trying to escape time's cage and cruelty. The film itself is a mirror.
Terayama is playing with space and time relations, creating chaos when filming. Thus, in this inner journey of searching time, we never reach a non-time but the sum of temporality. The word here is not transcendence, but poetic freedom through excess.
5th cut [01:04-01:06] & 6th cut [01:06-01:31]- Very quick take (almost subliminal) showing the couple making love, as we cut back to the main framing.
7th cut [01:31- 01:37] & 8th cut [01:37 -02:20] Following cut 6th, another adult sits on the barber chair. Then, on the 8th cut we notice he has been again transformed into an old man:
8th cutMeanwhile, a marriage crosses the framing. Time is also seen as repetition of ceremonies. But the act of portraying it wants to be free from this sad circularity. I-Old then says everything: " You can't make time stand still."
9th cut [02:20-02:53], 10th cut [02:53-03:00] & 11th cut [03:00-03:20] - Digression on subjective memories of mother through a green filter. Or the violation of innocence. Because they're the most subjective memories they're also the most haunting. Though we can't grasp the total meaning of these takes, we can say this: innocence is being shattered by sensual knowledge, everywhere. Our mother happens to be exactly the same as in the 10th cut: an older woman that has within her, the hiding face of a yonger self. Earlier in the film, Terayama had already built the perfect cinematic image of this. A blood stain spreading through a white screen. Now he underlines it with the firefly burning the house out of rage. That is to say, the profond violence of loosing innocence through carnal knowledge.
11th cut [03:00-04:37] - The shôgi game continues. A little girl sits on the barber chair. A man speaks to the camera in a cinéma-verité way, thus killing the concept of a viewer's theoretical abstraction. "You in the stalls, one of those days you'll croak too!" This is for us, all of us. "We're all flowers, we soon fade". Here, the selfish monologue turns into objective madness. Time we'll kill us all. The sorrowful way of filming contains the truth of a scream.
12th cut [04:37-04:44] & 13th cut [04:44-04:53] - I-Old and I-Young are filmed from the back.
14th cut [04:53-05:43] - I-Old and I-Young are still playing shogi. The idea of playing is essential. It recalls us the famous scene in Bergman's Seventh Seal, where death plays a game of chess with the knight, and wins. Here, I-Old wins the match against the I-Young. It was impossible for I-Old to lose. "He knows everything about I-Young but I Young does not know anything about him."
Meanwhile, a door is standing on the back. That is, in fact, a kekkai. We should recall what architecture critic Itô Teiji writes about this subject:
«A kekkai-- a marker which separates the spaces on both sides of it […]—can be a fence, a screen, a rope, a shadow on a paper door, a light beam, even a sound. [….] Kekkai, which originated in primitive Shinto and were systematized in esoteric Buddhist philosophy, are deeply rooted in Japanese traditions not only as simple markers that symbolize boundaries, but also in the special architectural devices that physically partition space.»
What is this kekkai separating, then? The real from the unreal? Subjectivity from objectivity? We should say, life from death. As we can see later, a funeral procession crosses the framing, thus finishing all the ceremonies (1ºWar, 2ºMarriage, 3ºFuneral). The kekkai is separating the present from the future, not allowing one to cross the other entirely. This may seem contradictory to what we already said. But when it comes to death (the only future, the unique, possible end of all things) neither past nor present, nor a near future can see it clearly, although we know it will happen. The kekkai is a symbol of a necessary division. Death can't be seen as an open door. On the contrary, a closed door, separating the inside from the outside suits better this image of silence. At this point, we reach the idea of impossible, whithout noticing. Absolute time is an impossibility. It's the vertigo of death and silence. And it is with this image of pure stillness, that the scene ends, opening way to nostalgic visions of the absolute.