terça-feira, 20 de dezembro de 2011

A Man Vanishes - Two Views

(Ningen Johatsu, 1967)

Ningen Johatsu
By Shohei Imamura

In the spring of 2002, after receiving a leter detailing her recent situation, I met up with a woman whom I hadn't seen for 25 years. The letter read: "I gained great strenght from advice to "live brazenly". I've told my husband everything about all those years ago - and the fact that I'm going to meet you.
Carefully watching her seemingly serene demeanour, I was surprised by the memories that came flooding back. At the age of 32, this woman, whom we'd nicknamed "The Rat", appeared in my documentary film Ningen Johatsu. I first came across her in 1967 - she was searching for her fiancé who had gone missing, and I decided to film the process of her investigation.
The police authorities had over 80.000 incidents of missing people. I chose the most "ordinary" case I could find: a salesman from northeastern Japan called Oshima Tadashi. The Rat was his fiancée. At the time, newspapers and TV bulletins were full of reports about this phenomenon of missing persons in Japan. This was in an era of rapid economic growth, when droves of young people were leaving the provinces and their rural communities and flocking to the major cities. Many of them were to go missing, their dreams shattered. These young people had suddenly dropped off the face of the earth - where had they gone? How did their home communities cope with their disappearence?
My deep interest in these disappearences was piqued. But to be perfectly honest, I never really warmed to this woman, the Rat. She came across as haughty and completly self-centred.
Runaways weren't treated with any great seriousness by the police authorities, and one would be justified in asking what could a mere film director hope to achieve. Even when we were negotiating her appeareance in the film, the Rat lashed out at me: "You're not at all interested in trying to find him, are you?"
It was through talking with to the Rat that I realised I could make a film focussing on her search, irrespective of wether we found Oshima or not. In order to peel away her mask, so to speak, firstly I decided to examine her daily life with no real preconceptions. The Rat quit her hospital job in Tokyo to take a starring role in my film. I sent a film crew - unbeknown to the Rat - to her leaving party, and this footage became the opening scene of the film. Accompanying the crew was the actor Tsuyuguchi Shigeru who played the role of reporter gathering information on the Rat. I installed a second camera fitted with a long lens on the roof of a building opposite.
When Tsuyuguchi and the camera crew entered onto the scene through a back door, sure enough all hell broke loose! This was because the Rat hadn't told her colleagues anything about the film project. I thought, with her angry and in tears, her secret out in the open, the true character of this woman would be revealed to me. However, my scheme quickly backfired.

(Ningen Johatsu, 1967)

The Rat became more and more "actress-like" as soon as she was in front of the camera. What I wanted to capture on film was a person coping with the harsh reality of the disappearence of a loved one. I was thwarted though, by the Rat's affected performance. I realised she couldn't care less about Oshima Tadashi - all she was interested in was walking around with Tsuyuguchi, to whom she'd taken a great liking.
We searched high and low for Oshima trawling the bars in Fukushima where he'd last been seen. To no avail. We'd hit a brick wall. I'd given up ever tracing Oshima and I was now more excited by focussing the film on the character of the Rat. I wanted to inject more passion into the film. If my subject insisted on becoming more actress-like, then I had a counter-response in mind. On days when no filming was scheduled, I tailed her with hidden cameras. When she was being ferried between sets and her lodgings. I installed hidden microphones inside the cars. At a coffee shop in Shinjuku, I managed to record a secret tryst between the Rat and Tsuyuguchi, where she told him, in tears, how much she liked him.
Then we became embroiled in the Rat's antagonistic relationship with her elder sister, whom we nicknamed "The Rabbit". She was the mistress of a businessman, and the complete opposite in temprerament to her sister. She was rather scruffy in appearence, but she had a broadminded tolerance about her.
I came to the realisation that this triangular relationship could be the reason behind Oshima's abscounding from the scene.
I hadn't shown the Rat any footage until the film was finished. She viewed it with the affectation of a leading lady. But she was startled by the images of herself on screen and she ran screaming from the screening room at Nikkatsu studios. "I've been tricked! It's an invasion of my privacy!" she complained in magazine articles, placing me in a predicament within the wider film world. I realised it was highly remiss of me to have shown her beforehand any footage from the hidden cameras. But in the meticulous work of scrutinising the true nature of a person's character, to a great extent there can be no such thing as privacy. One can't invade someone's privacy without hurting them - frankly it's unavoidable. Our method for disclosing this stranger's dark past created a moral conundrum for Tsuyuguchi and the production crew.
I was absolutely open to a debate on the ethics of confidentiality and privacy, and I prepared myself for an onslaught from the media. However, Nikkatsu initiated a press campaign to counter any scandalm and the brouhaha died down pretty quickly. A short while after that, I met the Rat again at an inn in Yotsuya. By then, I had accepted the quirks of her personality. I prepared myself to be castigated vehemently by her, but she was simply relieved that at last the whole thing was over. I bitterly regretted not filming those scenes with a hidden camera! Here I was, standing on the edge of an abyss, witnessing part of a woman's psyche that was beyond my understanding.
The Rat had become an instructor in needlework and she was now the mother of two married daughters. I received a New Year's card from her telling me that her husband had passed away. I prayed for the response of his soul.

(Ningen Johatsu, 1967)

The error of mere Theorisation of technique

By Nagisa Oshima

Director Imamura Shohei's Ningen Johatsu was flung just as it was into the midst of the Japanese film world, and that was sufficient to provoke debate. I was shooting in Kyoto at the time and so wasn't able to participate in the debate, but read later what had been written, and I sensed danger. Everybody was talking about technique. And their way of debating was to say that technique exists a priori and Imamura either had used it well or hadn't. In particular, most pointed out that he had used it well, which will probably give rise to many imitators. Of course, imitators don't usually get as far as the filmmaking stage, but I can easily imagine many spiritual imitators coming into being. This will exert a bad influence on young people who are interested in film. Even if it doesn't, now is the time to flee. People start to avoid discussing theme. At such a time, the dominant tendency is to want to discuss technique only. The discussion of Ningen Johatsu on the basis of technique alone intensified this tendency. I would therefore now like to discuss the significance of Imamura's technique.
What did Imamura think would emerge from the pursuit by his fiancée of a man who had disappeared? Had he known, he could have written a script and made it into a dramatic work. He didn't know what would come of it. Or, if he did know, he felt it would be dangerous to draw a conclusion based on it. He felt that it wasn't quite enough. One of these two motives, probably the latter, caused Imamura to start using documentary technique. (He later said that this was fiction, but it is a fact that he started by using the documentary technique and nothing can change that.)
Next there is the problem of theme. Was there a theme from the beginning, was it anticipated to some extent, or was there none at all? I think that there was hardly any theme.
If you combine the above two points, the result is that Imamura had, to a certain extent, assumptions about how the situation would evolve, but he couldn't anticipate the type of theme that would result. But itsn't it likely that Imamura set out with thoughts along the lines of "We'll probably find a theme to go along", or "Let's get on with it?"
This is the crudest starting point for a documentary. From the perspective of today's television documentaries, it is probably about five years behind the times. Of course, stupid directors influenced by the experimental "happening underground" might proceed this way. (In the future some fools will probably attempt to imitate Ningen Johatsu). Superior television documentarists, at least, wouldn't start out like this. However, there must have been a strong inner tension in Imamura as he dared to use the documentary technique, which he had never used before, even if it was a crude technique. I don't know much about Imamura's relationship with politics, nor can I be sure about the kind of pressure that forced him to change his technique. However, there was no likelihood of his being able to produce the film he had been wanting to do, Kamigami no Fukaki Yokubo, and he was probably driven by his reputation as an erotic artist. It may not be possible to ascertain the reason, but something in Imamura made it inevitable that he choose a new technique. Once he got started, Imamura showed great tenacity. It is only his inner tension that makes the first half of Ningen Johatsu worth seeing. If vulgar artists and imitators had set out from the same starting point, it would be impossible to sit through ten minutes of their work.

(Ningen Johatsu, 1967)

But, but... It is totally untrue to say that a documentary's theme is discovered in the process. Imamura realised that, of course, midway through the film. A decisive change in direction takes place there. It turns toward fictionalisation. After that Imamura's inner tension changes qualitatively as well. His desperate effort as a professional artist who has to make the story consistent at all costs comes to the surface in the way it gropes simultaneously for technique and theme. Mori Kota's Kawa: Ano uragiri ga omoku contrasts with this. Mori also sets out thinking that he'd discover a theme along the way, or that it would at least become clear, and although he despaired of this during the proces, he brazened it out. The freshness of an amateur is there, but there is a limit. The relationship between the fiancée and the older sister becomes interesting and Imamura focuses on them persistently. However, this turns out to be a vicious circle, and no theme is discovered there. At that point, the concept is brought out high-handedly for the last time: "I don't understand the truth."
"I don't understand the truth": is that the theme? I put this question to the many reviewers of Ningen Johatsu? This is neither a theme nor anything else, since this type of conclusion can be drawn from any work. Also, it has no connection with the themes of any of Imamura's other films. An abstract theme like "I don't understand the truth" may be of interest to would-be essayists who find it clever, but if true authors make it an issue, it should always be argued in the context of the specific truth that is not understood. If he has no general understanding of the truth of facts, an artist should just give upwriting. It would be distressing if a fraudulent concept of this type were to pervade the critical world like a form of mas hysteria. Ningen Johatsu is a film that started off with the very mistaken notion that a subjective theme would emerge midway through, failed marvellously, made a tremendous effort to redeem itself, and had charm in that great effort. Although most of those who reviewed Ningen Johatsu should see this mistake in technique, they see a triumph of technique. Actually, this must be considered a film that exmplifies the failed documentary.
Imamura probably said that he doesn't understand the truth because he thought he doesn't understand "truth in the documentary". Thus he declares his revocation of the documentary technique that he had once used. Conceivably, people will differ as to wether they view this delcaration of revocation and the high-handed way of redeeming the work as sincere or not.
In any case, Imamura will probably come to see the error of his ways and cease making work depicting truth. Imamura does not worry me, but those, fascinated by his example, who consider only technique are the ones who distress me. They demean themselves and lead others into error. For their benefit, I wanted to talk about how strange it is for technique to be debated in isolation from the artist and his theme.

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