terça-feira, 3 de março de 2009

Waving Susuki Fields

By Kaneto Shindo

Onibaba deals with the theme of sexuality, a continuing subject from my previous, Mother. In order to clearly show the role of sexuality in human lives, I set the story in the Sengoku Period (Warring States Period: from the middle of the fifteenth century to the early seventeenth century.
The inspiration of my film came from a bedtime Buddhist tale I heard from my mother when I was a child. Later known as a Great Restorer of Shin Buddhism (a school of Buddhism), Saint Rennyo was expelled by warrior monks from Mt. Hiei (a Buddhist sacred mountain). He fled to Echizen and settled in Yoshizaki Temple as his new place for spreading Shin Buddhism. His method of teaching was to reach out to the masses using Buddhist preceptive tales. Since there were no printing technologies avaible at that time, he wrote Ofumi (a collection of tales to guide people in the teachings of Buddhism) and distributed it among the people. He wrote hundreds of copies every day to reach his followers. Among the many tales written in Ofumi, there was a fable called "The Mask of Flesh".
The story goes like this: Every night, a wife goes to pray in a temple and her mother-in-law doesn't like her doing it. To stop the wife from ever going to the temple again, the mother-in-law puts on a demon mask and hides behind the bushes along the path to the temple, scaring the wife to death. However, Buddha punishes her wrongdoing and the mask becomes affixed to her face, unable to be removed in any way. It only comes off when the mother-in-law prays to Buddha and Buddha's great mercy acts upon her. Although the mask comes off, her skin is ripped away with it and the mask becomes "a mask with flesh". This fable was used to teach uneducated peasants how great Buddha's mercy is. It was a clever idea to build this tale upon the relationship between the wife and the mother-in-law, since wives were the central figures of the family, and by saving their souls through the teachings, it was easier to attract more followers.
As the eight-generation leader of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha (the Hongwanji denomination of Shin Buddhism), Saint Rennyo was a great activist who created the strong foundation of his school by breaking down the teachings of Shinran (the founder of Shin Buddhism into words even the uneducated people would understand. Most of the households in Hiroshima, where my family lived, believe Shin Buddhism. Since my mother was a believer of Shin Buddhism, she probably heard the "Mask" tale from a monk. To make the point of these tales, my mother always concluded her storytelling by commenting that people need to live truthfully.
I adapted this tale and wrote the script for Onibaba. Both focus on the relationship between a wife and a mother-in-law. In my film, the wife goes to see a man every night instead of going to pray in a temple. The mother-in-law blocks the wife's path by standing there with the demon mask. Despite the threat, the wife cannot resist the temptation to see him. The two women make a living by hiding themselves in the susuki field (Japanese pampas grass), piercing lost fugitive warriors with a spear and selling their armour and swords to arm dealers. The mother needs the wife to kill people. Saint Rennyo's tale deals with the subject of worshipping at a temple, but my film deals with sexuality between men and women.
During the Nanbokucho Period (the Southern and Northern Courts Period 1336-1392), when the country was divided into two empires in the north and south and was forever in a state of war, it seemed as though people starved and lost their ways. However, people hid themselves in the grass and survived. Men and women kept their sexual relationships, which is an important reason that we are still here today. This fact lies at the heart of my film.
I filmed the waving susuki field. This was about swaying people's minds as well as their sexual impulses. I was enslaved by the waving susuki field.

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