Local retrospectives spotlight Japan's innovative Art Theater Guild
Shura (a.k.a. Demons) is as cramped as that film is extravagant. Turning its extreme physical and budgetary limitations into the stuff of claustrophobic nightmare à la Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour (1945) or Roger Corman's Teenage Doll (1957), it's the tale of a samurai who gives everything up for love of a geisha — you know that's a bad idea when early on she asks the question that needs no answer, "How dare you call me a vixen?" Once he realizes he's been betrayed, all hell breaks loose in bursts of over-the-top violence that might be real or imaginary, given the film's penchant for showing us successive alternate versions of the same scenes.
Arguably the series' wildest stylistic leap is Shuji Terayama's 1974 Pastoral: Hide and Seek, a bracing phantasmagorical chronicle of a very troubled mother-child relationship that reels from circus surrealism and mime makeup to porno sex and quiet lyricism. Perhaps its bitterest statement comes in the form of 1971's The Ceremony from a pre-In the Realm of the Senses (1976) Nagisa Oshima. Rigorously formal in presentation (and taking place almost exclusively during public rituals), it traces the gradual soul crushing of a protagonist whose forced lifelong hewing to the model of a "pure and perfect Japanese" sacrifices any possibility of happiness. One of the ultimate "You think you hate your family?" horror films, it features multiple suicides and gruesomely joyless sexual interludes testifying to the suffocation of bourgeoisie conformity.
While its stature and role changed over time, ATG hung on through the mid 1980s, its final releases including such memorable ones as Yoshimitsu Morita's anarchic social satire The Family Game (1983), an international hit. *
"CHRONICLES OF INFERNO: JAPAN'S ART THEATER GUILD"
Through Feb. 27
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft, Berk.
"FRAGMENTS OF JAPANESE UNDERGROUND CINEMA 1960-1974"
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF