Τετάρτη, 21 Οκτωβρίου 2009

PORTRAIT OF HELL (1969, SHIRO TOYODA)



No one does 'descent into madness and despair' better than Tatsuya Nakadai. And when it comes to theatrical lighting, expansive settings, and slow-fi supernatural poetics, no one does them better than the Japanese, who had the benefit of a few centuries of kabuki experience before Mario Bava and Roger Corman got there with their cobwebs and color filters. All the elements are in place then and Shiro Toyoda delivers with utmost impunity. In part a not-so-distant cousin of the kaidan genre of spooky ghost stories that proliferated all through the first half of the 60's in Japan, complete with deformed ghostly apparitions that come and go as they please, yet also a bit of a prestige film that can afford beauty for beauty's sake without having to cram plot points in the short running time of a second-bill film, this reflected in the stars of the film (Tatsuya Nakadai and Kinnosuke Nakamura) and the lush sets Toho Studios put in Toyoda's disposal, the vivid colors and accomplished camerawork that suggest a director more talented than his nonexistant reputation in the West implies, all these elements coming together to create a dramatically unsubtle, not really horrifying but tragic and macabre, parable on the unyielding monomania of a perfectionist. A Korean painter is summoned by his Japanese lord to paint a portrait of Buddhist heaven. The Japanese lord becomes smitten by the painter's daughter and takes her for his concubine. The Korean painter pleads for his daughter, this coming across as more the whim of a possessive father than genuine love. Finally he settles for painting a portrait of hell. You just know Tatsuya Nakadai's face is gonna be a mask of utter despair and torment by the end and it's worth the ride getting there because the conclusion is truly ferocious.


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