Impasse / Hono to onna
(A.K.A. Flame and Women & Flame of Feeling)
Directed by Kiju Yoshida, A.K.A. Yoshishige Yoshida
Japan, 1967, B&W, 101 min.
The third segment of Japan Society's Mad, Bad.... & Dangerous to Know film series starts this Wednesday with Impasse, the first of four films starring Mariko Okada and linked by the theme of The Discreet Charm of the Adultress. Below I've presented some info about it from Japan Society, then my thoughts based on the DVD screener I watched. (Note that the link immediately below for the Japan Society Website also provides for purchasing tickets online if you desire.)
Japan Society Website:
As the title implies, Mariko Okada and Kiju Yoshida's fifth collaboration is a moral furnace of a film, stoked with guilt and vengefulness. A labyrinthine exploration of the decomposition of a middle-class couple, the bewitching, fractured narrative artfully shuffles the time scheme, as the protagonist, Ritsuko (Okada, in a highly nuanced and restrained performance), stumbles out of the sluggish half-life of her sterile marriage and towards a troubled search to restore her emotional self. After giving birth to a son through artificial insemination (presented here as science fiction), she starts nourishing a forbidden but irrepressible desire for the biological father of her child.
ACF Review Thoughts:
Impasse definitely struck me as an "art house" film, and a rather avant-garde one at that. It has a true international feel and look. Aside from the actors and a certain sensibility, there's practically nothing "Japanese" about it: the costumes and especially the house in which Ritsuko, her husband, and their son live are totally "Western."
My best suggestion of what the film is like is to imagine an Ingmar Bergman film, though one not nearly as heavily metaphysical as his works tended to be, shot in a John Cassavettes kind of style.
Many shots are done looking through glass, so that the reflections create a multi-layered look. Mirrors are also frequently utilized, sometimes obviously, at other times so that you are fooled into thinking that you're looking directly at what's going on, only to find out at "the reveal" that it's actually been a reflection you've been watching.
But the most prominent technique was the use of a hand-held camera to circle around the subject, sometimes two people, but most often an individual. This is an effective technique to introduce camera movement economically. No need for tracks or cranes. (Keep in mind that steadicams were not introduced to the industry until 1976).
However, I must confess that for me the technique was overused here. Not that it produced "motion sickness," not at all. Just that, for me, it was employed too often. Sometimes a simple lock-down on a tripod or a smooth pan would have been welcome instead of another round-and-round we go. Simply put, the problem is that this circling technique all too quickly draws attention to itself, thereby taking the viewer out of the film.
Impasse was the first film I can recall seeing Okada in and the first I've seen directed by Yoshida. Despite my issues with the hand-held circling camera-work, I enjoyed watching it very much. Keeping in mind what I said about it being an avant-garde art house film, I give it a 3 out of 4 star rating, highly recommended, a movie well-worth seeing.