With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Friday, December 10, 2010

ACF 808: Screening of Koji Wakamatsu's Caterpillar at Japan Society on Saturday

CATERPILLAR © 2010 Wakamatsu Production, Inc.

Caterpillar / Kyatapira
Directed by Koji Wakamatsu
Japan, 2010, 85 minutes, DigBeta, color
In Japanese with English subtitles
New York Premiere
Saturday, December 11, 2010 @ 7:00 PM
Where: Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street,
between 1st and 2nd Avenues, NYC

Caterpillar will be the second film shown in Japan Society's audacious series this weekend, SHADOWS OF THE RISING SUN: Cinema and Empire. The series opens tonight (Friday) with Fires on the Plain.

The film's screenplay is adopted from a 1929 Edogawa Rampo short story of the same name. (The story is included in a collection of Rampo short stories entitled Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination, available from Tuttle Publishing.) Rampo was the nom de plume of Hirai Taro (1894-1965), who is generally considered to be the father of Japanese mystery writing. The name is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of Edgar Allan Poe, whom Taro greatly admired.

The film shares the basic them of the short story. Here Shigeko (actress Shinobu Terajima, who won Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival) is faced with the immense challenges posed by the return of her husband, Lt. Kyuzu Kurokawa (Shima Ohnishi), during World War II. The problem is that he has been grossly injured and maimed, cannot talk, and is totally dependent on her care.

Because of the extent of his injuries, received in the service to the Emperor, he is regarded as a "War God" by their fellow villagers. This results in some gestures of special treatment. But these gestures and the high regard in which both husband and wife are held cannot begin to compensate for the emotional and physical trials both are confronted with, each in their own way.

There are several differences between the short story and this film version, beyond just different names for the main characters. For example, the short story was published in 1929, before the Japanese began their quest to become the "superpower" of Asia, whereas the film clearly is set after the Japanese had begun their attempt to take over China. Also, in the written version the Kurokawas lived rent-free as guests on the estate of his former commander, General Washio, whereas here they have their own home and there is no character comparable to Washio.

But these and other differences are not significant, nor do they lessen the story. In fact, I found the film more powerful and touching than the short story upon which it is based. The cinematic version has greater depth and is another example of how short stories often lend themselves to outstanding adaptations. Here I'm thinking of such films as Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (2005), based on a short story by Annie Prouix, and Away From Her (2006), Sarah Polley's first feature length film, which was based on Alice Munro's story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain."

Director Koji Wakamatsu (United Red Army) has fashioned a compelling, masterful drama about the impact of war on individuals in particular and society in general, a film in which the "village idiot" may have a better grasp on what really matters than his "normal" fellow villagers. And considerable recognition must be given to the two screenwriters, Hisako Kurosawa and Masao Adachi.

Like Fires on the Plain, Caterpillar garners an ACF Rating of 4 out of 4 stars, most highly recommended.

Buy tickets.

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