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Thursday, August 29, 2013


from izo

I have just now seen the wildest Japanese samurai slasher film of my life. I don't even try to "get it," just let it flow by like the river. I sit on the bank and watch the flow. It's full of different ideas about dying, varieties of ways of going into death. Izo is a demon in the spirit world (within) and a man of flesh who never dies, though is killed over and over by ghosts of people he'd killed in the past. They all curse him. One swears to curse him forever even if her curses send her to hell. He's killed over and over by people who hate him, dies an agonizing death and is back at it, covered in blood, slashing everybody around him, even people that just happen to be nearby. It came to the place where Izo, the demon, was death itself, an evil form of death. "I am not a human." When he showed up, people died. He went anywhere in time, medieval times, conrempoary times. Like he slashed an urban crowd of corporate suits. "Let Izo pass. Clear the way." "If you want to live, clear the way." Izo kills anyone, everyone. "I'm like a bird flying to a far-off island."

The film is interspersed at regular intervals with moments of a man picking an acoustic guitar and singing a song relating abstractly to the story, if it can be called a story. It's a Brechtian device, a song sung as an aside from time to time in the story, like Broadway, but not. The song is as much a Dadaist poem as the film. This film goes all over the place, "Buddha is merciful." Izo's issue with religionists is no different from anybody else. He kills indiscriminately. For him, it's like the way children play. Get killed, get up and you're somebody else or you just came back to life. Your choice. Izo gets shot down by multiple bullets or sword thrusts, gets up and carries on slashing. "You're still alive? Damned monster!" A man's last words. Nobody survives an encounter with Izo. "We can't stop him. I'm telling you he's nothingness." Death in human form. It brings to mind the tv series a few years ago, A Thousand Ways To Die. This film is a thousand ways to die by samurai sword. What's crazy about this film for me is that it is not cheezy, not a cheap thriller. It has depth and range that includes Japanese history, WW2 film footage, a collage of high-speed of b&w war images. "Damn you! You're going against karma, ghost!" I take that to mean he interrupts someone's karma and takes them out of their time. It's a new form of Godzilla running loose. The top dog general leading the effort to find a way to kill Izo is played by Kitano Takashi, another Japanese artist director of now.

let's bowl

The film strikes me as a long Japanese Dadaist poem by Takahachi Shinkichi. In many ways it brings to mind a stage event I saw years ago at Spoleto by Terayama of Tokyo, Directions For Servants. Terayama was the Robert Wilson of Japan. It was the most incredible stage event I'd ever witnessed, for me a seven in a five-star rating. Not that I've seen a lot. This film has that quality of the Japanese avant garde through the 20th century into the Post-modern. It could be used in film schools as a raw example of the post-modern. "The name of illness is a singer. The doctor is the audience. The nurse is a poet." It has the kind of creepiness of mind that I see in David Lynch films. Lynch has an awfully creepy edge that is chilling, like Willem Dafoe's character in Wild At Heart, especially the scene where his mouth is in Laura Durn's face with breath you know is from hell telling her, "Say fuck me. Say fuck me." over and over.  Miike Takashi is the director, the one whose mind's eye created this vision of death. IZO is the title. I saw two characters show up in a scene who played roles in a Kitano Takashi film, Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman. I've seen a few other Miike Takashi films. One I recall, Hara-Kiri: the Death of a Samurai, was a truly fine film. 13 Assassins was one of the great samurai films. Good samurai story beautifully told. This one, Izo, strikes me as a visual Japanese Dadaist poem. It's a poem about death.

"Human history is made from blood. Human history is no more than an unsated chain of bloodshed. You must realize that a new age arrives out of the blood of massacre, and nowhere else." That's a hard saying, but who can deny it? History, itself, bears it out. This is why history amounts to dates of wars and names of generals. Another quotation about Izo, "How can he be so resilient, that damned 'contradiction'?" I need to see this again for the Dada of it, for the visual poem that it is, to be able to see from the beginning what I'd discovered about it by the end. The slasher overkill makes me hesitate ever to see it again, but it has so many levels of interesting, I want to take it apart and piece together the sections of thread running through the collage depiction of beginning, middle and end. It flowed like a poem about death, a tradition that goes way back in time. It brings to mind Black Orpheus, a truly beautiful film about death. IZO is not beautiful in the conventional way of looking at it. As a post-modern theatrical experience, I am fascinated every minute, a film I put on pause to get up and let Caterpillar out or in the door. I believe I'll have to see it again tomorrow. It took until way into it to get some drift of what was going on. Got it right away this was a ghost, but it took a large part of the film finding what the film itself was, and when I fell into the flow of it and saw what Miike was doing, I started feeling I got it by the end. But then it was over. Now I want to see it, knowing from the start what's going on and be able to see the whole thing with the appreciation I developed seeing it the first time. IZO is a film I'd have to see probably five times before feeling satisfaction I got it. The paradox of beauty and death.

miike takashi


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