The Forgotten: Nobuhiko Obayashi's "Emotion" (1967)

A romantic triangle turns fractal in Obayashi's experimental genre mash-up, "Emotion" (1967).
David Cairns
It's reassuring to learn that the gulf between east and west isn't as great as we might assume: it turns out that, in the sixties, just as they did in Europe and America, people in Japan got about mainly by means of jump-cuts.
Nobuhiko Obayashi is best known for Hausu (a.k.a. House, 1977), a dayglo, balls-out insane horror movie that plays like a cross between The Evil Dead, a lunatic's idea of Douglas Sirk, and a girl's comic, all fed through a mincer and laced with psilocybin. The prolific filmmaker (still going strong today) actually began in the sixties with TV commercials and experimental films, of which the forty-minute oddity Emotion is one.
The movie, a collage of camera effects, stills, pixillation and every other trick the decade had to offer, opens with a dedication to Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses, but though the film does feature lesbianism and vampirism, of a sort (much cape flapping, but he drinks through a straw), ultimately this testimonial seems as whimsical as Godard's dedicating Breathless to Monogram Studios.
The whimsy doesn't end there, in fact it never ends: a story about a girl from a fishing village coming to the big city is launched, then abandoned, as the film cross-cuts genres (a faux western with faux-Morricone accompaniment is hesitantly confected) and resolves into a series of grand finales, with most of the cast slain multiple times (for visual variety, they bleed not just red but yellow and green, too). Voiceovers from the principles help move it along, with the late Donald Ritchie, that great scholar of Japanese cinema, interjecting some helpful English semi-translations.
Despite the title, understandably the result isn't so much emotional as it is diverting, with the lunatic excesses of Obayashi's genre work finding a more comprehensible home in the arthouse field. Slomo, accelerated motion, blipvert-fast crosscutting, intermingled color and b&w, stills and motion, upended camera, and a ceaselessly tumbling red parasol vie for attention. Characters bounce on an offscreen trampoline in imitation of the Beatles in A Hard Day's Night (though actually that production, too cheap to rent athletic equipment, instead had its stars risk their expensive ankles by leaping from a stepladder) or skate across the grass in stop-motion like the antagonists of Norman McLaren's Neighbors.
Obayashi's caffeinated take on avant-garde cinema certainly shows the influence of commercials, and he never met a gimmick he didn't like, but he can sure compose a shot.
The Forgotten is a fortnightly column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.


The ForgottenNobuhiko ObayashiColumns
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