directed by Kiju Yoshida
starring Mariko Okada, Toshiyuki Hosokawa, Yuko Kusunoki, Etsushi Takahashi
Heroic Purgatory follows a 1950s Japanese communist cell as well as the post-revolutionary lives of the remaining conspirators in 1970. You need to be sharp to guess whether you are viewing past or present as little in the set or makeup to clues you in. IMDB and the commentary tracks help, but approach this movie as you would the SAT: prepare, prepare, prepare.
We open with an apparent suicide as a young woman plunges through a parking garage ramp. Medical types roll her off on a gurney yet she appears in perfect health a few scenes later. Another woman observers this fall from the viewers POV; she seems to be our guide thought this story but offers little help. The revolutionaries are strident, angry and not very effective, as in the other elements of this trilogy revolution seems a hobby for those who today we would condescendingly refer to as “slackers.” These revolutionaries talk blood and fire, but mostly they bounce through multiple unsatisfying sexual adventures. Rikiya Shoda works on lasers and his wife Nanako brings home a lost teen age boy. Later a man appears claiming to be the boy’s father, but he clearly is not. We flash back and forth between past and present, and now actors seem to change roles with little to clue the viewer as to who they are or what their goals are.
By the end of the film nothing we have seen appears to have mattered. Continuity is rough, people change positions nonsensically, and I can’t decide if it’s just sloppy editing or if there is some deeper meaning lost in the translation. Yoshida’s strength is in his camera work: there are dozens of breath-taking shots involving the building, the vehicles and passing trains that must have taken forever to frame up. But as to what I should take away or what politic he is attempting to present; that is all a large mystery.