Eros + Massacre
directed by Yoshishige Yoshida
starring Mariko Okada, Toshiyuki Hosokawa, YÃ»ko Kusunoki
Eros + Massacre perfectly encapsulates why some people love “Art Film” and others hate it. This 1969 project by Yoshishige Yoshida hits all the hot buttons: it’s in black and white with subtitles. It offers casual sex and a view into another culture. Camera angles are unconventional, and actors make long speeches no real human could ever emit. Sex and nudity feel sterile, and inexplicable events like a like a rugby scrum cross the screen to no discernible end. And at 200 minutes in length the experience of viewing Eros + Massacre feels like that three hour cruise on Gilligan’s Island.
Dare we talk plot? There’s a whole Mount Fuji of plot here. Switching between the present day and the 1920’s we have two parallel stories: Eiko (Sokuta Toshiko Ii) may be a prostitute, or maybe she’s just a party girl who accepts tips. She and one of her boyfriend Wada (Daijiro Harada) do the deed as they read the books of Sakae Osugi (Toshiyuki Hosokawa). His philosophy is polyamorous: “Everyone should have their own place to live, their own income, and the right to sleep whomever they want.” Good luck on all that; this philosopher/horn dog remains solid broke throughout the entire movie.
The plot, to be merciful, is “thoughtfully placed.” It’s not always clear who everyone is and what decade we are in. It took me four nights to get through this project, but I’m glad I put in the effort. Where this movie shines, and the reason you might consider enduring it, is the skilled composition and filmography. We see long walks through falling cherry blossoms, amazing composition of vehicles in motion shot from odd angles, oddly un-erotic sex scenes that appear as matter-of-fact as a high school hygiene text could make them, and a great scene where Sakae Osugi sits in prison, plotting to overthrow the government by printing a dense artistic magazine no sane Japanese person would read. Comparisons to Ibsen’s The Dolls House might be a topic for postdate discussion, but here’s my take away: Pack in supplies, stop every hour or so to do some light exercise, and keep your eyes on the subtitles.