Coup d’Etat

Coup d’Etat

Coup d’Etat

directed by Kiju Yoshida

starring Rentarô Mikuni, Yasuo Miyake, Akiko Kurano


In this third film about Japanese radicalism, Director Yoshida returns to a more linear, readable story style. It also directly addresses a very specific incident in Japanese history – “The Coup of 1936” or the “The May 15 Incident.” We meet Ikki Katia (Mikuni), a revolutionary and Buddhist free thinker. He’s sent some poems to the Meji emperor, and in an unusual response, the emperor sends back a blank piece of paper delivered by two exceptionally serious diplomats. What this means is never clear, but Kita’s motivations are transparent. The government (but perhaps not the emperor) is out of touch with the citizens and must be replaced. He recruits the otherwise unnamed Young Soldier (Kurano) to help blow up a power plant. The plot fails when everyone gets cold feet, and Ikka is shot with great ceremony and politeness as he refuses to wish the emperor long life. Simple enough to write here, yet decoding that plot from this lengthy and conceptual work was a challenge.

With the plot murky by today’s standards, we watch all Yodhida films more for the look and camera work and less for the morality tale. Sly camera movements direct us to key points of story as we follow the action in Ikki’s beautiful house. I recommend the commentary by David Desser. Along with highlighting film’s plot and visual tricks he points out that in the 1930’s nearly every Japanese house had a “Western Room.” Here chairs and tables replaced tatami mats and made sitting much easier for the male members of the house. Ikki keeps to measured pace, he may be overthrowing the government but he does it openly for the most part and those defending the status quo seem to respect him even as he’s hauled off to be shot. Ms. Kurano plays Young Soldier’s wife; she’s a curious mix of stoicism and respect without romance. She feels more like a prim secretary than a woman anyone ever held in passion. Young Soldier could be the Everyman here. He is sometimes furiously loyal to the emperor and the “System” yet easily takes up a terrorist’s mantel. He is the man that supports the war not because he holds a cause against the enemy but a man who trains because he can imagine no other way to approach life. Yoshida is an acquired taste, but one worth working on especially if you want to make your own films. Infuriating and inexplicable as he often is, you just keep watching as random enchanting moments appear from nowhere. Who else would film a man reading a blank piece of paper and having his eye scan is if there really were letters there?

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