Format: Cinema

Screening date: 26 July 2011

Venue: Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, London

Director: Masao Adachi

Writer: Masao Adachi

Original title: Gingakei

Japan 1967

75 mins

Part of Theatre Scorpio: Japanese Independent and Experimental Cinema of the 1960s

12-31 July 2011

Close-Up Film Club

Close-Up website

The recent international reappraisal of pink cinema, in many ways due to curators Roland Domenig and Go Hirasawa’s programming initiatives and Jasper Sharp’s publication Behind the Pink Curtain, has resuscitated many important filmmakers in danger of being buried under the carpet of Japanese film history. With its emphasis on carnal lust and the darkest libidinal desires, pink cinema is not exactly what Japan would want to offer as an official image of the nation, and yet, as Sharp argues in his book, its presence is undeniable and it is no longer possible to neglect its significance. Masao Adachi is just one of the names cast under this limelight in recent years and, now with retrospectives at the Cinémathèque franí§aise and Shibuya Vuera under his belt, he has secured his place as a key figure of his generation. As a director of unique pink films under the auspices of Wakamatsu Productions and the scriptwriter for many of the best titles directed by Kôji Wakamatsu, Adachi’s contribution to the evolution of pink cinema into more than just sex films cannot be ignored.

Although his name is shaded in pink, more colours are needed to paint Adachi’s portrait. At university, he was closely involved in the making of Bowl (Wan, 1961) and Closed Vagina (Sain, 1963) as a member of the legendary Nihon University Film Studies Club, which produced many pioneering experimental films in the late 50s and early 60s. Together with Motoharu Jônouchi, he was an instrumental figure within the VAN Film Research Centre, a filmmakers’ lab and artists’ commune where films like Document 6.15 (1961) were produced as a continuation of the protest movements that defined the decade. Adachi also worked closely with the leader of the Japanese New Wave, Nagisa Ôshima, as a scriptwriter for Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969) and actor for his seminal Death by Hanging (1968), even directing a lengthy trailer for the film, which became a trademark for titles produced by ATG. His film A.K.A Serial Killer (1969), made in collaboration with Ôshima’s scriptwriter Mamoru Sasaki and film critic Masao Matsuda, developed a theory of landscape (fûkeiron) in its portrait of a teenage murderer through shots of landscapes he may have seen during his upbringing and subsequent rampage. Adachi was invited with Wakamatsu and Ôshima to the Cannes Film Festival in 1971 and, with Wakamatsu, he visited Palestine on the way back to shoot PFLP: Declaration of World War (1971), a newsreel film produced by the Japanese Red Army. In 1974, Adachi abandoned filmmaking to join the Palestinian struggle and disappeared until, over 20 years later, he was arrested in Lebanon in 1997 and extradited to Japan in 2002.

Galaxy (Gingakei), in many ways, embodies a transitional point in Adachi’s direction as a filmmaker. Many of his fellow society members offered production support, and in a sense the film could be construed as a continuation of the activities of the Nihon University Film Studies Club. Although at this point Adachi was already involved with Wakamatsu, the film was produced as the inaugural title for the Theatre Scorpio, where people began to take pink cinema seriously. Yet, Galaxy is quite unlike anything else Adachi has been involved in before or since, a substantial piece of art cinema that reveals the singularity of the filmmaker’s vision.

The narrative is nearly impenetrable; the meshed storyline is entirely subsumed in the nameless protagonist’s subconscious as he attempts to navigate his inner psyche, which has become a mercurial realm where space and time constantly redefine themselves. In his perplexed state, he encounters a doppelgänger, his father dressed in Buddhist attire and his girlfriend, whose size varies from normal to monstrous, and they all have a go at explaining where and what he is, only to cast darker shadows of mystery on the enigma. Deeply influenced by surrealism, each of the film’s gestures pulls us further into a dreamscape where reality and imagination are inseparable and logics of continuity, sense and oscillation in emotion are constantly refracted in different directions. The cyclical structure of the film gives an illusion of coherence yet, within the sphere, clarity spirals out of control while somehow managing to sustain its own dream logic. However, it is clear from our protagonist’s reference to an unspoken event of ’20 years ago’ that he is confronting what he has become in the post-war years.

What is most remarkable about Galaxy is its continuous ability to discover a film language of its own and its command of the abstract universe it has envisioned. Visual tricks unremittingly throw the main character in and out of spaces, always using captivating stylistic methods delivered with playful confidence. Characters emerge out of splatters of paint or from beneath a river, only to altogether disappear, and figures are frozen in position while their surroundings abruptly transform. A sequence on an enormous set of stairs plunges the protagonist into a real sense of bewilderment and conveys a depleted sense of self due to the mischievous tricks the monk, allegedly his father, plays on him. The soundscape, orchestrated by Yasunao Tone, who performed for Japan’s first improvised music collective, Group Ongaku, and who later joined Fluxus, interweaves different aural flickers to further layer the muddled haze. The dialogue, its content unfathomably cryptic, is often delivered in whispers, overlapped with other voices and distorted to accompany the racket of sound arrangements. Yet, amid this cacophony of noise and images, there is a certain clarity and a defiant urge for innovation that sustains the film and makes Galaxy a standout title in the overcrowded line-up of dreamscapes in the history of cinema.

Julian Ross