GRASS LABYRINTH (Shuji Terayama, 1979, 1983)

Originally part of a producer’s package consisting of three short films by different filmmakers, Shuji Terayama’s Kusa-meikyu is a slight, teasing thing that has some affinity to Strindberg’s expressionistic plays, such as “The Ghost Sonata” and A Dream Play, and Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1947), with its dreamlike, shifting appearances of the woman Rita Hayworth plays. Akira, in his late teens or early twenties, is haunted by a tune that his mother may have sung to him as a child, or he may be imagining she used to sing to him before or after his birth, and he searches out the lyrics, which, lost to him, have turned the unshakable melody into a kind of torment. “Why not ask your mother?” someone suggests. The boy’s reply: “I have no mother.” Perhaps he never did.
     Erotic, surreal, lovely, horrific, the rural territory through which Akira moves, marking his inquiry, may be a child’s dreamscape down some dark rabbit hole; a ball—bouncing here, floating there, transformed elsewhere into a stone that barren women touch and thereupon instantly become pregnant—punctuates his consciousness. He walks in and out of the past, but not necessarily his own past, but his mother’s, or somebody else’s, or nobody’s because he is only imagining it. Here is one of those films where nothing that we see is certain; anything may be a dream-image, mirage, chimera. But we never doubt what we hear: the lullaby—the boy’s ache for communion with the lyrics of that song and the mother somehow attached to them.
     At last he encounters someone who is familiar with the melody, but she also has forgotten the words. This whore in a whorehouse counsels Akira to forget about the song right before she jumps his bones.

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