THE CEREMONY (Nagisa Oshima, 1971)

Masuo’s flashbacks and present-time experiences allow us to view the fortunes of the Sakurada family, to which Masuo belongs, and all this in turn reflects on postwar Japanese history: such is the ambitious intent of Nagisa Oshima’s Gishiki. It is a convoluted and, in its tenor, a nearly subterranean film, one that in fact ends in the brief, fleeting present-time coda to one of Masuo’s childhood flashbacks—to a baseball game he sees but can no longer enter: a cousin to the elusive tennis match with which Antonioni ended Blowup (1966). The shards and fragments of memory that sadly drift somewhere within Masuo’s tormented soul—one of these is a family suicide that may have been a family murder—mask a life of losses and humiliations, and collisions with the patriarchal power, the spirit of Japan’s past long before Masuo’s birth, that his grandfather, Kazuomi, continued and represented, testing the capacity of Masuo and his generation to liberate Japan from this past.
     The color schemes of both interiors and even exteriors suggest entombment. The film mainly proceeds through a series of family weddings and funerals; but these are ghostly, pale events. (It is Grandfather’s death, leading to his funeral, that sets the plot in motion.) The ghoulish wedding in Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1968) is done one better by Masuo’s “brideless” wedding in Gishiki, where the bride, whom Masuo has not met, pleading appendicitis, declines to show up, but Grandfather, committed to form and ritual above all else, as a means of exercising and securing his own power, insists that the ceremony continue. Masuo feels the perfect fool at the altar—although he does intriguingly improvise on his brideless wedding night.
     Kenzo Kawarazaki is excellent as the grown Masuo. Kei Sato’s graceless Grandfather, however, grates.

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