Tag Archives: Jasper Sharp

A Page of Madness: a masterpiece of Japanese avant-garde silent cinema

Here’s something you don’t see very often. Screenings of silent films crop on this page quite often, but there is no other silent film like this one. A Page of Madness is a brilliantly dazzling, utterly uncategorisable Japanese silent from 1926, one that was thought lost for years, and now that it has been found, seems to belong to no time at all, past or future. There’s a very rare, and beautifully curated, screening of the film coming up soon, in London, so read on.

Here’s Michael Atkinson’s introduction to his excellent essay on the film for this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival:

“When’s the last time you were surprised by a silent film? Impressed, dazzled, yes, but genuinely surprised? You’d think by 2017, with all the silent-era history scholarship behind us, that authentic, mutant-DNA “Holy Crap” moments would be rare on the ground, and, of course, they are. But there’s no amount of buckling up that can prepare a well-versed silent cinephile for the utter unheralded weirdness of Teinosuke Kinugasa’s A Page of Madness (Kurutta Ichipeiji). Scan the sacred texts, from Paul Rotha onward—it’s not there, as if it were a disturbing dream filmgoers may’ve thought they’d had, fleeting but creepy, after a big meal and too much wine.”

Intrigued, eh?

A Page of Madness has often been compared to The Cabinet of Caligari – thanks to its fragmented flashback narrative and haunting, stylised design. In fact, Teinosuke Kinugasa’s masterpiece is a kind of Japanese Expressionist film, whose artifice helps to expose emotional truths. It is really, a story of insanity, love and loss, about a man who takes a job at a mental asylum to be close to his wife, who is a patient there. It may well be inspired a little by FW Murnau’s The Last Laugh, and like that film, it doesn’t rely on intertitles. There is just one caption card here. When the film was screened in Japan on its original release, it would have been accompanied by a benshi narrator, who would attempt to draw out the narrative, or at least accompany the audience on this strange journey. This London screening will honour that tradition.

A Page of Madness (1926)
A Page of Madness (1926)

The Japanese Avant-Garde and Experimental  Film Festival will screen A Page of Madness on 24 September at King’s College London. The film will be shown on film, from a 35mm print, and will be accompanied by Benshi Tomoko Komura (who performs in English) as well as musicians Clive Bell, Sylvia Hallett and Keiko Kitamura offering a live score on the shakuhachi, piano and koto.

The film will be introduced on video by Professor Aaron Gerow, the author of the definitive book on A Page of Madness and will be followed by a panel discussion. I am honoured to be part of that panel, along with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp and Tomoko Komura.

You can book tickets herePlease don’t miss out, on what promises to be a very special evening.

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Japanese silent films at the Cinema Museum, Zipangu Fest, 15 September 2012

Crossways (Jujiro, 1928)
Crossways (Jujiro, 1928)

This is a guest post for Silent London by Jasper Sharp – scroll down for a chance to win tickets to these events.

Taking place at the Cinema Museum between 14-16 September, the UK’s premiere celebration of cutting-edge Japanese film, Zipangu Fest, returns for its third year, with a number of choice items of interest to silent film fans.

The centrepiece is the screening on Saturday evening of Kinugasa Teinosuke’s classic of the avant-garde, Crossways (Jujiro, 1928) from 35mm, with a new score performed live by Minima. One of the first Japanese films ever shown in the West, Crossways was Kinugasa’s follow up to his better-known Page of Madness (Kurutta ippeiji, 1926). Set in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara pleasure district, Crossways was described by its director as a “chambara [samurai action film] without swordfights” and was heavily influenced by German Expressionism.

This screening will be introduced by a visual presentation on the history of the film by Zipangu Fest director and author of the recent Historical Dictionary of Japan Cinema, Jasper Sharp. The evening kicks off at 7.30pm, and tickets are available from the Zipangu Fest website.

To Sleep So as to Dream (Yume miru you ni nemuritai)
To Sleep So as to Dream (Yume miru you ni nemuritai)

Crossways will be preceded by another very rare screening for those with an interest in Japan’s early cinema, To Sleep So as to Dream (Yume miru you ni nemuritai), the 1986 debut from Kaizô Hayashi (Circus Boys, Zipang, and the ‘Yokohama Mike’ trilogy).

Two private detectives hunt for an actress trapped within a frame of an ancient ninja film in this magical double-handed homage to the movie worlds of the 1910s and 1950s. Predating Michel Hazanavicius’ recent faux-silent work The Artist by 25 years, To Sleep So as to Dream is chockfull of references to Japan’s rich cinematic heritage, featuring cameos from a host of veteran talent including the benshi (silent film narrators) Shunsui Matsui and Midori Sawato, and the baroque sets of Takeo Kimura, the Nikkatsu art designer fondly remembered for his flamboyant work with Seijun Suzuki in the 1960s. Playing for the most part without dialogue, it toys with the conventions of both the silent film and hardboiled detective genres, leading the viewer through a maze of colourful locales such as a carnival fairground and a deserted film set.

The essence of celluloid – Spirit Made Flesh
The essence of celluloid – Spirit Made Flesh

Both of these titles will be screened from film. Indeed, cinema purists might want to also note Zipangu Fest’s Sunday afternoon session, beginning at 4.30pm, Spirit Made Flesh: Works from 3 Experimental Filmmakers, featuring work by Shinkan Tamaki, Momoko Seto and Takashi Makino, all of which interrogate and explore the very essence of celluloid and analogue technologies. The screenings will be followed by a panel discussion “Is There Still a Need for Film in a Digitising World?” in what promises to be a lively and fascinating event.

Competition

Zipangu Fest is generously offering a pair of tickets to all three of these events. All you have to do is sign up to our mailing list, and tell us which of the films in our 2012 lineup interests you. On submission you will be signed up to our responsibly-managed mailing list, and three names will be selected at random for a prize. The first gets a pair of tickets to the Crossways event, the second to To Sleep so as To Dream, and the third to Spirit Made FleshClick here to enter.

Zipangu Fest was established in 2010 to shatter existing preconceptions about what ‘Japanese cinema’ is, and to celebrate one of the most vibrant and dynamic moving image cultures anywhere in the world. The third Zipangu Fest, hosted by the Cinema Museum in Kennington from 14-16 September, looks set to be our most ambitious and exciting yet.

Website: zipangufest.com
Facebook.com/zipangufest
Twitter: @zipangufest

Jasper Sharp is a writer and film curator.