1971-1980Akio JissojiArthouseAsianJapan

Akio Jissoji – Mandara (1971)

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An often-overlooked confederate of Oshima Nagisa (1932-) and Yoshida Yoshishige (1933-), Jissoji Akio (1937-) was one of the avant-garde cinema directors of the early 1970s to focus on issues of sexuality and changing cultural values. Although Jissoji is best known for his first feature film Mujo (1970) and his biggest box office success Teito monogatari (1988), his second feature Mandara best portrays his attitude towards sexuality and Japanese culture. Working with the noted script writer Ishido Toshiro (1932-), who wrote the scripts for a number of famous films, including Oshima’s The Sun’s Burial (1960), Night and Fog in Japan (1960) and Yoshida’s A Story Written in Water (a.k.a. Forbidden Love, 1965), Jissoji created a complex portrayal of a utopian cult attempting the union of sexuality and an agrarian way-of-life. Two pairs of alienated unmarried college students from Kyoto visit an isolated hotel on a beach near Tsuruga where they become enmeshed in the devious schemes of the charismatic cult leader who eventually leads his surviving disciples on a fatal ocean voyage. The cult advocates a violent rejection of social and sexual norms in order to return to a more primitive and emotionally real life focused on the attainment of an ecstatic state of near-death eroticism. These attitudes are mixed into a syncretic religion containing aspects of Shinto ritual, shamanism, and Japanese and Tibetan Buddhism. To effectively create a brooding atmosphere that Ishido describes as “the use of unreality to depict reality,” Jissoji makes use of dramatic camera angles, the still photography of Sawatari Hajime (1940-), classical organ music, locales in Kyoto Zen temples and rural areas, and group scenes that include student members of a theatrical troupe from Ritsumeikan Daigaku. An analysis of Jissoji’s film and Ishido’s script allows a critique of the fusion of death and sexuality found in the nationalist romanticism that emerged in the Japanese counter-culture movement as portrayed in sixties and seventies film.



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