GAN NO TERA
Sog.: based on the novel of the same name (1961) by Tsutomu Mizukami. Scen.: Kazuo Funahashi, Yuzo Kawashima. F.: Hiroshi Murai. M.: Mitsuzo Miyata. Scgf.: Yoshinobu Nishioka. Mus.: Sei Ikeno. Int.: Ayako Wakao (Satoko Kirihara), Masao Mishima (Jikai Kitami), Kuniichi Takami (Horinouchi Jinen/ Sutekichi), Isao Kimura (Atsumichi Uda), Ganjiro Nakamura (Nangaku Kishimoto), Kyu Sazanka (Sesshu Fujimoto), Mineko Yorozuyo (Tatsu Kirihara), Yoshiko Kamo (Masumi Fujimoto), Shoichi Ozawa (Kuniitsu Takami), Ko Nishimura (Mokudo Kida). Prod.: Daiei Studios. DCP. Bn.
As a complement to last year’s tribute to director Yuzo Kawashima (1918-1963), in 2021 we screen two recent 4K restorations of films he made at Daiei towards the end of his career. Gan no Tera is an uncharacteristically severe and serious work about the complex triangular relationship between a Buddhist priest, his mistress and his teenage acolyte. The film showcases a remarkable performance in the role of the mistress from Ayako Wakao, who also acted for Kawashima in Onna wa nido umareru (A Woman is Born Twice, 1961) and Shitoyakana kemono (1962). She was at her peak during the early 1960s, when she created an outstanding series of assertive female characterisations, most notably in several films directed by Yasuzo Masumura. Kawashima himself paid tribute to cinematographer Hiroshi Murai, who, he said, encouraged him to reflect on pictorial aspects of cinema that he had hitherto tended to overlook. Certainly, the film is one of Kawashima’s most self-consciously stylish, with its rigorously precise compositions and switches between black-and-white and colour and near-expressionist use of light and shade. The film is based on a novel by Tsutomu Mizukami, who had won esteem as a novelist in both popular and artistic idioms, being noted for detective stories as well as for naturalistic fiction. His career, too, was at its apex in the early 1960s, when Gan no Tera was published and adapted for cinema; around the same time, his novels furnished plots for several other significant films, including Echizen take ningyo (Bamboo Doll of Echizen, 1963, by Kozaburo Yoshimura) and Kiga kaikyo (Straits of Hunger, 1965, by Tomu Uchida). In his youth, Mizukami had trained for the Buddhist priesthood at a Kyoto temple, eventually quitting in protest at what he saw as the corruption of the head priest. As Dennis Washburn writes, the story told in Gan no Tera “draws heavily on Mizukami’s boyhood experiences to give the reader a vivid sense of life at a small Zen temple”. Kawashima complained that the film suffered negative reviews, although in fact the “Kinema Junpo” critic praised it for capturing the eroticism of the source novel and dramatising the experiences of the troubled acolyte.
Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström