Kokuhakuteki joyûron / Confessions Among Actresses (1971)

18 12 2014

Throughout his career, Yoshishige Yoshida frequently worked with his wife Mariko Okada. The two built a relationship, at least cinematically speaking, that seemed deeply intimate, with a transparency that sometimes felt like a pen’s tip breaking their paper. Perhaps they both operate too openly, but whatever the case, it yielded some of the most exciting and aesthetically advanced films from Japan during the 1960s. Here, though, he decided to go even deeper, executing a film that directly confronts both reality’s contribution to fiction as well as performativity in its relation to gender. Yoshida has crafted a melodrama filled with hysterical women, but he’s pulled the (figurative) camera back further and in the process revealed the context in which we engage with these ideas of melodrama. Considering it gender connotation, the term might be completely irrelevant.

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Kyoko Ichimori, Aki Kaido, and Makiko Isaku are all famous actresses playing in the same movie. Though we never see them together until the very end, we are taught to understand that the three are connected not just by a film, but by a shared trauama. For Kyoko, it’s a reoccurring dream in which she sees her husband cheating on her with …perhaps her assistant? Or maybe somebody else entirely, and maybe the dream is actually a sequence in the aforementioned film? Makiko is haunted by a failed double suicide with a lover, who may or may not have been her father. Aki, like Kyoko also has suspicions about her husband, but her anxiety is brought on by a memory of her friend’s assault.

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I was listening to a recent interview with Jacqueline Rose about her new book Women in Dark Times. The book focuses on three extremely different women, all of whom are united (at least in Rose’s narrative) but their ability to make their suffering known in resourceful ways. One of these women is Marilyn Monroe, whose status as a “feminist icon” is often contested, but Rose makes a crucial observation about Monroe’s performance. She suggests their heightened “ditzyness” was her own way of undermining the content. A “fuck you” to the writers for creating such a vapid character and to those in casting who saw such a vapid character as a natural fit for her image. I mention all of this because it reverberated in my brain through Confessions Among Actress, here are three women whose “success” as performers might have be charged by their real life experiences. This isn’t anything new, but Yoshida’s suggestion is that women who are dramatic performers are discredited as they navigate in the real world. Their suffering is seen as trivial because they are so flighty on screen.

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Yamada’s dialogue seems to echo these sentiments, with constant reminder from the few male characters that they see the problems of the women as something laughable. Weirdly enough, all the men in the film must defer to the women, if only because of their elevated status as celebrities. It is this celebrity status that provides men with their skepticism, although that is ultimately wrongheaded. Early on, Kyoko’s agent tells her that “Only what can be seen on the exterior is real with actresses” but then the film goes on to rally against this. In a way, such a simplified idea might have a grain of truth. Many believe that a great actor (and Mariko Okada and Ineko Arima are indeed great) can convey something underneath their gestures and dialogue. But in the public sphere, it is the surface that becomes the only reality and thus, the trauma of all three women here is ignored because of their public image.

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While the meta quality provides us with many of material to ponder, but Yamada’s real talent has always been his compositions. His earlier films showcase the grace and sophistication of Antonioni, while punctuating scenes with a camera that is ever on the move, looking for evocative tactile imagery. He visuals remain sensualist here, but he is less willing to let his camera roam around his character endlessly, though he does that exactly from time to time. More frequently, he retreats to precise compositions that recall Ozu, yet suggests a completely different way of seeing bodies. Ozu provided portraits, while Yoshida (at least here) seems to be on a mission to discover new ways of creating an architecture with his characters. It visualizes the malleability of an actress, and her dehumanization that results from it.

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