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Manji

manji

Dir. Yasuzo Masamura, 1964
Nicely rediscovered and released by Fantoma DVD, this is a tale of whacked-out obsession based on author Junichiro Tanizaki‘s novel. I’ve seen another film based on a book of his: “The Key,” which came out around this time, directed by Kon Ichikawa.
Kyouko Kishida plays Sonoko, a upper class housewife who begins an obsessive lesbian affair with a fellow student at her art college, Mitsuko, played by Ayako Wakao. Two complementary men (Mitsuko’s creepy fiance and Sonoko’s wimpy husband) provide the complications, though Mitsuko is the stormy center. From the get-go, the acting is set on level 10, and the action is reduced to a series of claustrophobic chambers, similar in feel to the anti-social level of “In the Realm of the Senses” and any number of S&M films from Japan (like the most wonderful “Wife to Be Sacrificed”). With the constant refrain of lover’s suicide, there’s no way this film could get translated for the west. And while death is a usual way out for lesbians in most films pre 1980, Manji’s lunacy goes beyond that, and in fact, Masamura has little to say about lesbianism per se.

Sonoko has an attachment to Mitsuko more along the lines of “Death in Venice”–Mitsuko as unobtainable art object and beauty personified, who attracts (and destroys) men and women alike.
Pretty funny all the way through, and I’m not sure how much was intentional.
The DVD transfer is okay. Full Toho-scope ratio, but there’s a strange blue-green pall to the film (though reds and whites look fine). There’s a brief 30 seconds where a really awful print has been used to, I assume, fill in the gap missing from the original negative.

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