With Arrow Video’s recent Blu-ray release of the Love + Anarchism trilogy – a trio of films comprised of Eros + Massacre (1969), Heroic Purgatory (1970) and Coup d’Etat (1973) – younger generations are reintroduced to the stunning works by Japanese New Wave director Kijû Yoshida. A body of work that is simultaneously provocative and restrained, thoroughly philosophical and political, these three films thoroughly radicalise viewers in it alluring artistry.
Tackling questions of national identity and modernity versus traditionalism and the consequences of rebellion, the Love + Anarchism trilogy is perfectly haunting. Each of these three films perfectly blend a number of themes together. Arguably equal parts philosophy, politics and pure drama, all things are considered here. Eros + Massacre blends two timelines: the lives of feminist Noe Ito (Mariko Okada) and her lover, the radical Sakae Osugi (Toshiyuki Hosokawa) and the sexual and social maturation of young student Eiko Sokutai (Toshiko Ii).
Heroic Purgatory is an Alan Resnais-esque contemplation on the weight of history and the burden of personal and national sins on the contemporary culture, as witnessed through the vantage point of a couple who take in a teenage girl who cannot remember who precisely she is. Coup d’Etat is perhaps the most linear of narrative, adapting the live of political and intellectual radical Ikki Kita. An intellectual man vehemently opposed to the Showa emperor Hirohito, Kita sought to liberate Japan from the perceived impending threat of martial, conservative law by staging a coup. The real treat here is to witness the tangible results of Yoshida developing his cinematic craft in a short amount of time. What begins as theatrical and broad in Eros + Massacre becomes finely tuned by Coup d’Etat. Yoshida likes to chop up and rearrange time, form and function in an attempt to present facts in a new and inviting way. He is fascinated with questions of national identity and history; frequently presenting us with adapted visions of radical figures, Yoshida used them as the vessels for contemplative discussions moral imperative versus patriotic duty.
For the time in which these films were made, the weight of Japanese history was still weighing on its people. Yoshida’s cinema is artfully political; we do not need to be Japanese to feel the apprehension to embrace cavalier modernity when the sins of preceding generations weighs so heavy upon us. Moreover, all of this heady nationalistic subject matter is drawn digestibly and intriguingly within a distinctly New Wave artistic sensibility. Shot compositions throughout the entire series are intriguing: Yoshida has no qualms cutting characters off, framing them off-center, playing with movement and chiaroscuro, all to infuse a existential sense of play. Even the more clear-cut narratives, where moments are distinctly plotted, maintain a sense of poetry. In short, the Love + Anarchism trilogy is sheer brilliance. Not only a superlative primer for Japanese cinema, it is sure to be an exciting introduction to one of Japan’s best directors.