Nathan’s review published on Letterboxd:
This was my essay on Kurutta ippêji (A Page of Madness) for my Film History & Crit class. I left the in text citations in.
Thanks to Adam Cook for the recommendation.
Although Japan’s cultural and artistic history is already considered astronomical and reputable, some early works were never discovered because of World War 2 and the destruction it had on Japanese art. However, out of the destruction there were a few films which had survived the monstrosity and calamity the war had created; one of which being Teinosuke Kinugasa’s, Kurutta ippêji (A Page of Madness), which tells the story of a man who takes a job as a janitor at an insane asylum to rescue his wife who is a patient at the facility. Although the film never received recognition during its release in 1926, it was thought to have been lost until its discovery in 1971, in the director’s garden shed (Batty, 2012). Kurutta ippêji is a display of the evolving Japanese politics during the Taishō period, and how its effects on the Japanese people are shown by representation through the characters own delusion, the first person perspective of distortion, and the feeling of hysteria that was created during the film.
From 1912 to 1926 in Japan, Emperor Taishō reigned over Japan, thus the name, Taishō period (Taishō period, 2013). In that time, numerous amounts of political parties began to take form leading up to 1926. These parties included the Labor-Farmer Party, Social Mass Party, Japan Labor-Farmer Party, and Japan Farmer Party. Most of these groups were underground and in the mid 1920’s, Japanese communism began to re-form underground as well (A Chronology of Japanese History). This created a confusing situation for the citizens in Japan, as the future in politics became unclear. The idea of politics in Japan became ambiguous, and the delusion of leadership was beginning to take form.
Kurutta ippêji has multiple sequences that depict copious amounts of characters displaying delusion throughout the film. The husband, who takes the job as a janitor in hopes of rescuing his wife from the asylum, continually tries to convince his wife to leave the facility. It is clear she either does not want to leave, or that she does not recognize who her husband is anymore. As the husband continues to try and persuade his wife, he begins to lose his own sanity. His thought that his wife is amenable towards the escape of the facility is delusional within itself. Additionally, as Kurutta ippêji progresses, the husband becomes more and more accepted by the other patients at the asylum, as they were initially agitated by his presence (Kinugasa, 1926). This is a representation that the husbands sanity has become par with those who reside within the facility itself. As well, the wife shows signs of delusion, (as if her being in a mental institution was not enough already). As previously stated, her mental state has clearly deteriorated since she no longer recognizes or trusts her husband’s plan of leaving the asylum.
As World War 2 approached, citizens had delusions that the war would not happen. That delusion was created by fear; the fear of the unknown. The ideology was that acceptance was irrelevant. Masking the truth is what led to the delusion, and from there, the delusion led to the false reality.
As Kurutta ippêji opens, after a compilation of dizzying storm sequences, there is a scene of a young woman dancing. She is dressed elegantly as she performs admirably with grace and beauty. A grandiose backdrop gives the performance the feeling of power and importance. More sequences of storms are frantically cut in; then, darkness. The frame opens up to a dark cell, and the same woman who is now dressed down in dark and ragged clothing, and is dancing her same routine. She imagines herself performing in front of a large adoring crowd, but is instead another patient at this insane asylum (Kinugasa, 1926). Her imagination turns to delusion as the dancing envelops her entire personality until her body cannot keep up and she collapses. That build up; the execution and performance is another representation of the delusion created from the political situation that was going on in Japan at the time.
Kurutta ippêji is also noted for a visual technique which was not popular at the time that had to do with both a first person perspective, and with visual distortion in the frame itself. Kinugasa included scenes which showed the audience the perspective of the mental patients. With dizzying visuals that contorted the landscapes and images that were mirrored to the point of complete distortion, it was obvious the idea of unclear politics was a representational input on the films visual style.
The distortion can be tied back to similar instances with the delusion Kinugasa exemplified. The idea is that all perspectives can be different. The audience is briefly shown the perspective from the husband. The frame is clear, the visuals are normal, and in general there is nothing out of the ordinary from his perspective. A short while later, however, the audience is shown the perspective of the wife, who is a patient at the facility (Kinugasa, 1926). The frame is distorted and skewed. Faces are mirrored and over exposed. Clearly there is a noticeable difference, and message, that Kinugasa is trying to tie back to Japanese politics; that being the varied viewpoints that are thought and presented within the nature of politics, as well as the viewpoints that are thought and shared within the people who reside in Japan. The connection Kinugasa makes is not blatantly obvious, but it gets the continuous point across that the Taishō period had a significant impact on the nature and material within Kurutta ippêji.
It can also be noted that Kinugasa explores the idea of the insane asylum without falling victim to the typical conventions of the subject matter. Most films with the protagonist being a patient or someone directly linked to the patient would result in the doctors at the ward becoming the antagonist. Although to the husband, the antagonist is the doctors and facility itself, the true antagonists are the husbands deteriorating mental sanity and his wife’s inability to see clearly. Thus, relating to Japan’s political confusion and (some consider) deterioration in the 1920s.
Japan (amongst many other countries) also faced the fear of war. The impending nature of what was to come. Although it was not present in daily routine, there was a certain level of hysteria and anxiety felt throughout the country at the time. This level of hysteria was exaggerated in Kurutta ippêj, but it got the representation across on screen.
There are multiple instances where patients within the film became rebellious and hysteric (Kinugasa, 1926). Their actions are directly influenced by the current state of culture within Japan at the time, as stated, because of the impending war. There were sequences during Kurutta ippêj which displayed the patient’s hysteria directed towards the husband. He was an outsider. The patients looked at him with wild eyes, a general sense of hatred, and confusion because of his presence.
The hysteria was not only shown with those who reside within the facility. However, near the end of the film, the husband himself begins to become more hysterical. He starts to imagine things as the dancer does with her performance. Since the husband is the protagonist, he can be most easily linked with Emperor Taishō of Japan, whose death in 1926 (Taishō Period, 2013) can be represented by the husband’s descent into madness at the end of the film. The dates between the films 1926 release and Emperor Taishō’s death in the same year are parallels when looking at the context of the husband’s mental state and Emperor Taishō’s physical state.
It is clear that the politics in Japan at the time, specifically during the Taishō period, and the upcoming threat of war, had a direct effect on the films creation and on many of the films individual sequences. Not only was the period a direct influence on the material, it was also a major factor during the production and post-production. Since war was an impending reality, once the film was completed, it did not receive an ample amount of time to garner up enough recognition before it would be hidden away or destroyed during the war. As well, because Japanese films were not exported until the 1950’s, film stock was located in one concentrated area, which is what resulted in the destruction of many Japanese films during World War 2 (Batty, 2012). After the war began and ended, it was believed that Kurutta ippêji was just another film lost within the chaos of the war. However, in 1971, the director, Teinosuke Kinugasa, found a copy of the film in his own garden shed, which was surely a relief to him, as the film itself nearly bankrupted him during the production. From there, he changed the films native 17fps playback to 24fps which resulted in a shorted run time. Not only that, but it was speculated that some of the footage was still lost, which resulted in an even shorter run time than the previous version. From there, Kinugasa made a director’s cut which was considered more avant-garde (Batty, 2012). This is particularly notable, as at the time, the avant-garde movement in Japan was scarce, and to some, even non-existent. Kinugasa is considered to be one of the main contributing artists to the avant-garde movement in Japan (A Page of Madness, 2013).
Finally, in the mid 1970’s after the discovery of Kurutta ippêji, the film finally had its premier almost half a century after its completion. The film screened in Tokyo at the Musashinokan cinema, and reached international acclaim (Batty, 2012). This was a large feat for Kinugasa as his assumption of the film went from being lost forever, to being a major contribution to early Japanese cinema.
With the instances of Japan’s political state, when looking at the impending nature of war, the film Kurutta ippêj can be directly referenced with multiple connections. The Taishō period within Japan is certainly a primary influence with the film both contextually and in real life circumstances. Kurutta ippêji is a display of the evolving Japanese politics during the Taishō period, and how its effects on the Japanese people are shown by representation through the characters own delusion, the first person perspective of distortion, and the feeling of hysteria that was created during the film.