A Page of Madness (1926)

There’s one article online the title of which calls this a “holy shit moment” in cinema history, which seems about right. I said something the other day about the paucity of surviving Japanese silent films; this is one of the rare survivors, though it only resurfaced in the early 70s, and I daresay it bears little if any resemblance to the rest of Japanese silent cinema, lost or otherwise… A Page of Madness has a somewhat fearsome reputation, being a rare example of avant-garde cinema from a nation whose film culture seems to have been even less open to the idea of the “art film” than the US; IMDB notes the film actually played those cinemas in Japan that specialised in foreign films rather than domestic product. Director Teinosuke Kinugasa appears to have been quite au fait with western European and Soviet experiments with film form, and if the actors weren’t obviously Asian I could almost have believed I was looking at a German film or something from the same period. Wasn’t quite as difficult as I’d anticipated; although a substantial chunk of footage is reportedly missing, maybe up to half an hour’s worth, it didn’t feel incomplete or anything, and despite the film having no intertitles (an idea I presume Kinugasa copped from Murnau) the story’s actually reasonably easy to follow (a man takes a job at a lunatic asylum where his wife is an inmate), at least in broad outline if not always in fine detail (wonder what the benshi would’ve had to say). The actual handling of the story is often quite wild; the film’s been considered part of an artistic movement of the period devoted to overthrowing naturalistic representation, and certainly you couldn’t accuse the film of naturalism in any way. However straight the story might be, the telling most definitely isn’t. Glad that Kinugasa eventually remembered he’d stored the thing in his shed all those years earlier…

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