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Chronicles of Inferno: Japan’s Art Theater Guild

Sunday, February 24, 2013
2:00 p.m. Shura
Toshio Matsumoto (Japan, 1971)

(a.k.a. Demons, a.k.a. Pandemonium). The experimental filmmaker and critic Toshio Matsumoto first partnered with ATG for his queer-camp roundhouse, Funeral Parade of Roses (1969); his second feature, Shura, is ostensibly a “mere” samurai film, yet underneath its seemingly traditional surface lurks just as many subversions. A samurai (one of the legendary “forty-seven ronin”) becomes distracted from duty by his love for a courtesan, who in turn betrays him. His vengeance, played out in stately black-and-white nightmares, is long, and bloody; in fact, it could be not real at all. Sword battles begin, then are revealed to be fantasies, and violent assassinations merely dreams; events and actions loop back towards one another, with the final, deadliest joke being the connection between characters. A Borgesian satire in the guise of samurai horror, this nocturnal masterpiece is one of the darkest—visually, and politically—films of the era. 

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Matsumoto, based on the Kabuki play Kamikakete Sango Taisetsu by Nanboku Tsuruya, as adapted by Shuji Ishizawa. Photographed by Tatsuo Suzuki. With Katsuo Nakamura, Yasuko Sanjo, Juro Kara, Masao Imafuku. (134 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, 16mm, Color/B&W, From The Japan Foundation, permission Toshio Matsumoto)