Friday, November 9, 2012

Go, Go Second-Time Virgin!: Deceased Artiste Koji Wakamatsu

Take a look at this filmmaker warning you not to pirate his films:

He may not look it, but that gent, who passed away a few weeks back after being struck by a taxi in Tokyo, was a politically radical filmmaker who was capable of conveying the greatest cruelty and the most delicate uncertainty on film.

He was a critically lauded artist who had a youth among the Yakuza (in fact he directly calls himself a Yakuza in this interview footage) and wasn't allowed to visit the U.S. because of his internationally praised documentary about the terrorist group the United Red Army. (He was thought to have “consorted with” them by making the docu.)

Koji Wakamatsu was indeed a multifaceted filmmaker whose sudden death at 76 calls attention to his 105 films (the number varies from filmo to filmo, but all of his obits mention “over 100 films”). In the last decade of his life he concentrated on crafting “higher” works like Caterpillar (2010), United Red Army (2008), and The Millennial Rapture (2012), as well as a film released this year in Asia about Yukio Mishima's last day called 11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate; the film has not yet been shown in NYC and its environs.

Wakamatsu was thus an “arthouse favorite” by the time he became a senior, something that was never foreseen back in the Sixties and Seventies when he was making genre films, most prominently a series of “pink” (read: erotic/softcore) features that are still surprising and often shocking. The reason for this is his jarring mixture of sexual elements, nasty sadistic sequences, the aforementioned poetic images of uncertainty and loss, and politically radical themes and dialogue.

It has been thought by some critics that the reason he included such a pungent mix of elements was his desire to shock the censors, and while that is undoubtedly true, one has the impression watching his “pink” films that they were made by a filmmaker who was both *well* acquainted with the work of the French New Wave (the opening montage of Violated Angels [see below] is definitely derived from the work of Marker and Godard) and who firmly believed in the viewpoints espoused in his films, which ranged from Marxism to pure nihilism.

His obits and the interviews found online sketch his early years as a young man from a small town who moved to Tokyo and wound up “working with gangsters” (as noted, he himself was not so coy in his wording). He maintained that the turning point was when he went to prison for a time – the bullying he received at the hands of the guards hardened his anti-establishment beliefs and made him want to use the most potent “weapon” he could think of to get back at society’s gatekeepers, namely film. 

He initially worked for the famous Nikkatsu Studio but was fired in the mid-Sixties for crossing the line in one of his “pink” pictures. He then started up his own production company, for which he cranked out features with jarring images and un-fucking-forgettable titles, starting with The Embryo Hunts in Secret (1966). Other great Wakamatsu movie names include: Secrets Beyond the Wall; Abortion; Violated Angels; Naked Bullet; Violent Virgin; Serial Rapist; Go, Go Second-time Virgin; The Woman Who Wanted to Die; Shinjuku-Mad; Ecstasy of Angels; and the wonderfully dramatic Running in Madness, Dying in Love.

Although he acquired respectability on the film festival circuit in the last decade and his art movies remain for me “a subject for further research” (thanks, Mr. Sarris), I thought I would direct you to three excellent examples of Wakamatsu's very wild and VERY unconventional “erotic” cinema. I should also note for the record that he served as the executive producer of Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses, (1976), giving him an “arthouse” credit long before films like Caterpillar had caught the eyes of Western critics.

And on to the clips. First, a chunky bit of his 1972 film Ecstasy of the Angels, which conveys the delirium inherent in his work:

I edited together and uploaded two montages of Wakamatsu at his most poetic, and “incredibly strange.” The first is comprised of three excerpts from his “pink” film Violated Angels (1967), his feverish variation on the story of serial killer Richard Speck, who preyed on student nurses. The opening sequence here is a real stunner that shows KW's debt to both Godard and (especially) Marker.

The second montage is a distillation of ten minutes of one of the uniquely titled films of all time, Wakamatsu's hyper-Sixties celebration of nihilism and suicide, Go, Go Second-Time Virgin (1969). How many movie theme songs have the name "Norman Mailer" in them? The final segment from the film I include here counterpoints violent images from manga with pics of Sharon Tate, just in case you didn't know which murder-spree this film took its inspiration from (the repeated use of the word "pig" might've clued you in beforehand).

Oh, and how could I forget to mention that KW's staccato surname definitely belongs in the short of list of filmmaker names that can be said over and over and over again? (For what reason? Do you REALLY require a reason?)

Thanks to Paul G. for the subtitled copies of the films and the list of film titles in translation.

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