The opening film of this year's Japanese Film Festival, Shohei Imamura's Eijanaika was a mixed bag, but the opening is one to behold. Very noisy and extremely boisterous and colourful, there's a carnival like atmosphere in visiting the street markets, with its strange and curious looking circus like performers (see a snake being eaten alive, I kid you not), and others like a peep show for dirty old men.
Like the noisy nature of the street market, what I found distracting with Eijanaika is its lack of focus. Set during the time just before the Meiji Restoration, with the grip of Shoguns going into decline, and with foreign powers already set foot on the land of the rising sun, it has many facets on the corrupt ways and the power play between warlords, scheming and plotting against each other to gain a foothold of fame and fortune.
But anchoring the movie is the theme of love between the characters Genji (Shigeru Izumiya) and Ine (Kaori Momoi), though it's a strange love, which only gets weirder once it addresses its issue on jealousy, and embarks on a journey of manipulation, and sacrifice. Genji has spent 6 years in America, and upon arrival in Japan, finds himself like a fish out of water. He looks up his abandoned wife Genji, who is now a top performing showgirl in one of those peep shows, being sold against her wishes to a master, and has to pay off her debt. But this master-performer relationship might be more than meets the eye as Genji finds out, given her reluctance to leave with him and follow a dream of carving out a new life in America.
Somehow you'll loathe Ine's character, that slowly and surely you discover that she's quite a loose woman, using her charms and body to exact her wishes. But you doubt her true love for Genji no longer when you witness the amount of crap she has to go through for her man, despite his being unappreciative of the fact initially (though it's hard of course). Living a new life and going out of her comfort zone might be too much for the unskilled Ine, and perchance that's why the spurning of Genji's dream to live abroad, going back to where he came from and had experienced.
Like I mentioned, the narrative felt a bit too scattered with many characters and subplots, involving diabolical scheming no less, to give it a easier flow to follow. But appreciated was the fact that Imamura had instilled within the film some physical comedy involving a band of robbers, who after experiencing the success of their first hit, couldn't conceal their addiction for more.
The finale reminded me of Paprika, with plenty of song, dance, color and sheer shenanigans, involving mooning and peeing (this you just gotta see), but I thought it lost the plot with its firing on all cylinders on all parts of the target, rather than zooming in on critical areas and grouping the shots.