‘Irezumi’, 1966 (Masumara) is one of the new wave films in Japanese cinema which evolved the domestic to no longer dominate the narrative; a common attribute to Golden Age cinema. This radical expressionism contrasts with ‘Rashomon’, 1950 (Kurosawa), a post-war film which contributes to the Western demand that Kurosawa was influenced by in his youth. ‘Rashomon’ demonstrates surfacing values that women are inferior and weak and are easily led by the sexual drive of men. Masumara however was able to break the binding stereotypes of docile female characters.
Prosperity in Japan unexpectedly boomed and became known as the ‘Japanese economic miracle.’ This was partially due to interventionism of the government and the aid of America after the Second World War. America’s contribution was because of the mass fear of communism spreading from the Soviet Union, allowing powerful union enterprises and highly unionised blue-collar factories to soar. It was apparent that this industrialisation was able to benefit the Japanese film industry. With the economy having a positive correlation, society was able to progress allowing women to have more opportunities outside the home in terms of employment and leisurely activities.
The representations of samurai between ‘Irezumi’ and ‘Rashomon’ are contradictory due to them being represented as noble and respected in ‘Rashomon’ whilst violent and disrespectful in ‘Irezumi’. For example, Serizawa, the samurai in ‘Irezumi’, has similar corresponding values of life to the protagonist, Otsuya as he says ‘between man and woman this is a fight to the death.’ This suggests that Serizawa has values of war in every aspect of his life including his distorted relationship with Otsuya. In addition to his, when Serizawa attempts to kill her he shifts the responsibility onto the fact that he wasn’t in control, presenting a message that samurais are unable to tame themselves. The opening of ‘Irezumi’ is also enigmatic due to not introducing a samurai- an interesting narrative device which shows that the significance of samurais in the new wave era have declined in comparison to Golden Age films. ‘Kuroneko’, an additional new wave case study also sparks values that samurai are animalistic and greedy through the rape of the mother and the daughter-in-law. It seems that in both films, men tarnish the essence of womanhood through the spider and the act of rape, leaving both to end with no moral guidance or compass and ending the films with a negative tone. Although women are cynical and domineering, they are still abused by intense masculinity.
The use of pathetic fallacy in the first scene of ‘Rashomon’ is effective as by reflecting the mood of the characters, we have a certain expectation of despair and the technique of ‘in media res’ contributes to this. By Kurosawa dyeing the rain black, there’s an extra component of sorrow and misery, as every detail of the rain is being picked up on. The use of diegetic sound alone creates a realistic and eerie approach to the opening and has a tense effect on the audience who are anticipating dialogue. An interesting technique Kurosawa uses to represent the fragmentation and despair of the character’s is the diagonal positioning, a motif used throughout the film. For example, an unusual medium shot of the two characters sitting on the steps contemplating the ferocity of what they’ve witnessed, creates an alignment which represents this feeling. The slow paced editing additionally adds an element of gloom to the opening sequence along with the low key lighting and high contrast, all symbolising the current emotions of the characters. By using these techniques the audience can see the representation of not only the characters in the film but the misery of men after the outbreak of war.
Men in ‘Irezumi’, through the attributes of Shinsuke are visibly depicted as weak and inferior to women; especially in terms of a tight framed, composition, abstract show which positions Shinsuke to the wall in the opening sequence. Through positioning his character next to the structures of the room rather than the centre alike Otsuya, we see he is trapped in a dominant, claustrophobic relationship. Even when he tries to kill her, he falls under her manipulative spell and his weakness, in addition to his stupidity, is the effect of his demise. Men in Golden Age films, such as ‘Rashomon’, are more stereotypically ‘masculine’ and ‘powerful’ when it comes to taming women.
Masumara visually presents Otsuya through her red kimono as a ‘femme fatale’ who seduces and manipulates her prey; an element not explored in ‘Ugetsu’ for example. ‘Ugetsu’, 1953 (Mizoguchi) rather explores the destruction of war rather than the social achievements which were underway and presents the hypocrisy of male dominance. This can be supported when the wives in ‘Ugetsu’ are demonstrated as wise and humble when trying to persuade their husbands not to fulfil their dangerous passions however are dismissed due to their gender. A way in which Otsuya asserts power in through her intense sexuality and throwing her money behind her back, knowing that Shinsuke will always be there behind her. In ‘Irezumi’, the only other female participants are Otsuya’s mother and the wife Shinsuke and Otsuya visit when they want to elope. The expressionist red kimono creates a stark contrast to the loyal wife dressed in all black, a symbol of the ‘ideal woman.’ It can be said that in both new wave films, ‘Irezumi’ and ‘Kuroneko’ (1968 Shindo), the woman are robbed of the prospect of the ideal woman and forced to embody a supernatural being unwillingly- due to men. The motif of sound frequently playing when the spider makes an appearance also stimulates the recurring power symbol that Otsuya’s dominance is always there, threatening the men.
‘Kuroneko’ alike ‘Irezumi’ who demonstrates expressive content still exhibits cultural, traditional mise en scene such as the bamboo groves and the wild hair of the mother when she retrieves her am. German expressionism in addition to social change was able to guide the two films through high key contrast lighting whilst interpreting their own expressive dynamic- tracking camera. This feature (exclusively used in ‘Kuroneko’) in addition to the wide empty space of darkness beyond the theatrical spotlights was able to reflect the supernatural genre which was surfacing at this time. Furthermore, pathetic fallacy also instigates the presentation of Otsuya and the mother in ‘Kuroneko’ to be demonic and gothic in both ending sequences. This representation also highlights the use of genre and the changing exploitation of women. Although both new wave films offer modernised features such as unorthodox editing techniques of jump cuts (final sequence in ‘Kuroneko’); there are still some cultural traditions. For example, in ‘Irezumi’, the repetition of tight framing is a conservative shot in terms of sexual explicit acts. This is where Otsuya invites Serizawa to have sex with her, keeping the reminiscent traditional composure which has always been prominent in Japanese cinema
Considerably, new wave cinema represents samurais, men and women in the same light through sound (motif of spider and the motif of killing samurai shows that they’re powerful); light (theatrical lighting gives the idea that the spotlight is heaven and the surrounding darkness is hell which is where the Kuroneko spirit is when trying to get her arm back) and the dialogue. It is apparent that due to social and economic change, Japan was able to transform the limited domestic roles of women into badass, vengeful protagonists. The shift from Rashomon and Ugetsu to Irezumi and Kuroneko is extreme and led the film industry from jidaigeki to supernatural gothic horror.