Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1926
Starring: Masuo Inoue, Yoshie Nakagawa, Ayako Iijima, Hiroshi Nemoto
As soon as I saw Valerie and Her Week of Wonders with an original live score, I was hooked on the concept of turning cinema into a multimedia experience. And Kinugasa's silent film Kurutta Ippeji aka A Page of Madness is uniquely suited to this. Lost for fifty years, it was originally intended to be screened with a storyteller (a common feature of Japanese bunraku theatre) and musical accompaniment. As a result, the film is a little hard to follow. Unlike most silent films, it lacks intertitles, as these would have been provided by the narrator. Almost a third of the film is also sadly missing, but watching it is still definitely a worthwhile experience.
I saw it in October of 2011 at the International House as part of the Philadelphia Film Fest and will happily do so again if the opportunity ever presents itself. Amazingly, Philadelphia was chosen as the world premiere of this recently recovered film and it's newly written score - I can't believe we got it before MoMA. It was also a good choice for pre-Halloween viewing, as the film takes place in an asylum and concerns an ever widening circle of insanity surrounding a small family. Alternating between sad, spooky, confusing, and absolutely crazy, A Page of Madness is not for the faint of heart or for anyone with a short attention span.
Check out the most famous sequence, which is also the most over the top:
A Page of Madness is definitely recommended for fans of Japanese cinema. Kinugasa was part of an early avant-garde group, the School of New Perceptions or Neo-Sensationalists, depending which translation you use, and the film was believed to be written by famous writer Yasunari Kawabata. I would also recommend it if you like surrealism, studies of madness, and experimental silent cinema. It's an absolutely beautiful work that will sweep you away for it's hour running time and make you feel absolutely nuts when you have to return to the real world.
You can't find it on DVD yet, but I'm hoping that either Criterion or Kino will acquire the rights, clean it up, and find some nice special features. Until then, here's a great interview with a Swiss film historian who wrote a book on the film. Also keep your eyes peeled for the haunting score by Gene Coleman and Akikazu Nakamura.