Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Hiroshi Teshigahara's feature film debut, Pitfall (Otoshiana, 1962) features ghosts, but it's not a ghost story. There's a murderer running around and the cops are investigating, but it's not a police procedural. And while the plot of the film concerns coal miners and factional infighting among union leaders, the film is certainly no didactic, left-wing screed. No, Teshigahara was first and foremost an aesthete, and this film, like his Woman of the Dunes (1964), The Face of Another (starring Tatsuya Nakadai, 1966), The Ruined Map (starring Shintaro Katsu, 1968), Rikyu (starring Rentaro Mikuni, 1989) and others, should be approached as an exercise in pure cinematic art. Sound and texture are the fundamental considerations here. Working with his longtime musical colaborator, sonic abstract expressionist Toru Takemitsu, Teshigahara brings us slowly and steadily into a stark, disorienting mirror world of our own full of uncertainty and existential dread.

After a destitute miner is stabbed to death for no apparent reason by a scooter-driving man in white (Kunie Tanaka), the dead man's ghost proceeds to wander around in a state of aggrieved perturbation, trying to figure out what the hell just happened. He is ignored by the cops as they examine his bloody corpse in a moment of ultimate beuraucratic disregard. Turns out he's the spitting image of a local union official. Was the murder a mistake ... or a warning? A woman who witnessed the murder is paid off by the murderer to give false evidence, only to be murdered herself by the same guy later on. When the two ghosts finally meet to discuss their mutual situations (ghosts can see each other but are invisible to the living), we get the kind of exchange I'd like to see a whole lot more of in contemporary film.

Luckily for you in the US, Criterion Collection released Pitfall in a box along with Woman of the Dunes and The Face of Another a couple of years ago, so you can get that and spend a profound weekend in the art house ethos of one of Japan's finest creative minds. (My copy of Pitfall is from the UK label Eureka, part of their Masters of Cinema series, England's answer to Criterion with a lot of titles you won't find on this side of the pond.)

No comments: