Japan is famous for fantasy and fable, and Snow Woman, which screened at the ongoing Tokyo International Film Festival on Friday, is a haunting story of a man who falls in love with a ghost responsible for the death of his guru.
One of the legends which the Irish writer, Lafcadia Hearn, penned in his 19th century book of Japanese ghost stories titled, Kwaidan, Snow Woman has been filmed time and again, but most rivetingly by director Masaki Kobayashi. It is this surreal tale that Kiki Sugino brings to the screen in the latest interpretation of the story.
The movie opens on a terrible night of snow and storm in a Japanese forest where the Snow Woman appears in startling white to kill the guru. “You are young, so I will spare you,” she tells the sishya, Minokichi, and disappears. A year later, he falls in love with a beauty, Yuki, marries her and has a daughter. Who exactly is Yuki? Sugino tries her best to keep us in the dark till the end, but does not quite succeed. She told a packed press conference after her screening: “When I first read it, I had lots of questions, especially about the ghost making love with a human, and producing a child and whose form is not clear in the story itself.”
Kenji Yamauchi’s At the Terrace -- another Japanese work -- pulls us down to hard reality, and unfolds a story of rivalry and ribald at a terrace party in Tokyo where two women and five men, all sozzled up, play a devastating psychological game of cat and mouse. It all begins rather innocuously with one of the men flirting with the wife of another till the masks are blown away revealing an ugly, tainted humanity. Secret desires, jealousies and hatred are laid bare as the seven people argue and bicker throwing caution and humility and decency and decorum to the winds.
What was really fascinating about this work was the helmer’s ability -- throughout the 90-minute run time -- to keep our attention riveted on his characters as they striped each other’s veneer of respectability. There were several moments when one thought that the camera would step away from the terrace -- into the living room of the palatial bungalow -- where all the action takes place. But no, the camera remained on the terrace in what one thought was a spectacular narration of a very ordinary incident -- of an after party that went wrong. A wonderful climax totally unpredictable seemed like a great desert.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Tokyo International Film Festival.)