Last night we screened Shuji Terayama’s The Boxer (1977), a surprisingly mainstream outing for the writer/director that can be accredited to his life-long passion for the titular sport. Terayama will forever be remembered as a counterculture icon in Japan, an endlessly creative intellectual who made his mark on every available medium. His name is best known outside of Japan as the director of the 1971 short Emperor Tomato Ketchup, an oft-bootlegged film that had its title borrowed by Stereolab for a 1996 album. This anti-war satire saw children taking the reigns of Japan’s livelihood and is a prime example of his work: socially concerned, multi-layered, and born from an anarchic attitude intent on merging reality with the surreal.
Terayama started out in the broadcast radio and experimental theater scenes in the early 1960s. He became involved with the Art Theatre Guild, the production outfit that was primarily responsible for Japan’s cinematic “new wave”, and received his first film-related success as co-writer of Susumu Hani’s Nanami: The Inferno of First Love (1968). Two years later, he wrote the screenplay for Masahiro Shinoda’s Buraikan, a big Toho comedy/drama starring Tatsuya Nakadai. After directing a few shorts including the aforementioned Emperor, Terayama made his debut as writer/director with 1971’sThrow Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets, one of the decade’s greatest youth revolt films. In 1974 he made the autobiographical meta masterpiece Pastoral Hide and Seek, a personal favorite of mine that saw a screening last year during the first installment of Unknown Japan. The remainder of Terayama’s film output consisted of several shorts and a few features; his final film was a posthumously released “adaptation” of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude titled Farewell to the Ark (1984).
Terayama’s available work in the U.S. is sadly limited to a segment of the erotic anthology Private Collections (1979). Fruits of Passion (1981), his “continuation” of Dominique Aury’s The Story of O starring Klaus Kinski and famed cross dresser Peter (1969’s Funeral Parade of Roses) received a VHS release many years ago and is worth a watch for fans of oddball cinema.
Terayama succumbed to a kidney disease that plagued him his entire life in 1983 at the age of 47.
On Wednesday, March 7 at 7:00 PM we’ll be hosting a screening of the great Sogo Ishii’s Crazy Thunder Road (1980), one of the craziest motorcycle gang films of all time.
About Eric Bresler:
Unknown Japan curator Eric Bresler is the Site Editor/Founder of Cinedelphia.com, the online center of Philadelphia’s film community. He is also the Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art, founder of Tokyo No Records, and contributing writer for the Ritz Film Magazine. The summer of 2012 will see the debut of his new found VHS footage performance program Video Pirates.