Shinoda’s opaque “Himiko”

 

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Shinoda’s 1974 movie “Himiko” is a “fantasy drama.” The title character, played by the director’s wife, Iwashita Shima, is a shaman who is the only conduit from the sun god. When she is not possessed, delivering commands from the Sun Goddess (Amaterasu) while holding a mirror reflecting sunlight, she weaves.

She learns of the return after a long time of her half-brother Takahiko (Kusakari Masao, who did not look Japanese to me… I later learned he had an American father and a Japanese mother and that “Himiko” was his first feature-length film, though he had been in a tv miniseries, “Triple Sôsasen”). He is a sympathizer (who knows what he believes?) with the followers of the Land God, and Himiko starts advocating a union of the religions (cults). King Ohkimi is dismayed by this suggestion and questions whether she still has her vocation/gift, having fallen in love with a mortal (Takahiko), having seduced him, knowing she is her half-brother. (He does not seem to have known that until she told him, though dutifully resisting her subsequent seduction).

When she learns that he has also had sex with a priestess of the mountain god, she orders him banished, after having his fingernails pulled out and his face tattooed. After the long bloody punishment, he is carried off and launched into a bay, though he then pops up atop a dormant volcano.

The new king (whether she predicted the death of the father of the two princelings who rule jointly until they duel to the death on the lip of the volcano) replaces her with a teenager, now also called Himiko and declares war on both the Earth People and the Mountain People. His warriors include a number in a giant cloth snail.

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Himiko had escaped the temple/palace (a quite abstract set) and run off with Takahiko. (Don’t ask me how they found each other!) They are ambushe in the forest (prefiguring “House of the Flying Dragons”) and are shot by multiple long arrows (doubling the Macbeth of “Throne of Blood”).

The film ends with helicopter shots of the forest, a town and a kofun, an ancient keyhole-shaped mound within a man-made pond.

The score it typical eerie Takemitsu and the very striking cinematography by Miyagawa Kazuo (Rashomon, Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff) of predominantly red and white court sets) seems the real star of the movie, which is considerably more opaque and mystifying that the roughly contemporaneous views of the ancient Mediterranean world of Pasolini (Medea) and Fellini (Satyricon). Granted, I am familiar with the ancient texts on which the Italians’ 1960s films were based, but there was characterization, not the abstraction of the archetypes in Shinoda’s film, which I found dull despite its frequent visual stimuli. (More like Derek Jarman’s “Sebastian,” notoriously filmed in Latin.)

Apparently suggestions of the Korean origins of Shintoism/Japanese culture made “Himiko” controversial, but that was lost in translation. The only reference I noticed was a denial that there was any land to the west of the Japanese archipelago.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

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