By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
The trailer for the movie, Suffering of Ninko, is deceptively wonderful. We are presented with what appears to be a comedy about Ninko (Masato Tsujioka), a novice Buddhist monk, whom many a woman wants to cuddle up with. There’s even two male members of his order who show interest, and to see how he struggles to stay celibate is at the heart of this rated R film. Reciting his mantras is easy, but when he is presented with physical challenges, averting his eyes is not. However, there’s more he must face to test his virtue.
The people from Edo-period Japan tends to have a deeper spiritual connection with the world. Whether that’s in the art they produce or their every day life, the supernatural is generally believed to exist everywhere. When rendered to a form either on paper or with a word, there’s a life given to the work. With literature, it gives the narrative a higher meaning. In the full 70minute film, just what this tale means is worth exploring. Is it folklore, a Brothers Grimm type tale or symphonic prose?
The characters which make up the word Yōkai (妖怪) mean “bewitching; attractive; calamity” and “mystery, wonder.” Together, these words also beautifully describes this film in its narrative and cinematographic tone. The lead character has an alluring quality which many near him gravitate to and the panoramic vistas presented on screen look like they have emerged out of a Ukiyo-e painting. Writer/director Norihiro Niwatsukino’s debut movie has a lot of thought put into the product and it’s worth examining time and time again.
I had the fortune to see this movie at the 2017 Victoria Film Festival (It made its world debut at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival) and the trailer with Ravel’s Boléro played with Japanese musical instruments instantly sold me. To present a mysterious Mountain Woman (the literal translation of Yama Onna) suggests that the supernatural is near, but I did not expect it to go full on. Like some Japanese ghost stories I’ve seen and read, there’s usually an erotic element to be found, and this movie is not for the kids because of the frequent nudity and soft-core erotica. After watching past fringe theatre shows which looks at Japanese ghost stories — namely Oni and Hitodama from 望ノ社 Mochinosha, The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company — I’m not at all surprised at seeing these sexual elements come into play in this movie. None of the material in the movie is shocking as what’s presented in the trailer, but when the story gets hard core by the end, at least the presentation is covered with luscious animation which makes the film both a surreal delight and intoxicating entry to being an impressive tale of terror too.
4 Stars out of 5