I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Pastoral: To Die In The Country

by Chris Sutton
Dec. 14, 2017

The irony of archaic and oppressive cultures is that sometimes these factors can act like a ideological vice that can squeeze out the most radical of artistic expressions. For example, the great director Federico Fellini constantly used Italy's monotheistic depency and subsequent guilt like a paintbrush in most of his cinematic psychological explorations. Japan is a much deeper animal than Europe however, with a religion, ideology, and caste system that stretches back to the most ancient of times and was virtually unsullied by "free" Western ideas until the early 20th century. What ensued in that country almost immediately after the World Wars was a whiplash of exciting new ideas filtered through a different type of humanity. Japan is an entire culture built on an iron clad respect and honor for its history, even amongst its most radical thinkers, and this freedom from the Jesus guilt complex has produced some of the most progressive music (Merzbow, The Boredoms) extreme art (Manga), and new and exciting ways to make film (Kurosawa, Miike), all regionally unique and equipped with a need to combine its past and it's future instead of vehemently trying to deconstruct both. Pastoral: To Die In The Country, a film by Shuji Terayama from 1975 is a direct reflection of this ideal, albeit a wildly avante one, and should be seen as a bastion in the pantheon of cinema.

Shuji Terayama is a filmmaker most familar to western minds for the short film Emperor Tomato Ketchup, which was popularized by the pop band Stereolab, who named their most experimental album after it. Born in 1935 and a survivor of the infamous Aomori air raids, Shuji lived a life committed to incendiary art and radical creativity that tackled and questioned social issues in renaissance fashion. Photography, art, theatre, and essays were employed with fiery vigor and insight. His works are infamous for their violent and sexual nature, but because of his societal respect within these visions he is seen as a darling of Nipponese society and a national treasure to this day. However, because of his wildly experimental tendencies he is often overlooked in Cinema lore here in the west.

It is often said that every great filmmaker creates a supreme autobiographical vision in his lifetime, and Pastoral: should be seen as one of the best examples. This is a film so dense with symbolism that the weight of it all practically falls off of the screen. Here, Terayama is attempting to encapsulate the entire history of fear in Japan and twist it candy cane style with his countries angst about its future. Clocks appear, disappear, multiply, and are shown tied up with ropes. Train tressles guide our protagonist through a harrowing and lifeless landscapes of uncertainty. Still shots of old family portraits are shown disrespectfully shattered and discarded. This is truly a violent and symbolist shedding of past ideals and an angst filled vision of alien ideas, told by an author who is desperately trying to hold both feet in each world. Much like Kurosawa's "Dreams" and Jodorosky's "Holy Mountain" the results are a seemingly disconnected series of surreal vignettes but an overall message of human uncertainty binds the entire film together into one frightening idea.

Pastoral: is also a forceful whirlwind of expert technique, both in it's visual and thespian nature. Terayama was the founder of "Tenjo Sajiki" a highly avante garde theatre group that experimented with "city plays" which tackled social problems from an iconoclastic perspective. The Kabuki like sets, makeup, and staging in this movie are obviously an extension of this atmosphere and the actors emotional content is taken to extreme levels. His beautiful use of color saturation, especially red, hemmorage across the screen like a roiling, bloody painting. Later in the movie, after Shuji has thoroughly manipulated your brain with all of this explosive imagery and sucked you deep inside of his mania, you suddenly realize that you have been watching the film with him in a viewing room the whole time and this is where the film turns from expressionistic to self referential. We spend the rest of the movie accompanying the filmmaker as he analyzes himself within is work as he decides to step inside of his own dystopian world as an observer and participant. Within this wicked creation we see him confront himself as a child, and together they try to make sense of his personal life and source of his creativity, which includes lots of horror, death, and cacophony. The final scene is our protagonist having a peaceful spot of tea (classical symbol of Japanese culture) with his mother against the backdrop of the Shinjuku area of Tokyo (Japan's most metropolitan area and it's gateway to global culture), both ideals resting in an unexpected copacetic union, the circle of culture ultimately completed.





Chris Sutton is a musician, writer, and artist who currently lives in Portland OR, and grew up in Olympia, WA. He plays or has played with numerous musical acts including Gossip, The Dirtbombs, Dub Narcotic Sound System, Spider & The Webs, Chain & The Gang, & Hornet Leg. Chris has been so obsessed with records over his life that he writes a vinyl collecting memoir/blog called Record Lections on Instagram and he is often seen Djing his new discoveries in local bars or posting mixes on SoundCloud or Mixcloud. He is also a big fan of visual art with a special passion for African American folk art, Impressionism, European New Wave cinema, and most eras of television. Most of the books he reads, whether fact or fiction, usually have drawings in them. Chris's best friends are his faithful rat terriers Juju and Queenie.