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March 08, 2008

Oh Kei! Two films by Kei Fujiwara

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Kei Fujiwara - 1996
Synapse Region 1 DVD

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Kei Fujiwara - 2005
Media Blasters Region 1 DVD

I don't know if there is anything of substance about Kei Fujiwara in Japanese. What there is in English discusses the two DVDs here. Fujiwara is essentially sold as the maker of horror films. And the films have more than enough guts and blood to satiate the more demanding gore-hounds. Yet to categorize Fujiwara as a horror filmmaker seems to have missed the point. While Fujiwara is best known for her work as an actress for Shinya Tsukamoto, a key to understanding her two films may be a brief mention I found stating that she studied under stage directorKara Juro.

One has to go to the supplement for Organ to hear Fujiwara speak for herself. "I wanted to describe the agony of a wounded soul of someone decaying from the inside." Discussing her never completed Organ 2 there is some indication that Fujiwara's motivation is to break through limits, to be confrontational. Fujiwara has been linked by some writers with Tsukamoto, Miike and Cronenberg. The connection with Tsukamoto has been established. Miike is known for his transgressive films, while Cronenberg is cited for his early films like Shivers and Rabid. Less obvious might be a connection with Guy Maddin, both in the melodramatic performances and having narratives about physically maimed characters. The gulf between human existence and spiritual ideals made me also think of Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie.

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Fujiwara shows little interest in narrative structure. Organ begins somewhat conventionally with two detectives tracking the gang responsible for black market organs. One of the detectives is kidnapped, and is latter seen, limbs removed, connected to various tubes. The other detective makes it his mission to stop the gang, lead by the one-eyed woman, Yoko. Id is something of a continuation with references to the actor, reprising his role as the detective, finding himself in a small community of pig farmers. The introductory premise in Id is that all people are forgiven their sins by Amida Buddha.

Id makes more use of Fujiwara's theatrical background in casting an adult male as a nine year old boy, and two men in female roles, simultaneously having her characters commenting on the incongruity of the casting. Unlike a film like An Actor's Revenge which is about an actor who is a female impersonator, or Black Rose Mansion which has a female impersonator in a role clearly defined as female, Fujiwara chooses to play with gender. To describe the two characters as transvestites or impersonators would be inaccurate. Both are dressed in female clothing. The one with facial hair attempts to rape the one in a schoolgirl uniform. The rapist then complains that the intended victim has male parts. Adding to this is Fujiwara's play with the "male gaze". In Organ, a male character knocks down a schoolgirl, played by a female, and comments that her panties are showing. While we hear the comment, the audience does not see the girl exposing herself. Conversely, in Id, Fujiwara creates the almost iconic Japanese fetish image of the schoolgirl showing her panties, with a male assuming the position. Fujiwara also has her male characters exposing themselves with such things as a bed spring, or a flower, in place of the penis. With the use of certain archetypes of Japanese popular culture, Fujiwara seems to be pushing for an extreme that may have its roots in the writings of Antonin Artaud.

While the release date of Id was in 2005, when the film was actually made is questionable. Some of the footage from Organ and Organ 2 has been integrated into the film. Also, much of the main set was used in the earlier films. Much of the cast remains the same in both films. Not only did she write and direct her films, but Fujiwara also acted as cinematographer, editor, production and costume designer. In this regard, Fujiwara has more in common with the "underground" filmmakers like the Kuchars, who made narrative films with bare-bones budgets, on their own terms. It may be that Kei Fujiwara may best be considered in conjunction with other female artists who may be considered transgressive.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 8, 2008 12:48 AM