Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The Mad Fox (Tomu Uchida, 1962)

At once reserved and utterly unhinged, Tomu Uchida's The Mad Fox has garnered praise for its fervent theatricality and haywire visuals. But the very structure of the thing possesses a lopsided attractiveness as well and not only due to a twisty narrative that does justice to its alternative title, Love, Thy Name Be Sorrow (although a review claims it's roughly translated as Love, Love, Don't Play With Love). The first 25 or so minutes were taken up with what my friend Bill called cabinet meetings, some sort of medieval court power play that reminded me of the overnarrativization of The Phantom Menace (or, better, its laser-pointed parody in a hilarious episode of The Simpsons). And then - wow! After a grueling scene in which the heroine is tortured to death, the hero wakes up wearing his lover's robe in a field of yellow feathers with a backdrop that does nothing to disguise the sound stage on which it's filmed. Complete with a rotating floor, the set recalls the cinema vs. theatre hi-jinks of Kon Ichikawa's An Actor's Revenge from just a year later. At this point, the film abandons the court intrigue and dazzles with animated characters, butterflies on strings, a collapsible set, a wooden baby voiced by unnatural off-screen/off-set cries, and the heroine tripled first as a twin and then as a shape-shifting fox in a Noh mask. And it never quite comes back to that narrative thread. A fortune-telling scroll passes through many hands but winds up a MacGuffin in this ultimate tale of l'amour fou. The overall feel is best summarized in an incredible scene during which the fox-woman licks her lover's wounds. Uchida shoots it in a sober long take with no score to cushion the intimations of bestiality, a perfect distillation of a film that takes its eccentricities with the utmost seriousness. A stunner!

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