Covers: in “Tattoo” and “The Red Angel”, the violent subversion of Yasuzo Masumura

Japanese cinema is a continent still largely unexplored. Yasuzo Masumura (1924-1986) made nearly sixty films. Very few knew the honors of a theatrical distribution in France, except for some (The Japanese Pussy, 1967), that of the circuit specializing in erotic cinema in the 1960s. Admittedly, a retrospective at the Cinémathèque française in 2007 and the work of shrewd video editors have made some of the filmmaker’s titles less inaccessible. Masumura occupies a special place in the history of Japanese cinema. Slightly older than the crazy young dogs of the Japanese New Wave seeking independence (Nagisa Oshima, Shohei Imamura, Masahiro Shinoda, Yoshishige Yoshida) and, unlike them, he has always been attached to a major production studio.

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The burning radicalism of his filmography, where commissioned films and personal films coexist without it always being easy to distinguish them, is all the more remarkable. Because it is at the very heart of the industrial system that he was able to deliver a work of violent subversion. The Jokers company had the good idea to release two of its finest films, the cruel Tattoo and the mind-blowing The Red Angelboth filmed in 1966.

Ayako Wakao is the female lead in both titles. We also find the actress in the credits of many films of the man who made her, literally, more than his muse, his medium. The characters she embodies are mostly women confronted with an experience of limits, trying to assert their sovereignty in a world subject to an implacable patriarchal law.

Revenge Spiral

Tattoo is adapted from a short story by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. Ayako Wakao is Otsuya, a woman in search of emancipation (she fled from the family home with her father’s clerk, a wealthy bourgeois). Along the way, she is kidnapped and sold to a house of geishas. His pimp forcibly tattoos the image of a spider on his back. From then on, the young woman will plunge into an implacable spiral of revenge, using her naive suitor to perpetrate various murders.

“Honesty Doesn’t Pay”, she will find to justify her nihilistic obsession. The tattoo artist who scarred her for life becomes the helpless and remorseful spectator of her misdeeds, convinced that she is nothing more than the plaything of a curse of the tattooed arachnid, pure principle of Evil. Nauseous rapes and murders follow one another, chaotic melee unfolding on the surface of a large screen, an aesthetic receptacle, masterfully used, of all the turpitudes of a world where women are no more than the object of a widely shared concupiscence, to be sold to the highest bidder or to give in to the strongest.

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Covers: in “Tattoo” and “The Red Angel”, the violent subversion of Yasuzo Masumura