Jason Julier returns with another instalment of his Eastern Premise series with a look at a work by Hiroshi Teshigahara.
With the recent release of Shohei Imamura’s divisive Missing Persons from Masters of Cinema, I felt compelled to highlight another film that deals with lost souls, but offers a more tangible left-field narrative. Look no further than the rarely seen Moetsukita Chizu (Man without a Map aka The Ruined Map), from the overlooked director Hiroshi Teshigahara.
Only a year separated the release of both films that each approached the Japanese endemic of persons that simply vanish one day for no apparent reason. It’s a common tale that continues in many Japanese releases today; perhaps more woven into a cult or religious theme. The issue is not exclusively confined to the young or a disillusioned salaryman seen in Tokyo Sonata, as Japan’s Health Ministry was recently reported to be investigating over 800 cases of missing persons aged over 85.
Director Teshigahara never enjoyed the spotlight afforded to other Japanese directors even though he was active from the early 1960’s until the mid-1980’s, as television and documentary fills most of his completed work along with bouts of chosen hibernation. The son of a famous ikebana (flower arranging) master, he eventually followed in the footsteps of his father, taking over his school and becoming a grandmaster himself. It seems that cinema’s loss was flower arranging’s gain.
Masters of Cinema has released his splendid debut Pitfall from 1962 and the mesmerising Face of Another just 2 years later. Both are highly recommended, as is the BFI release of Woman of the Dunes, again taken from this prosperous period. The mystery for me is how this filmmaker remains unknown to so many when his work stands up to scrutiny against many of his illustrious contemporaries. It goes without saying that I shall cover these films and others in future editions of Eastern Premise.
Man without a Map is far from his best work but it harbours a certain charm and disregard for the Japanese studio system output. Regular readers will realise that in the 60’s there was at last a viable alternative for directors in the form of the Arts Theatre Guild and the arrival of independent cinema as a whole. Teshigahara for the most part operated outside of the restrictive studio system however Man without a Map is a notable exception and lacks the avant-garde flair previously seen in his work. It’s such a shame as things unfold with a promising psychedelic opening and overhead perspective. There are momentary flashes of brilliance and originality; for instance how Teshighara consistently uses just one camera to capture a conversation. Removing the lens from a transfixed position and peering into these intimate pieces of dialogue. His use of angles and set pieces injects the film with a sense that we are following the suspects ourselves and have assumed the role of the detective.
The story is ultimately disappointing and full of red herrings, which stumbles towards an ineffective conclusion. The detective is played by Shintaro Katsu, who for the majority of his career played yakuza roles or more famously the blind swordmaster in the Zatoichi films, although I have to highlight his role in the excellent samurai film Hitokiri from Hideo Gosha. His worn features work well with the downtrodden nature of this lonely private eye and apparently in real life he enjoyed a drink and had the reputation of a hell raiser. His various indiscretions are well publicised and would make for a remarkable film itself yet here he works for the Hinode Private Detective Agency. Haro Nimuro has hired the services of the detective with assistance from her brother to locate her husband (Hiroshi Nimuro), who vanished 6 months previously.
The missing sales manager was fuelled by his passion for cars but on the whole seems like a placid and modest individual. The police investigation has proved fruitless and while the trail has gone almost cold, our detective seems very apt at judging and cross-examining members of the family and friends. It is work colleague Tashiro-kun who provides the breakthrough into what may have happened to the modest sales manager. This shy individual is a chameleon of sorts; consistently changing his story and frustrating viewers with far too many dubious red herrings.
The journey we undertake is reminiscent of Shohei Imamura’s Missing Persons as we begin to understand the motivations and behaviours of Hiroshi, who lacks any real skeletons in the closet. Through this journey the detective himself starts to become distanced from society and many of the patterns of behaviour he relied upon, whilst facing great dangers. At the end Hiroshi has almost fallen by the wayside, as the detective it seems has the prospect to embark on a new path and life. There are also themes from Kazuo Kuroki’s memorable Nippon No Akuryo (Evil Spirits of Japan), as we see a darker side to society and the pursuit of power and influence.
After the high benchmark set by Teshighara’s initial films, there is an almost distinct lack of interest here. It remains an above average film and is more of a curio entry in his filmography. While Man Without a Map remains out of reach for most Western consumers I would strongly urge you to check out the films of Hiroshi Teshigahara that have been released by the BFI and Masters of Cinema. Hopefully in doing so, more releases can be encouraged.