Pastoral: To Die in the Country ★★★★★

''I shall cut off my eyelids to see better, the razor blade reflects the horizon.''

Wow, am I glad this one jumped out at me as I browsed for a film to watch on a chilly Friday night. As I hit play and poured some wine to keep me warm, I knew only of this film's acclaim as a visionary surrealist work, and therefore my expectation was only to hopefully be impressed...

But pick me up off the floor and wipe the drool from the corner of my mouth, I am knocked out!

This is likely an autobiographical work from Japanese avant-garde filmmaker Shuji Terayama, which may seem like a simple coming of age tale with a canvas splattered with symbolism, but it becomes so much more when half way though we discover that what we are watching is the unfinished film of a Director trying to capture his childhood in a small country town where seed needs to be sown, but the backward superstitious townsfolk and a domineering mother stunt Shûji's yearning to spread his wings and explore this sprout of puberty. The films major thematic make-up is best exemplified with this line:''If you go back to the past in a time-machine and kill your great-grandmother, would there still be your present self?'', and how the lead character is searching through his art how to go back and rewrite his history and conquer his subconscious trauma.

The narrative is heavily reliant on fragmented memories and dream logic, as well as poetic interludes interspersed throughout. The colour palette shifts rapidly throughout with impressionistic editing and cinematographic techniques, but never does one feel as if they are walking through an enigmatic wasteland because Terayama has you hypnotised with his ticking watch (you will understand the reference if you have seen it). As well as clocks seeming to represent sexual oppression and an unwillingness to change (the circus scenes are much more sexually liberated with everyone having their own watch), we have painted white faces that are common in Japanese cinema for portraying ghosts and the eye-patch wearing, black cloaked old ladies keeping an ominous superstitious hold over everything, and that's but a smattering of the symbolism throughout. The music is an absolute highlight also, and one of the most beautiful and appropriate soundtracks I have heard on any film.

Pastoral: Hide and Seek (an alternate title) is an absolute treasure of not only Japanese cinema but surrealistic cinema also. It never feels overbearing or keeps you at an arms length, but instead feels so personal and enriching that one can only be overwhelmingly satisfied with all that it offers. The closing scene of the film is one of the most wonderfully resonant collisions of sound and imagery I have ever witnessed and it's honestly just like a cherry on top of the most delicious cake you could devour.

P.S. I couldn't help but feel some Jodorowsky shades throughout, if that helps grab anybody's attention.

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