Sex and anarchy. Ennui and revolutionary chic. Ecstasy and fire. Yup, it’s another film by cult director Koji Wakamatsu recently salvaged from the vaults of Japan’s pinku eiga heyday. Never heard of the guy? Check out my review of his savage, anti-erotic Go Go Second-Time Virgin. Or if you dare, check out the film itself, which was also just released (along with this one) on DVD by Image Entertainment and the American Cinematheque (bravo AC!). But be warned, after experiencing these two films, I can safely say that Wakamatsu is NOT for everyone. Casual moviegoers (you know who you are, you consider Seabiscuit a GREAT movie) take no heed, go rent Bringing Down the House or something. Serious filmgoers, particularly those who with an appetite for the avant-garde (whatever the hell that is), happy birthday, merry Christmas, whatever. These films are gifts to you. Take this film for instance, “Ecstasy of the Angels” (alternately titled “Angelic Orgasm” or “Orgasm of Angels”, but really: take your pick, none of them add much to the proceedings), a balls-out, hipper-than-thou, f-all molotov cocktail of an art film, the likes of which are all too rare in these days of “Dickie Roberts”. Like Mr. Black teaches in his righteous, guilt-free-kid’s-movie “School of Rock”, “It’s about sticking it to the Man!” Wakamatsu, a card-carrying member of the Cinematic Punks Association (other distinguished members include Godard, Pasolini, and Bu*uel), knew well how to stick it to this so-called Man. In this case, I believe the Man is cinema and “Ecstasy” is its rapist.
What constitutes a plot in this film revolves around a group of young revolutionaries who decide to split off from their parent organization, fearing they may have been set up in a botched operation. The dissenters in question are known as the “October group” and their mission was to steal explosives from a U.S. military base. (As far as I can tell, the anarchist hierarchy breaks down like this: the governing body is the Four Seasons Association, which has four leaders, each of whom are named after a different season. The “seasons” are each served by their subordinates, named after their respective months. The “months”, in turn, are served by the “days”.) The opening mission’s a walk in the park until some American soldiers discover the raiders and open fire, killing some and wounding others. Thrown in turmoil, the group takes stock and determines they are probably better off on their own, Black Rebel style. At this point in the film, the plot throws in the towel, while the radicals have lots (and lots and lots) of casual sex, argue over their fate, engage in a pornographic photo shoot, and spout lines like “There’s a fire in my head, burning forever” and “We build our own world.” Oh yeah, you can’t dismiss the groovy experimental jazz score and some truly shocking scenes of graphic violence.
Looking at it now, some three decades after it was made, “Ecstasy” still impresses as an exercise in radical cinematic style. From its sly transitioning from black and white to color (a Wakamatsu favorite) to some provocative set pieces, the film is a wild and unpredictable ride all the way. I’ll gladly go on record as someone who loves cinematic pretension, when it works, that is. Wakamatsu was (and still is) a gleefully pretentious artist and I mean that in a good way. His films have been collecting dust for too long, they demand their proper due. The biggest problem with this film however, is that both the plot and the politics (which seem inseparable) end up muddled to the point of incoherence, maybe intentionally so. Was Wakamatsu serving up a manifesto here? Or was he critiquing (or even mocking) his so-called revolutionaries and their ideals? Or was he doing both? I said before that the film is an “f-all molotov cocktail” and it is, but who or what was the target? By film’s end, the rigidly structured Four Seasons Association seems in shambles, chaos reigns, and the point of it all seems long forgotten. As one character says near the end, “We’ll smash the false future.” Right, but whatever happened to sticking it to the Man? Sure, “Ecstasy” is a fascinating signpost of a by-gone era of filmmaking, but for a better primer on Wakamatsu’s revolution, check out “Go Go”.
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