The collaborative films of Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu and 1960s Japanese cinema

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The collaborative films of Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu and 1960s Japanese cinema
The collaborative films of Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu and 1960s Japanese cinema
The collaborative films of Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu and 1960s Japanese cinema
The collaborative films of Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu and 1960s Japanese cinema


In the 1960s, an alliance between director Teshigahara Hiroshi, writer Abe Kobo and composer Takemitsu Toru produced four films: Pitfall (Otoshiana,1962); Woman in the Dunes (Suna no onna, 1964); The Face of Another (Tanin no kao, 1966); The Man Without a Map (aka The Ruined Map, Moetsukita chizu, 1968). These generally tend to be categorised as part of the Japanese New Wave, but are also idiosyncratic enough to stand out from that group. Their style, especially that of Woman in the Dunes, has drawn comparisons with the modernist European art-house cinema of the same era, as represented by auteurs like Antonioni, Bergman or Resnais. While such links may have some accuracy, they short-change the specificity of what was a distinctive partnership between three artists from three separate fields, and the social and cultural climate in which that partnership and its cinematic style developed. This essay aims to look at some of the key historical, cultural and personal factors which necessarily played a part in not only the aesthetics and themes of the collaboration's four films, but also the context in which such a unique collaboration even became possible, considering how rigid Japan's film industry had been just a decade earlier. First, the three men, who can be regarded as the auteurs of these films, are situated within the post-war art scene in Japan and all its avant-garde societies. The essay then looks at the rapid changes occurring in the film industry in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which would eventually allow room for Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu's films. Finally, the essay will attempt to describe some of the methodology behind the collaboration to offer a sense of the successful chemistry among the three artists, and in doing so provide some textual analysis of their four films, to underline them as both the product of an inter-medial artistic synthesis and the result of wider influences shared in the Japanese avant-garde milieu and cinema  of  the era. 

Teshigahara, Abe, Takemitsu and the avant-garde in post-war Japan:

Teshigahara Hiroshi was born in Tokyo in 1927, the son of Teshigahara Sofu, a famous ikebana master, and founder of the Sogetsu ikebana school. Sofu was a progressive, eclectic artist who had invented a new form of ikebana, a rare feat in the conservative world of traditional Japanese arts. Hiroshi thus grew up within an artistic legacy, and initially chose to study painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. Abe Kobo, on the other hand, came from a less privileged background. Born also in Tokyo, in 1924, his family thereafter moved to Manchuria, then a Japanese colony, where he spent most of his early life. Many scholars have suggested that seeing at first-hand the injustices of Japanese colonialism, as well as the desert-like landscapes of Manchuria, were formative experiences which would be “projected strongly onto his later writing” (1). This can be deduced from some of his own quotes: "I remained in Manchuria for a year and a half after the war and witnessed the complete destruction of social order there. That made me lose all trust in anything stable" (2). Abe also spoke of the culture shock in returning to his 'homeland' after the war, giving him an outsider's perspective in his own country: "[M]y place of birth, the place where I grew up, and my place of family origin are all different... [E]ssentially, I am a man without a hometown. The sort of aversion I have for hometowns, owing at the bottom of my emotions, could be due to this background" (3).

Here the themes of alienation and identity, later to become trademarks of his work, are already being suggested. This experience also relates to his lack of nationalistic feeling - Abe was an internationalist, with little regard for borders, who believed in doing away with nationalities. Takemitsu Toru, born in Tokyo in 1930, was shaped by his formative years as a sickly child, homebound and spending most of his free time reading or listening to all sorts of music on US occupation forces radio stations. Though he was expected to follow in the footsteps of his businessman father, he instead pursued the passion aroused in him by those early broadcasts of American jazz, became self-taught in musical composition and later said that "his only real teacher was Duke Ellington" (4). Such an outpouring of American and Western influences, and their enthusiastic reception by Takemitsu's generation, could perhaps have been expected, since many of these sources had been banned during the war and were now being discovered for the first time with a sense of curiosity by Japanese artists, eager to disavow Japanese war-time traditions. Takemitsu himself once wrote: "Because of World War II, the dislike of things Japanese continued for some time and was not easily wiped out. Indeed, I started as a composer by denying any 'Japaneseness'" (5). The surrender at the end of the war symbolised a chance to break with the disgraced militaristic past, which the emergent post-war generation of artists, writers and thinkers in Japan were eager to grasp. The opportunity to start anew, to transform the country they lived in, to re-define how it was viewed, and how to go about doing this through the arts, preoccupied their theorising. Among the tensions which they had to negotiate, for a new national cultural identity, were the dichotomies between tradition and modernity, Japanese and Western, national and universal, society and individualism, which led the post-war artists to "engage in a dynamic, interactive process of  cultural creolization" (6). This artistic fusion was also occurring between different fields and genres of arts, and between art and politics, and art and philosophy. A large number of artistic and literary coteries were being formed, and the kind of personalities which gravitated towards this scene seemed to share a collaborative spirit and desire to blur the boundaries between art-forms. Experiments and radical innovations were taking place in, amongst other things, literature, painting, music, dance, photography, sculpture, and calligraphy. It was in this rich atmosphere of avant-garde art coming together in cross-pollination, that Teshigahara, Abe and Takemitsu would find creative kindred spirits in each other.

One of Teshigahara's teachers, when studying at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, was Okamoto Taro, whom he credited as one of his primary influences during the immediate post-war period. Okamoto was an energetic personality who exhorted his students to "reconstruct the Japanese art world" (7). The writer and critic Hanada Kiyoteru and the poet and artist Takiguchi Shuzo were two other significant figures and opinion-makers inspirational to aspiring artists and intellectuals such as Teshigahara, Abe and Takemitsu. Despite the three of them also being influenced by various Western artists who had a deep impact on them at that time - for example Picasso, Gaudí, Dalí for Teshigahara; John Cage and Duke Ellington for Takemitsu; or Kafka, Sartre and Joyce for Abe - all of these were necessarily refracted through their own sense of coming to terms with Japanese identity at that time. The leading forerunners of the new avant-garde, and mentors of Teshigahara's generation, went as far as looking for ways to re-negotiate the perception of reality; Takiguchi was among the first to seek influences for artistic practices from older Japanese traditions, especially Zen Buddhism; and it was Hanada who declared "that in the new postwar era in which the foundation of the traditional value system was undermined, a new method of representation should be devised to depict the changing world" (8). In 1948 Okamoto and Hanada founded Yoru no Kai (the Night Society), a group devoted to 'total art' and producing truly collaborative art by crossing the barriers between genres, which Abe became a member of. However, it was not altogether successful in its goals and fragmented into separate groups; among these was Seikin no Kai (the Century Society), launched by Abe and other younger members of the Night Society. The Century Society opened its doors to include painters and visual artists, and Teshigahara joined, meeting Abe there for the first time in 1949; for Teshigahara, the writer instantly made the impression of being "a man interested in all the arts and seeking a way to bring them together" (9).

Takemitsu likewise, was at that time an active member of a similar avant-garde group, Jikken Kobo, the 'Experimental Workshop', which was channelling innovations in music, in dance and in multi-media performances intersecting between both. He navigated amongst the same artistic circles as Abe and Teshigahara, and in the 1950s all three would also establish their own careers. Teshigahara, initially a painter of Picassoesque tableaus, was drawn towards the medium of film — perhaps because it had been the one art-form his father hadn't left his own mark on. Though still lacking in technical know-how, Teshigahara got his break as director of a documentary short on the famous Edo period wood-cut artist Hokusai, a project which resonates with the then-current trend of exploring the more traditional Japanese artistic influences. While working on Hokusai, Teshigahara befriended many experienced directors, including Kamei Fumio, a left-wing social-realist documentarian, under whom he would work as assistant director on three films and learn the fundamentals of documentary filmmaking. Teshigahara, by his own admission, learnt a great deal from Kamei, but came to find him too didactical, compromising artistic integrity for the sake of the message he aimed to get across. As could be expected from his influences, Teshigahara wanted a more balanced marriage between artistic and political interests, and sought his own path. In 1959 he made Jose Torres, a documentary about a working-class Puerto Rican boxer filmed over 4 days in New York for which Takemitsu, already an established writer of scores for a number of pictures, composed the music. As Teshigahara relates it: "I was looking forward to having music added. I asked my editing team for ideas and Takemitsu was suggested. I had heard about him so I gathered my courage and spoke to him. He saw the rushes and took it on straightaway. He was very excited by it... In that film, the sound of the boxing and the music blend into one" (10).

Thus began another friendship in this triangular artistic relationship, and Teshigahara, glad to have found a composer with a talent for registering a sense of rhythm coinciding with images, would thereafter work with Takemitsu regularly. Abe, too, worked with Takemitsu independently before their feature films, on some radio plays, allowing Abe to notice Takemitsu's ability to create soundscapes underpinning the tone of verbal texts. Meanwhile, Abe had made a name for himself in his writing career in the 1950s, having written several collections of short stories and poems, winning literary awards, and branching out to screenwriting - for example, writing the script for Kobayashi Masaki's The Thick-Walled Room (Kabe atsuki heya, 1953). The times were also rife with political dissent, as American troops had continued to use military bases in Japan during the Korean War, and Abe recognised the same patterns of colonialism he had witnessed in Manchuria. Abe was probably the most political of the three, and like the rest of his artistic and intellectual peers, was left-leaning in his ideology, being a member of the Japanese Communist Party until 1962, at which point he left over the party's conservative stance towards free expression. Teshigahara was equally affected by the political atmosphere: "Japanese politics was out-and-out pro-United States. None of the Japanese politicians were independent... Japanese-American relationships had started in a totally colonialistic way, and we couldn't help being critical" (11).

This sense of anger at the establishment galvanised artists such as Teshigahara and Abe, whose early literary work was already heavy with allegorical allusions, into unifying the arts towards a simultaneously political and artistic aim. Two other ventures of note were initiated by Teshigahara himself to further diversify the growing artistic culture. When Hiroshi was handed control of Sogetsu hall by his father Sofu, he turned it into Sogetsu Art Centre in 1959, which became a hub for all kinds of artistic activity, including concerts by Takemitsu and experimental theatre by young innovative directors such as Terayama Shuji, another subscriber to the concept of 'total art'. According to critics of the time, it was the "epicentre of the avant-garde" (12). More specifically centred around his cinematic interests, Teshigahara also set up a film club with other young filmmakers, in 1957, screening non-commercial films unavailable elsewhere in Japan, which was named Cinema '57. As gathering place for cinephiles and aspiring directors, it also led to a collaborative project being realised, Tokyo '58, a short documentary which Teshigahara contributed to alongside several others. But by 1960 Teshigahara had not yet made a full feature and his breakthrough in cinema was still to come. After the first post-war decade, the buzzword in the artistic milieu had been collaboration between artists, and Teshigahara, Abe and Takemitsu were ready to put these ideas into practice in what they saw as the ideal medium for collaborative potential: cinema.

The rise of independent cinema in Japan

The mainstream Japanese film industry, at this stage, was distant from such vanguard arts circles on the periphery, and the series of events which laid the groundwork for independent productions like the four Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu films can be traced back to the 1950s when, under the dominant studio system, youth-oriented films ushered in a new era. The studios, in place since the 1910s, saw several attempts by filmmakers to break free. First in the 1920s, directors left in search of greater creative licence, such as Kinugasa Teinosuke who made his avant-garde masterpiece A Page of Madness (Kurutta Ichipeiji, 1926) independently of the studios; and then in the late 1940s when independent production companies were set up by leftist directors, such as Shindo Kaneto, for more political reasons. But overall these precedents had limited success; the studios continued to flourish, enjoying their so-called 'golden age' in the 1950s - with the triumvirate of Ozu, Kurosawa and Mizoguchi all in their prime — and also dominating production, distribution and exhibition under a vertically integrated system. In the zenith year of 1958, cinema attendances in Japan even reached an all-time high, bringing in 1.13 billion cinema ticket sales (13). Under this climate, the 6 major studios (Toho, Shintoho, Shochiku, Daiei, Nikkatsu and Toei) displayed predictable industrial conservatism in order to maintain their advantage, and hence at this time there was very little room for more artistically ambitious films to emerge, especially from outside the studio system - in 1959 for instance, zero independently produced films were released (14).

Eventually cracks appeared in the hegemony of the studio system, primarily due to television, which in the 1960s would instigate drastic declines in cinema attendance, but also with the advent of a new breed of directors who would rebel from the inside. The growing youth market of the 1950s initially encouraged the studios to start producing youth-oriented pictures, particularly taiyozoku (15) films such as  Crazed Fruit  (Kurutta kajitsu, 1956) - which incidentally was  scored by Takemitsu, linking him to mould-breaking cinema already. These films caused sensationalist uproar in certain sections, but the studios hoped they would satisfy a popular demand amongst younger demographics. Yet, to Oshima Nagisa they represented "the heralding of a new generation of Japanese film" (16). To keep fulfilling this perceived demand, the studios - where traditionally an apprenticeship was required for budding directors, entailing many years working as assistant to senior directors before getting their chance - allowed several young and talented filmmakers an opportunity. These included, at Shochiku, Yoshida Yoshishige, Shinoda Masahiro and Oshima Nagisa himself, and Imamura Shohei and Suzuki Seijun at Nikkatsu, who were collectively labelled nuberu bagu, after the French nouvelle vague. This New Wave, unlike contemporary new waves around the world, and indeed unlike Teshigahara, emerged from a studio background (17). Ironically, they would prove to be Trojan horses for the studios, sharing a stance that was staunchly oppositional to the enduring traditions of Japanese cinema.

In 1960, just as the studio system's crisis was set to change the Japanese film industry irrevocably, the atmosphere was once more simmering with political upheaval. Mass demonstrations and student protests, in which both Teshigahara and Abe participated, were happening daily against the signing of the 'Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan', which effectively sanctioned the continued military presence of US troops. As Peter Grilli puts it, post-war Japan was showing "symptoms of an existential dilemma on a vast national scale" and "[i]n retrospect, it seems hardly surprising that the compelling themes of Japanese artists of the day were those of alienation, the search for identity, and the struggle for survival in a wasted landscape" (18). The rebel filmmakers of the nuberu bagu explored many of the same themes as Teshigahara and Abe would, albeit in a different way, with a greater emphasis on depicting what they saw as the 'underbelly' of Japanese society, whereas the Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu films were more allegorical and universalist. Teshigahara at that time was looking for a way to merge the social realism of his documentary training, with cinematic experimentation, to make a film which neglected neither the political nor the artistic avant-garde. His first feature, Pitfall (Otoshiana, 1962), despite socially-minded connotations concerning workers' rights, was not as ideologically ostentatious as Oshima's unabashedly political Night and Fog in Japan (Nihon no yoru to kiri, 1960) which was pulled from distribution by Shochiku after just a few days. This event enraged Oshima who quit the studios in search of greater freedom, as later would many of his contemporaries. Clearly, for avant-garde artists coming from fields outside the film industry, like Teshigahara and Abe, to assert themselves as filmmakers with artistic autonomy, would have been impossible under the commercial studio system. Notwithstanding their different approaches, the likes of Oshima and Imamura on one side, and Teshigahara on the other, were now all in the same situation as independents in need of a distribution and exhibition platform outside the studios.

The Art Theatre Guild of Japan (Nihon Ato Shiata Girudo/ATG), established in November 1961, initially as distributor and exhibitor of, mostly foreign, art films and later co- financing Japanese productions, would go on to fill this gap for Japanese independent films. The ATG represents the juncture between the New Wave agitators who fled the studios' grip, and the experimental filmmakers from a background of avant-garde documentaries and shorts. Building on from previous initiatives, such as Cinema '57 or the Sogetsu Art Centre, the ATG was more successful as a network supporting independent cinema. Teshigahara himself acknowledged: "Although the group [Cinema '57] dissolved shortly thereafter, you could say that my path to film was opened up within the circumstances of Art Theatre's birth, when those who were cinema's heretics gained a foothold" (19). The ATG, despite being co-owned by Toho studios, helped independents find an outlet for distribution and exhibition, having a total of "ten cinemas in the whole of Japan at their disposal" (20), including its iconic theatre in Shinjuku, a neighbourhood of Tokyo which would become the nucleus of many influential underground sub-cultures. Thus the ATG, logical off spring of the convergence between all the cinematic and artistic movements hitherto summarised, would act as the key catalyst for the Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu collaboration to concretise into full, accomplished features. Teshigahara may have had the means to form his own production company in 1961, but in order to independently distribute and exhibit his debut Pitfall in 1962, the ATG was crucial.

A unique collaboration

Cinema's status, both in its creative process and mode of reception, as a communal art made up of a combination of visual, verbal and aural elements, made it the perfect way for Teshigahara, Abe and Takemitsu to work together in a shared experience. Each one spurred the other on, Abe's complex ideas and themes requiring Teshigahara to find the perfect visual metaphor, and Takemitsu's spare use of music reining in Teshigahara's natural tendency towards aesthetic over-expression. The three of them were in perfect osmosis while collaborating, and "none of them hesitated to criticize or reshape the work of the others in order to strengthen it or give it deeper meaning" (21). For example, Teshigahara said of Takemitsu: "He was always more than a composer. He involved himself so thoroughly in every aspect of a film - script, casting, location shooting, editing, and total sound design" (22). It is therefore too simplistic to see each as only having the role of director, writer or composer respectively; rather they should be regarded as a dynamic team. To be sure, this description of them as the three auteurs is not to overlook the contributions of other important members of the crew, for instance cinematographer Segawa Hiroshi or art director Yamazaki Masao, who worked on the first three films, or Awazu Kiyoshi who designed the title sequences for all four. But Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu were not just the main constants over all four films, but also the most distinguished in their relative fields outside of the filmmaking industry, and thus illustrative of the new opportunities in Japanese cinema at that time. The only collaboration which had not yet occurred at this stage, Teshigahara-Abe, in fact transpired by chance. Teshigahara happened to see a TV drama, written by Abe in 1960, during the political unrest and the Mitsui Miike coal mine disputes. The director, looking for a project to make his debut feature, instantly thought it ideal; he contacted his old friend, who was delighted with the prospect and re-invented his own television play into a script, which would become the film Pitfall.

What makes Pitfall remarkable is its innovative blend of the supernatural with elements of social realism; Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu managed to realise their long-standing ambitions of expressing a new form of realism, dating back to the days of their youthful activity in clubs like the Century Society. The narrative intertwines several strands, ranging from conspiracy thriller (the mystery hitman who kills an itinerant miner, and the apparent plots against a union leader) to ghost story (the dead miner returns to life as a ghost into a community of lost souls), via mundane, realist settings and a montage of actual stock footage of mines and mine- fires, reminding us of Teshigahara's documentary roots. The sub-plot figuring the murdered man's double as a union leader is played straight though it could have seemed absurd, and it sheds light into the machinations between various union factions, perhaps influenced by Abe's own experiences with the clashing cliques of the Japanese Communist Party. Nor is the supernatural aspect played for thrills, but rather it sets up scenes of irony, like those surrounding the ghost of the candy-store owner, whose earthy sensuality is reminiscent of Imamura heroines, futilely grasping at the long-awaited letter she received too late and will now never be able to read. Takemitsu's minimalist score corresponds well with the impoverished ghost-town (literally a ghost-town), particularly in the opening sequence, where he improvised with John Cage's method of the 'prepared piano', sounding unexpected, dissonant chords while the miner and his son flee under the credits. The actors principally came from a shingeki ('new theatre') troupe, a commonality shared with many other low-budget independent productions of the period. Unlike Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu's next three projects, where major stars would be cast, these relatively unknown actors reinforce the independent quality of the film, which might well owe a debt to Luis Buñuel's Las Olvidados (1950), a known favourite of both Abe's and Teshigahara's for the way it merged documentary style with surrealist features. Teshigahara indeed described Pitfall as a 'documentary-fantasy', infusing onto it a unique generic quality, the like of which would be seen again in the Japanese New Wave with Matsumoto Toshio's Funeral Parade of Roses (Bara no soretsu, 1969). Matsumoto's fi lm was a blend of experimental cinema with documentary exposé into Shinjuku counter-culture, which if not directly influenced by Pitfall, at least unconsciously bears some relation to it. While this complex blend of disparate elements is not quite seamless in the case of either film, both remain artistically innovative and rich works.

For the remainder of their collaboration, the films would be based on Abe's novels, which he wrote roughly a year before the film's release, and adapted for the screen himself. One of his most celebrated novels, Woman in the Dunes, would provide the basis for their second film and biggest success. It deals with themes of identity and isolation, as did Pitfall in which characters are literally cut off from themselves through becoming ghosts, and as would The Face of Another where the protagonist is alienated from his self firstly by disfigurement, and secondly by acquiring a 'new' identity through a mask. Woman in the Dunes, however, was more allegorical and ambiguous. It was their artistic pinnacle, perhaps because its narrative structure was more simple than that of the other films. This in turn allowed the fi lm to depend on its real strength: the synthesis between Abe's existential tale, Takemitsu's soundscapes and Teshigahara's textural photography. The plot revolves around an amateur entomologist from Tokyo on a field study looking for sand beetles in the middle of the desert. When he misses the last bus back to the city and is left stranded overnight, he is forced to seek shelter in a nearby village, where they duly shack him up with a young widow whose house is actually deep in the middle of a sand quarry, menacingly encircled by the sand, and only accessible by a rope ladder. The following morning, as the rope ladder is suddenly gone and he finds himself stuck with this woman in the forlorn sand-surrounded house, his journey of discovery begins and will paradoxically end with him finding existential meaning through captivity. Although urban settings are never shown, they are alluded to in the montage of official documents and street noises during the titles sequence, there to suggest the cluster of bureaucracy and overcomplicated chaos the man has left behind in the city. They are also hinted at right at the end, when an on-screen police document tells us the man has now been missing several years, and reveals his name for the first time, tellingly suggesting that the climax has finally allowed him to have an identity again. Abe's central metaphors of the desert and sand are key to this existential plot, and they are mesmerisingly brought to life by Takemitsu and Teshigahara; the former creating not only a shrill string ensemble score but also the soft hiss of the sand which permeates the fi lm, while the latter's visuals (with various shots of sand, of sand on skin, of skin looking like sand or vice-versa, and of insects moving through sand) assign an indelible tactile feel to the experience. Dore Ashton, ascribing this to Teshigahara's earlier influences from the visual plastic arts, writes that the "close-ups of sand, grain by grain recall Miró's blade-by-blade close-ups of grass" (23).

The fi lm, sharing many au courant existentialist themes (the premise is reminiscent of Sartre's play No Exit and of Camus' essay The Myth of Sisyphus), and modernist stylistics (visual style and mise-en-scene reflecting psychological mood rather than serving realism), had much in common with intellectual and artistic discourses happening elsewhere at the time, and this might partly explain its international success. Okada Eiji, the leading actor, had already obtained fame abroad for his previous role in Hiroshima Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959), and to Japanese audiences symbolised an "internationally recognized Japanese body infused with a confident, ethnic male desire" (24). Thus the fi lm, with its mixture of Western modernism and Japanese imagery and themes (for example seeing the man's fate in terms of giri, or obligation, towards the woman and the villagers), and its polysemy as indicated by the vast range of readings and interpretations by Western critics, served as a model for the ambivalence of a then relatively new phenomenon, the 'international Japanese fi lm'. Much of Japanese cinema's output, like much of 'world cinema', increasingly came to be defi ned through international reception and indeed Woman in the Dunes was fi rst sent to festivals before its domestic release. The film also overlaps with another signifi cant trend, characteristic of the Japanese New Wave; namely the growing prevalence of sexuality and representations of the body and sex, thanks to Kishida Kyoko's erotic sensuality as the woman. Japanese cinema's exploration of sexuality in that period ranged from the soft porn produced by the studios, to the more explicit fi lms of Oshima Nagisa who analysed themes of identity through sex. Again this links Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu's work to contemporaneous Japanese cinema, even if the end products were very di fferent.

Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu's next fi lm, The Face of Another, showed no sign of compromising their wish to experiment; despite the success of Woman in the Dunes, they returned to the multiple-narrative structure of Pitfall. While the central character Okuyama's story, following him disguising his hideous facial injuries with a new form of facial mask invented by a mysterious doctor, is filmed in a conventional realist style, his scenes inside the doctor's clinic are filled with fantasy elements. The clinic is populated with bizarre surreal objects, surfaces and structures, built for the fi lm by the famed architect, and friend of Teshigahara, Isozaki Arata, fi ttingly in the spirit of cross-breeding between the arts. The third parallel strand of the fi lm depicts a young girl, who like Okuyama is disfi gured, and featured in Abe's novel as part of a fi lm Okuyama watched, but in the screen adaptation occupies a more significant segment. These three worlds in the fi lm's diegesis (Okuyama's life, the doctor's clinic, and the girl's story) are largely unconnected, aside from one surrealist scene, in which a door suddenly opens in the doctor's fantasy-office to reveal shots of the girl's hair, a motif which Tony Rayns interestingly compares to contemporaneous director Terayama Shuji's own fascination for doors opening into parallel worlds in his films (25). Once again, the overall result was a compelling treatise on identity and the correlation between physical appearance and inner personality.

The trio's fi nal film together, The Man Without a Map, was both their first in colour and in Cinemascope, as well as the most reliant on genre conventions, initially playing out as a detective fi lm about a private investigator hired to find a missing man, but soon turning into a meditation on by-now familiar themes of identity and belonging. The phenomenon of people disappearinging, or johatsu, was a serious social problem in 1960s Japan with thousands of cases per year, and Abe was one of the fi rst to make it the subject of artistic inquiry - explicitly in The Man Without a Map where it is linked to rootlessness in an ever-more urbanised society, but also more implicitly in Woman in the Dunes. It is also presented in Imamura's complex documentary A Man Vanishes (Ningen johatsu, 1967), yet another sign that Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu were tackling the same themes as other directors, only more fi guratively (a characteristic no doubt due to Abe's style). Their association worked because Teshigahara's aestheticism was the perfect balance for Abe's intellectual and philosophical deliberations, while Takemitsu enhanced the worlds his two colleagues created with unexpected musical flashes - not least the way he intercuts Elvis Presley with Vivaldi's Violin Concerto in C Minor in The Man Without a Map. It is this assured sense of experimentation and artistic freedom which characterises the collaboration; just as Imamura was blurring the lines between documentary and fiction in A Man Vanishes, so Teshigahara-Abe-Takemitsu subverted, as they saw fit, generic conventions to produce results of great originality.

Concluding Remarks

After The Man Without a Map, Teshigahara, for the fi rst time, made a film not scripted by Abe, Summer Soldiers (1972), which was more explicitly political than the collaborations, and less successful. He would leave cinema for two decades to become the director of his father's ikebana school, only making three further features in his career, including Antonio Gaudí (1985), a visual documentary about the architect who had influenced him so much in his youth. Abe and Takemitsu both cemented their reputations in their respective fields. Despite never all collaborating on a film together again, the three of them were, and remained, 'renaissance men'; Teshigahara was, as well as a filmmaker, a painter, potter, calligrapher, ikebana master, interior and garden designer and impresario of avant-garde meetings and activities; Abe was a novelist, playwright, poet, theatre director, philosopher, political activist, photographer and director of a few short fi lms; Takemitsu was composer, poet, musical theorist, writer of detective stories and even celebrity TV chef (!). They always resisted easy categorisation into one single artistic domain. While some of the links drawn, between their fi lms and others of the same era, may be loose, they show the common context shared by this generation of artists and filmmakers and the concerns they wanted to deal with through the medium of film. Situating these three artists in their context of post-war Japan highlights the origins of their attitude towards art, their desire to transcend its boundaries and barriers, and how it should help transform society, while it also reveals much about the significance of cinema to Japan at the time, that it should embody the perfect medium for so many artists' epitome of art. Finally, none of this takes away from their collaboration as a uniquely memorable and enduring endeavour, at its best representing the perfect alchemy between visual, verbal and aural arts, which so many artists of their era longed for.


(1) Suda Tadahiro quoted in Yuji Matson - The Word and the Image: Collaborations between Abe Kobo and Teshigahara Hiroshi, Masters thesis (University of Victoria, 2007), p. 18.
(2) Abe Kobo quoted in Mutsuko Motoyama - The Literature and Politics of Abe Kobo: Farewell to Communism in Suna no Onna, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Autumn, 1995), p.308.
(3) Abe Kobo quoted in Matson, op. cit., p.19.
(4) Peter Grilli -  The Spectral Landscape of Teshigahara, Abe, and Takemitsu , essay included in Criterion Collection boxset 'Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara', 2007. 
(5) Takemitsu Toru quoted in David Toop - Garden of Sound: Toru Takemitsu, essay included with The Face of Another Masters of Cinema Series DVD, 2005.
(6) Thomas R. Havens - Radicals and Realists in the Japanese Nonverbal Arts: The Avant-garde Rejection of Modernism (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006.), p.2.
(7) Kazu Kaido, Ichiro Hariu - Reconstructions: Avant-garde Art in Japan, 1945-65 (Oxford: Museum of Modern Art, 1985), p.14.
(8) Motoyama, op. cit., p.312.
(9) Dore Ashton - The Delicate Thread: Teshigahara's Life in Art (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1997), p. 53.
(10) Teshigahara Hiroshi quoted in Toop, op. cit.
(11) Ashton, op. cit., p.54.
(12) Ashton, op. cit., p. 73.
(13) Statistics from (Accessed August 2012).
(14) Roland Domenig - 'The Anticipation of Freedom: Art Theatre Guild and Japanese Independent Cinema', in Midnight Eye, 2004, (Accessed August 2012).
(15) 'Sun-tribe', referring to the carefree youths named after Ishihara Shintaro's de ning novel 'Season of the Sun'.
(16) Oshima Nagisa, 'Is it a breakthrough? (The Modernists of Japanese Film)', Annette Michelson (trans.) - Cinema, Censorship, and the State: The Writings of Nagisa Oshima, 1956-1978 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), p.26.
(17) One notable exception is Hani Susumu, co-founder of the Cinema '57 group and co-director of Tokyo '58 alongside Teshigahara, who had made several independent fi lms and documentary shorts outside of the mainstream in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and is still generally classed with the Japanese New Wave.
(18) Grilli, op. cit.
(19) Teshigahara quoted in Matson, op. cit., p.40.
(20) Domenig, op. cit.
(21) Grilli, op. cit.
(22) Ibid.
(23) Ashton, op. cit., p. 96.
(24) Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano, 'Ethnicizing the body and film: Teshigawara Hiroshi's Woman in the Dunes', Phillips, Alastair and Julian Stringer (eds.) - Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts (New York: Routledge, 2007), p.183.
(25) Tony Rayns, The Face of Another DVD commentary, Masters of Cinema Series, 2005.


[1] Ashton, Dore - The Delicate Thread: Teshigahara's Life in Art (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1997)
[2] Cornyetz, Nina, The politics of climate and community in Woman in the Dunes and "The idea of the desert" - The Ethics of Aesthetics in Japanese Cinema and Literature: Polygraphic desire (London and New York: Routledge, 2007)
[3] Desser, David - Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988)
[4] Domenig, Roland - The Anticipation of Freedom: Art Theatre Guild and Japanese Independent Cinema, in Midnight Eye, 2004,
[5] Grilli, Peter - The Spectral Landscape of Teshigahara, Abe, and Takemitsu, essay included in Criterion Collection boxset 'Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara', 2007
[6] Hampton, Howard - Pitfall: Outdoor Miner, essay included in Criterion Collection boxset 'Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara', 2007
[7] Havens, Thomas R. - Radicals and Realists in the Japanese Nonverbal Arts: The Avant-garde Rejection of Modernism (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006)
[8] Matson, Yuji - The Word and the Image: Collaborations between Abe Kobo and Teshigahara Hiroshi, Masters thesis (University of Victoria, 2007)
[9] Mellen, Joan - Voices from the Japanese Cinema (New York: Liveright, 1975)
[10] Motoyama, Mutsuko - The Literature and Politics of Abe Kobo: Farewell to Communism in Suna no Onna, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Autumn, 1995)
[11] Oshima, Nagisa, 'Is it a breakthrough' (The Modernists of Japanese Film)', Annette Michelson (trans.) - Cinema, Censorship, and the State: The Writings of Nagisa Oshima, 1956-1978 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992)
[12] Quandt, James - The Face of Another: Double Vision, essay included in Criterion Collection boxset 'Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara', 2007
[13] Richie, Donald - A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: A Concise History, revised edition, (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2005)
[14] Toop, David - Garden of Sound: Toru Takemitsu, essay included with The Face of Another Masters of Cinema Series DVD, 2005
[15] Wada-Marciano, Mitsuyo, 'Ethnicizing the body and lm: Teshigawara Hiroshi's Woman in the Dunes', Phillips, Alastair and Julian Stringer (eds.) - Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts (New York: Routledge, 2007)