An important event of the 19th New Horizons festival will be Poland's first retrospective of works by Terayama Shūji (1935-1983), one of the most prominent avant-garde reformers of Japanese cinema and theater
curator: Nikodem Karolak
It would be difficult to find another Japanese artist like Shūji Terayama. Despite the fact that he has been dead for over 30 years, my recollections of him become more and more alive every year, and his art continues to evoke such incredible emotions. Having begun his artistic career "restoring theater," Terayama went on to become one of the most important innovators in avant-garde cinema and theater in history. Remembered as an unsurpassed intellectual, a non-conformist and unyielding workaholic, not to mention a subversive who never shied away from scandal, an enfant terrible who re-envisioned Japanese tradition in an emphatic way. Known internationally primarily as the founder of the alternative theater troupe Tenjō Sajiki, he gradually knocked down the barrier between stage and audience. You could love him or hate him: while one of Japan's most important theater critics, Akihiko Senda, praised his plays as an example of original meta-cinema and -theater, German writer Roland H. Wiegenstein complained that Japanese thugs and their powerful punches foiled his attempt to escape; he was blunt in his condemnation of Terayama, saying, "Hitler was better." Today, such stories are hard to believe. How can you explain the enigmatic disappearance of Hans Buruma, a spectator who "dissolved into the air" during a performance at the Mickery Theater? Just what did the actors do that saw them end up in court after their performances in Poland in 1973? Would it possible these days to put on a performance in the streets in which both spectators and non-spectators alike are packed into wooden boxes and then transported in trucks God knows where?
They say that cinema has a limited spectrum of possibilities compared to theater. Nothing could be further from the truth! As a complete artist, Terayama not only mixed various genres and conventions, but he also combined cinema and theater to knock down the fourth wall between viewer and artist. And so, we come to the cinema, not knowing what might happen: someone sitting next to you could suddenly put their hand on your knee or pop out of the screen unexpectedly, or perhaps you will become a protagonist in the film. In the annals of cinematic history, Terayama is known primarily for directing a series of films based on themes from his own life. Worth mentioning are the famous new wave manifesto in the form of a collage Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets, which was an award winner at the Cannes Festival in 1975; Pastoral Hide and Seek, which critics compared to Federico Fellini's 8 1⁄2; and Farewell to the Ark-filmed near the end of his life-a loose adaptation of Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which the culture of Macondo permeates Japanese myths and beliefs. The backbone of Terayama's film career was the Art Theater Guild, a non-profit film company founded in 1961 whose primary purpose was to promote both foreign and homegrown artistic works in Japan. In addition to Terayama, the Guild also promoted a number of works by other young new wave artists such as Nagisa Oshima, Masahiro Shinoda, Toshio Matsumoto, Susumu Hani and Yoshishige Yoshida.
For Japan, this was an era of post-war trauma, the ratification of asymmetrical treaties signed with the United States, student protests at the University of Tokyo and the hippy and countercultural movement. Although it would be difficult to compare Terayama to American Beatniks making films during the same period, it should be noted that his vagabond lifestyle, anti-establishment artistic work, incitement to sexual revolution and manifesting art in the streets together with a team made up of actors, vagabonds, runaways, street musicians, transvestites and dissenters who, for the average viewer, must have been seen as a rather peculiar curiosity-all of this meant that Terayama was no less important to the Japanese counterculture than Ellen Stewart, Judith Malina, Julian Beck, Jonas Mekas and Andy Warhol were to the counterculture in the United States.
Terayama's art is, after all, an attempt to come to terms with demons of the past, fears and complexes, but also with the figure of a possessive and unyielding mother: beloved and merciful on the one hand, hated and diabolical on the other. In the end, the act of creating appears to be the main driver in a struggle with a progressive disease-the very opposite of an organism expressing the will to live. Terayama mythologized space, mixing elements of fiction and folklore with autobiographical features, creating defacto quasi-biographical works, which were an expression of his undoubted longing for childhood and strongly associated with the Aomori prefecture, a special realm of the sacred that was completely destroyed during the war.
Memory of Terayama is not waning. In Misawa, you can visit a museum commemorating the artist that was built based on the home theater of the Tenjō Sajiki troupe. Countless souvenirs, posters, manuscripts, letters, films, books, and multimedia materials have been collected in a space of eight hundred square meters, where guests can roam around freely. In turn, on 4 May every year, the anniversary of Terayama's death, his family and friends, actors and fans gather at his grave to honor his memory and to share a meal where they reminisce and celebrate the artist's life.
Terayama's ultimate goal was to carry out a revolution in everyday life, but a revolution based not on political power but rather on his own imagination. This sometimes caused a scandal and at other times was like an explosive charge hidden inside a building; it sometimes appeared as a kind of Blanquism propagated on city streets or a show of magic tricks. A retrospective of the work of Shūji Terayama during the 19th New Horizons International Film Festival will give you a chance to reassess whether the Japanese avant-garde has stood the test of time and is still capable of shocking audiences. Like the aforementioned Hans Buruma, may we also get irretrievably lost in this enigmatic and impenetrable cinematic and theatrical world.