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Emperor Tomato Ketchup

Posted by martinteller on January 11, 2014

Shûji Terayama’s surreal vision of a world where children rule.  Adults exist only for their amusement, and are to be incarcerated or killed for any number of violations, including impeding the pleasure of children.  When I reviewed Terayama’s later (and similarly avant-garde) Pastoral: To Die in the Country, I made a comparison to Jodorowsky.  In this case, the first thing that came to mind was Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures.  The extremely blown-out photography (perhaps in this case to suggest documentary footage smuggled through underground channels?), the idiosyncratic use of non-diegetic music, the gleeful displays of unrestrained decadence.  Although the film is revolutionary in spirit and at times seems to be constructing of dark world of dystopian fascism, there is a playfulness to it.  I felt like I wanted to see what would happen next, even when I didn’t entirely comprehend what I was seeing currently.

Unfortunately, the Jack Smith vibe wore off and I was reminded more of Dusan Makavejev.  The hollow polemic, the tedious non-sequitur, the shock value imagery.  Viewers should note that there are scenes here that at least flirt with child pornography.  One scene involves a naked boy of roughly nine years of age cavorting with three adult women.  Although nothing graphic is shown, it’s clearly pushing the boundaries.  And it goes on for far longer than it needs to to make its point.  Even more egregious in its length (though less provocative in its nature) is the seemingly interminable climax, an 18-minute sequence of two boys (men? teenagers?), one dressed as a doctor and the other as a Nazi, wrestling and Rock-Paper-Scissor-ing each other in an industrial wasteland.  Snooze.

There is a hint of valid political commentary in this film.  It could be an intriguing — and fun — statement about youthful rebellion, political persecution and the folly of imperialism.  But it gets too muddled in Terayama’s more outré ambitions, and the message is lost among the indulgences and shallow soundbites.  Rating: Fair (65)

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