The second film of the ATG-produced “The Buddhist Trilogy” was even more experimental than “This Transient Life“, since the innovation also extended to the narrative, apart from the visuals.
Buy This Title
Two couples of university students, Yukiko and Shinichi and Hirochi and Yasuko, swap their partners inside two hotel rooms, in two rather unusually depicted sex scenes that kickstart the movie. The two women then return to their “proper” rooms and through a visual style that could be described as minimalistically kaleidoscopic, we get to know their train of thoughts, particularly of the males. A bit later, during a walk in the seaside, the couple is attacked by two men who end up raping Yukiko brutally, after they have knocked Shinichi unconscious. When Shinichi comes to his senses, however, the two of them seem anything but shocked by the events; instead, they are interested in their aggressors and soon find out that they are part of a cult that focuses on two things: sexual freedom and agriculture.
Wooed by the mysterious but quite eloquent leader of the cult and a goddess entity of sorts that resides in the premises, Yukiko and Shinichi find themselves also becoming members, although reluctantly and without admitting the fact, even to themselves. Eventually, the other couple also reenters their story after a number of tribulations, mostly of political nature, but the true change comes when Shinichi realizes the way the leader has been controlling the members of the cult and decides to turn against him. His tactic however, is as strange as the rest of the narrative, as he decides to rape the woman who was considered the goddess of the sect.
From the beginning, it is obvious that Jissoji wants to implement a sense of disorientation, placing his viewer into a state that will allow him to experience the film not with his logic, but neither with his senses exactly (especially not his vision) but through a completely clean sheet, as the occurrences on the screen seem to go against both the aforementioned methods of understanding a work of art. His method however, apart from the, once more, impressive and unique visual tactics of Yuzo Inagaki’s cinematography, is quite extreme, particularly since the repeated rapes on screen seem to be one of the main mediums of this effort. This aspect can be perceived as an effort to include pinku elements in the film, as was the case with the whole trilogy, but remains quite difficult to watch, even in exploitation terms.
Through this tactic, Jissoji seems to want to communicate to the viewer one of the basis of Buddhism (and the only one I know a bit about), the coexistence of good and evil, ugliness and beauty as a single, holistic notion, instead of two radically different ideas. His approach, however, towards all these messages is somewhat overcomplicated, particularly through the rather lengthy dialogues and monologues, that demand knowledge of both Buddhism and the sociopolitical setting of the era to understand, along with a great tolerance for both the grotesque and the extremely arthouse.
On the other hand, the combination of this disorientation with an overall demonically ritualistic approach towards the production values of the film actually carries the narrative until the end, through the efforts of Inagaki’s cinematography but also through Toru Fuyuki’s music and the overall editing of the movie. The scene with the Dionysus-like dancing near the end (once again with masks), the first sequences, and all the appearances of the “Goddess” are bound to stay on the mind of the viewer, while they also induce the film with a theatricality that seems to have its base both in Noh theatre and Greek tragedies.
In this setting, the acting takes a background role, particularly in the case of the women, who, in distinct pinku film style, seem to be here mostly to present the erotic element. However, Koji Shimizu as Shinichi and Shin Kishida as the sect leader give captivating performances, in complete resonance with the film’s aesthetics.
“Mandala” is evidently a very difficult film to watch, both for its visual approach and the extreme narrative, but if one was to overcome these “issues” much artistry and innovation would be revealed.