Tod Durch Erhängen
, 119min, OmeU
With <i>Kôshikei</i> (Death by Hanging), we have perhaps the first Japanese film which makes explicit the affinities between the national cinemas chief historical tendencies and a Marxist concept of a reflexively critical representation, first given theoretical form by Brecht and now, in the West and in Japan, central to the issue of the relationship of the performing arts to the class struggle.
Even this capsule summary should suggest one of the films major aspects: a remarkable discrepancy in «levels of reality». And indeed, with reference to nearly every parameter, a cascade of shifts from coded realism to theatricality and back again becomes an essential structural principle.
Closely associated with the structuring of these different levels of theatricality and «reality», but in no way a direct or linear expression of it, is a movement in the mode of <i>découpage. </i>The film begins with the presentation of three successive, wholly coded modes, in which editing and shot design obey the laws of distinct genres: the «objective» documentary, the militant propaganda film, and then, with the introduction of dialogue, the «normal» fiction film. As the absurd, legalistic logic begins to take over and as the first signs of theatricality appear, there is the beginning of a more mechanical formalization: long, single-take sequences separated by abrupt ellipses. This series is followed by another in which each cut takes us systematically away from the centre of the action, and then, as the shot proceeds, a pan following some secondary action will lead us back to that centre. Ultimately, through a series of subtle variations on and combinations of these various modes, more or less «arbitrary», more or less «natural», we move to the climactic sequence in which the camera pans continually and obtrusively from R and his sister lying nude under the Japanese flag, to the haggard officials surrounding them, who are embroiling themselves ever deeper in their legal and patriotic casuistics.
(Noël Burch, «To the Distant Observer», Berkeley: University of California Press 1979, pp. 334339)