23 October 1999 | jacqui-3
Interesting Period Piece, but...
GONZA the SPEARMAN's true asset is the acting of Iwashita Shima, who has acted in many other films of director Shinoda (also her husband.) I actually sat down expecting to be blown away by the combination of cinematographer Miyagawa (Rashomon, Ugetsu), composer Takemitsu (Ran, Kwaidan) and Shinoda...but what a disappointment!
The picture is gorgeous to look at, and the sounds effectively disturbing when Iwashita bursts into her womanly rage and jealousy. Yet, GONZA does not hold well as a whole. The title character Gonza is a pretty boy-slash-expert-spearman, but his is a performance that is wooden at best. Much of his character is not demonstrated visually or by story, but rather we learn about his nature and personality through what others sing or speak of him.
Another bothersome aspect is the lack of relationship between people and space. You are likely to walk away from the picture feeling detached from the characters, because they just seem to float about on the streets, in this room and that, etc. I mean, static cutaway shots do not necessarily edit well together - to give a sense of Iwashita's opulence and isolation (although these were supposedly desired effects.)
This much said, GONZA is still quite an interesting adaptation of a puppet theatre play by Japan's "Shakespeare", Chikamatsu, an 18th century playwright. Shinoda wisely weaves together a parallel between the art of the tea ceremony and the stifling insitution and ideologies of marriage. The story is a tragic melodrama that ends in a bloody fare, which is really necessary to restore the sense of order both the play and film are suspect of criticism.
One especially haunting sequence of the film arrives just after the killing: that of a distraught woman by the sea, singing the song of her murdered lover - the spectre of whom gallops past her on a white horse (you may recall a similar sequence from Truffaut's Story of Adele H., where a maddened Adele hallucinates the lover who abandoned her.)