31 December 2015 | kurosawakira
My Cup of Tea
Teshigahara is one of the many unsung heroes of cinema, his most famous work, "Women in the Dunes" (1964), a landmark of not only Japanese but world cinema, followed by other existentially and metaphysically audacious works.
"Rikyu" (1989), his second to last film, exists in a different world altogether. Gone is the hectic energy of the sixties, replaced by a meditative immersion in the small. As such, it's very much to my liking. What certainly helps is that I love matcha, that I know Teshigahara and have some knowledge of ikebana and the way of tea.
At IMDb, it's only received 427 votes as of 31 December 2015, albeit with a rather high 7.4 average. Despite this I've not found much love for Rikyu elsewhere. It's often dismissed as late Teshigahara, where "late" signifies similar insubstantiality as in "late Welles". (The opinion according to which Welles made one great film and others only of some worth seems to be the prevalent opinion in the mainstream.) But I love it dearly. It's unassuming, exactly the kind of film that embodies Rikyu's first of seven rules of chanoyu, the ritual we know as the tea ceremony: "arrange the flowers as they grow in the fields." Teshigahara's eye for such radical simplicity is pointed out in the film by the Portuguese missionary, who marvels at the Japanese way of leaving blank space in their paintings. When there's space, there's also remarkable focus but such that doesn't suffocate.
A few words should be said about the acting. I've been an avid admirer of Mikuni Rentarô ever since he and I crossed paths in Imamura's seminal works "Profound Desires of the Gods" (1968) and "Vengeance is Mine" (1979). His Rikyu is exquisite: introverted, priestly and ritualistically deliberate, yet all the same a deeply passionate and feeling individual. This powerful dualism between introverted and extroverted is emphasized by the lord's exuberance, but also in the moments Of Rikyu's agitation.
And then there's Yamazaki Tsutomu. His Toyotomi is a force of nature, a delight one moment, a terrifying blast of thunder the next. He's a towering, tragic figure. His expression as the plan of poisoning is introduced to Rikyu in the meeting is the iconic moment for me, an image so strong I'm bound never forget, a moment of multiform emotions, a roll of waves.
The rest of the cast shines, too, without exception. Not only are they superb artists, but much of this owes to a masterful director. Takemitsu, an artist in his craft equal to Teshigahara and Rikyu, makes the air tingle with his music.
When this is available in HD in an English-friendly edition, let me know. I'll be forever grateful.