28 January 2009 | chaos-rampant
Geometry of a discordant axis - an early Teshigahara masterpiece
Although structurally and aesthetically experimental cinema, Teshigahara's debut proper already carries all the trademarks of an assured author and although a bit rough around the edges here and there it shows a director experimenting with his craft even as he perfects it. Japanese new-wave ferried to its logical conclusion even as it takes its first baby steps.
Based on a story by Kôbô Abe, PITFALL explores the myriad possibilities that emerge from the space where life and death overlap, as a poor miner is murdered under mysterious circumstances in the marshes near an old ghost town. His murderer, an alluring white-clad figure, buys off the silence of the one witness, a woman operating a candy store in the ghost town district, and disappears as mysteriously as he appeared. In the mean time the murdered man wakes up next to his corpse only to discover he's now a ghost.
While THE SIXTH SENSE milked a very similar idea for maximum mainstream appeal, shock twists and shallow thrills, Teshigahara is wise to allow his material to breathe. Even though a very pragmatic subplot about two rival labour unions introduced in the end of act two detracts from the existential nature of the story, like all great storytellers Teshigahara never settles for the convenient and tidy, refuses to explain what the viewer most needs explained. Personal interpretation is very important in any work and particularly in something as haunting as this. Who is the killer? Why is he doing it? Questions left open, the character cleverly typed as a seriocomic grim reaper of sorts riding around in his moped, a manifestation that invokes notions of fate by the very nature of his acts. Is there not meaning when one is not aware of it?
Teshigahara pits the dead against the dead, the living against the living and everybody against each other, ghosts quizically examining their corpses and wondering the reason of their deaths, the living deaf to their protestations and too busy being suspicious of each other. A world revolving around a discordant axis, thrown off balance and left for us to explore its geometry.
Teshigahara's direction reflecting the uncertainty and disorientation of the plot as much as Toru Takemitsu's dissonant score. A POV shot of a child introduced only for the child to walk inside its own POV shot. Jarring jump cuts that send characters jumping through space. Construction works photographed in all their derelict, abandonded glory, a ghost world for the dead to haunt. Notions of hell on earth. The ghost of the murdered man complaining he's hungry as winds rise in the soundtrack. A pack of dogs ascending a steep slope like other Sissyphi. Very precise, very geometric, the work of an assured visual director.