In this interview the Japanese avant-garde filmmaker and scholar, Toshio Matsumoto, discusses his creative practice, as well as his ideas about the complexities of representing reality, memory, and time. He has numerous short experimental works to his credit, and four feature-length narrative films including Bara no soretsu (Funeral Parade of Roses, 1969), Shura (Demons, 1971), Juroku-sai no senso (The War of the Sixteen-Year-Olds, 1973), and Dogura magura (Dogra Magra, 1988). He has contributed significantly to the critical study of film in Japan as well, writing among things Eizo no hakken (Discovery of the Image, 1963/2005), Hyogen no sekai (World of Expression, 1967), and Genshi no bigaku (Aesthetics of Illusion, 1976). Despite these many accomplishments, Matsumoto has gone largely unrecognized in US scholarship.
The conception and representation of reality, memory, and time are significant tropes in Matsumoto’s films. Bara no soretsu, for instance, set in the gay district of Tokyo, freely shifts between various points in time, mixes narrative fiction and documentary, and allows for the intermingling of the actors’ own personal memories and the memories of the characters that they are playing. Each actor effectively plays a character that is modeled after his or her own life. The film is loosely adapted from Alain Resnais’s 1959 film Hiroshima mon amour and appropriates many of the elements in it, including, most significantly, haunting flashbacks from a repressed traumatic memory. It is also a recasting of the Oedipus narrative, which to one degree or another is also about memory. In all of Matsumoto’s feature films, a character suffers from some form of delusion and/or trauma that materializes in a surging pulse — the spectral return of the repressed — and this manifests not only as plot elements but also in cinematic form (e.g., flashbacks, nonlinear narrative structures, overlapping editing).
Although certainly not the first to reconceptualize narrative temporality, Bara no soretsu confounded film critics at the time; many assumed that Matsumoto didn’t even know how to tell a story or how to edit a film. Audiences today, however, are quick to accept the playful interventions in narrative form. This interview introduces this filmmaker/scholar who, in many respects, was far ahead of his time, to the English-speaking world.