Violence at Noon

07/04/2010

Japan / 1966 / Japanese

Directed by Nagisa Ôshima

With Saeda Kawaguchi, Narumi Kayashima, Kei Satô

Still from 'Violence at Noon'A young woman named Shino, who works as a maid in the house of Mr. and Mrs. Inagaki, is busily washing clothes in a bucket of soapy water. A man watches her through the open door as she sings to herself obliviously, absorbed in her work. He approaches her and the shock of familiarity and fear registers in her face. They exchange pleasantries, and then he reveals that he is carrying a large kitchen knife. As he forcefully leads her upstairs, she recalls the death of her lover, Genji, over a year ago, and her own near suicide that was thwarted by the very man who is now assaulting her. Nagisa Ôshima’s Violence at Noon explores the complex relationships that arise between a sociopath and his victims, and the varied shades of coercion that so often obscure the distinction between love and betrayal.

A year before her horrific encounter with the knife-wielding young man named Eisuke, Shino is his neighbor in a rural, cooperative village. Here, at the age of nineteen, she finds herself involved with Genji, a somewhat older man and prominent farmer. Meanwhile Genji has been harboring affection for Jinbo, a local schoolteacher, and when that woman rejects his proposal for marriage, he quckly decides that he is going to end his life. He privately requests that Shino, his close and financially indebted devotee, to do the same with him. Jinbo, sensing what will happen, sends Eisuke to stop Genji. However, when Eisuke arrives at the glade where the two lovers are about to hang themselves, he simply watches in the bushes. Genji succeeds in dying as a woman announces over the loudspeaker his victory in the local elections. Eisuke cuts Shino’s rope before she is able to follow her lover, and as she lies unconscious on the ground, he peels off her clothing and rapes her. Later on by a riverside he tells her, unrepentantly proud, what has happened.

In the present day, after Shino awakens from her ordeal in the house of Mr. and Mrs. Inagaki she finds herself unscathed, but the place is filled with policeman and forensic workers. Evidently Eisuke discovered Mrs. Inagaki in the house, raped and killed her. Once again Shino has emerged alive from something horrific, and wishes she hadn’t, feeling guilt rather than relief. She discovers that Eisuke is the “High Noon Attacker,” a drifter who has assaulted many women over last year. But out of a morbid attachment to the young man, Shino abstains from revealing his identity to the police, all the while acting as a close participant in their investigation. It appears that she wants an insider’s knowledge of his continuing crimes and unenviable downfall. She begins to write letters to the woman to whom Eisuke is now married, Jinbo, revealing to her the murderous exploits of her wandering husband.

Still from 'Violence at Noon'Ignoring the enormity of his crimes, Jinbo supports Eisuke, seemingly attracted by his brutality. It is she who endorses selfless love and, quite tragically, receives love in return that takes, destroys, and overrides. “Love has no rewards,” she repeats inanely by Genji’s grave, having an imaginary conversation with the dead man. She tells her students to each write an essay about liberty, equality, or love of humanity – they erupt in uncontained laughter at the last one. Jinbo is essentially an idealist and she is exploited for that, used as an emotional buttress and as a front of normalcy by the sadistic Eisuke. Because she has so steadfastly held onto her idealism, she has in effect become, unintentionally, as evil as he. Shino, who is twice victimized by him, conducts herself ever after with calculating cynicism – she wants to see him caught as much as to see Jinbo undermined for ever supporting him. She thinks she understands the commingling of repulsion and attraction that characterizes their relationship, having felt it once with Genji, and again with the killer. “You loved him,” she tells the young schoolteacher. “You still do.”

“Yes,” Jinbo replies. “But love can’t change people.”

Beads of Eisuke’s sweat becomes something of a motif during his cathartic attacks on people, as though with it he were excreting his meager store of conscience and blubbing indecision. Ôshima focuses on it when Shino meets Eisuke for the first time since he raped her – as she subjects him to the same up-and-down scrutiny with which he spied on her – and then again in a flashback to his initial transgression, as it occurred under the tree where Genji committed suicide. In the narrative the search for the killer is sidelined, as are his exploits, heard about only in fragments as the cold facts of the police reports. Ôshima favors looking at the two women, following the development of their two inverse but very much connected relationships with Eisuke.

Still from 'Violence at Noon'The characters’ entanglements are less romantic than they are gothic, played out in a deep, psychological, and tragic rendering of melodrama. While the love that Jinbo has for Eisuke is as inexplicable as the crimes that he commits, it may be thought of as way to deal with her guilt over Genji. The relationship of the married couple is marked by composite desire, with its polarized instincts and urges working in unison. She is introduced to his violent side early on, before they were married, when he tries to attack her. Identifying his cowardice, she refuses to become a victim of his physical advances. But he has captured her affection; his drifting appears to her as striving, his listlessness an unyielding perseverance.

One wonders what their marriage was like. We know little about it except that he ran off shortly after they began it, and what happened in the intervening year is unclear. The film is based on a true story, and its structure resembles a succession of newspaper clippings that record the noteworthy events that only imply everything else that is left unexplained. Ôshima utilizes a profusion of jump cuts, abrupt zooms, and non-motivated pans, vacillating between contact and distance, emphasizing the barriers that exist between people even in the most intimate relationships.

Shino provides a substitute for Jinbo’s prized but seemingly absent conscience, causing her the torment that her mind, if it were not in the muddled and ambivalent state of victimization, should be providing. Meanwhile Shino herself is the sacrifice, one of many, who sheds light on the absurd and misguided acceptance enjoyed by a man who is controlling, devious, and unfeeling. The young maid has moved from a role of total complacency, in her ultimately suicidal relationship with Genji, to a more self-possessed and questioning character. She investigates Jinbo’s psychology perhaps to better understand her own mixed feelings and disjointed thoughts. Unlike the other woman, however, she now has the perspective, as if having been reborn under the hanging tree, to want to elicit a change.

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