Ecstasy of the Angels (1972)

Wakamatsu mixes exploitative sex with subversive politics, but the film doesn’t really compel and is too long-winded.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Review #2,281

Dir. Koji Wakamatsu
1972 | Japan | Drama | 89 min | 1.66:1 | Japanese
R21 (passed clean) for sexual scenes, nudity, violence and mature themes

Cast: Ken Yoshizawa, Rie Yokoyama, Yuki Aresa
Plot: A group of oversexed militants named after the days of the week try to steal weapons from a U.S. Army base.
Source: Wakamatsu Production

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Mature – Political Activism, Terrorism, Sexuality
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse

Viewed: Oldham Theatre – Asian Film Archive’s Fatal & Fallen Programme
Spoilers: No

I first heard of Koji Wakamatsu from Caterpillar (2010), a film I programmed for Perspectives Film Festival when I was a student.  Ecstasy of the Angels is my second rendezvous with the controversial Japanese director, screened by the Asian Film Archive as part of their ‘Fatal and Fallen’ programme. 

I’m quite ambivalent about it, which is not a good sign.  One of the main problems is that despite being only 90 minutes long, Ecstasy feels like two hours.  Perhaps it is the constant hammering of its ideas—of political revolution—that it becomes exhausting after a while. 

Wakamatsu mixes exploitative sex with subversive politics in a loosely structured story about a group of Japanese radicals who break into a smaller splinter cell after unfortunate circumstances force their hand. 

“We are the revolution.”

An exploration of individual versus collective action (or in some instances, inaction) as these radicals strategise their next terroristic move, Ecstasy doesn’t hold back in portraying the single-minded quest of inciting political change through anarchic, destructive means. 

Wakamatsu is also certainly no stranger to the explicit portrayal of sex and nudity in his films, particularly his well-documented ‘pinku’ phase as he dwelled mostly in softcore erotica in the ‘60s and ‘70s. 

Ecstasy of the Angels seems like an anomaly in this context as sex and violence are now conflated with politics for the ‘greater good’, as far as these explosives-obsessed radicals are concerned. 

Angry and frustrated, they also fuck one another in more ways than one.  Ultimately, Wakamatsu’s film feels too long-winded and is only moderately interesting in its first act.  Its subversive messaging is problematic but it ought to be the least of anyone’s worries when it is rather difficult to engage with the antics of the characters in the first place. 

Grade: C+


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