Dark, disturbing and with little to rein in its creative and freewheeling spirit, this experimental piece continues to shock and impress as one of the key works of Japanese silent cinema.
Dir. Teinosuke Kinugasa
1926 | Japan | Drama/Experimental | 71 min | 1.33:1 | Silent
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for some disturbing scenes
Cast: Masuo Inoue, Ayako Iijima, Yoshie Nakagawa
Plot: A man takes a job at an asylum with hopes of freeing his imprisoned wife.
Subject Matter: Dark – Mental Illness; Trauma
Narrative Style: Straightforward/Experimental
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
Thought to be lost for decades until the director inexplicably found it in a shed in 1971, A Page of Madness was saved from oblivion, and we are richer for it. Silent films from Japan were aplenty but most had been lost to time without proper archival, so any opportunity to see one is always appreciated.
From Teinosuke Kinugasa, who was best known for his Cannes Palme d’Or-winning Gate of Hell (1953), A Page of Madness is almost always mentioned in the same breath in any conversation about the incredibly prolific filmmaker, who made more than a hundred films in his career.
Dark and disturbing, A Page of Madness may be best classified as avantgarde cinema, closer in spirit to the likes of Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Bunuel’s Un chien andalou (1929) and Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet (1932) than, say, early Chaplin or Ozu.
An old man takes up a new job at an asylum where his wife has been locked away for years in order to be closer to her. He harbours hopes of one day freeing her and getting their lives back on track after a traumatic incident early on in their marriage.
Kinugasa opted not to use any intertitles at all, treating A Page of Madness as purely audiovisual, though one could imagine ‘benshi’ narrators narrating some parts of the film back in the 1920s.
Employing all manner of cinematographic techniques (e.g. dutch angles, low-key lighting, distortion of lenses) and editing trickery (e.g. superimposition of images) to create a hallucinatory experience, the film builds up to something dark and primal, with images that would be very much at home in any horror movie.