Sunday, March 18, 2007

SURVEY MAP OF A PARADISE LOST (HISAYASU SATO, 1988)



Hisayasu Sato's brilliant Survey Map of a Paradise Lost is a truly unique film. It approaches many of the themes that run rampant through Sato's work of the time (mans relationship with technology, alienation, emptiness, and sexual disorder) in a method which is completely new, completely different from anything that had been put on celluloid before.

Nukada is a journalist working on a story about "The Banana Club," a telephone sex club in which (presumably) customers call a line and are connected to a woman for phone sex or to arrange a meeting for actual sex. Nukada's coworker Koto knows a girl name Midori, who he offers to set up an interview with for Nukada. The two meet for an interview one day, but before the interview can get under way, a man pulls up in a car, voices how he had an appointment with Midori first, pulls her into the car, and drives off.

The man is Kihara, a twenty-nine year old who works at NDT, a large phone company. He seems to have some sort of affinity for Midori, and also somehow always ends up connecting to her through the phone club. The sex he has with Midori (and for that fact, his wife) is very rough. The woman is tied up and often blood play is involved.

After a rather strenuous sex session, Kihara and Midori go for a walk, ending up on top of a tall building. Midori tells a story about a pop star that killed herself of a building, and how she saw it while she was working in a deli. She remarks how she wants to fall, someday.

Later, Kihara attempts to have sex with his wife. She has developed some sort of psychosomatic itch that she gets when she doesn't take a copious amount of unidentified pills. Her itch begins while they're having sex, but Kihara refuses to let her take the pills. He ties her up and video tapes her as she wriggles around trying to scratch herself. He seems to get some of perverse pleasure out of it, while it pushes his wife over the edge.

Some time later, Kihara picks up Midori again. Against Midori's wishes, Kihara once again brings out the video camera. Midori argues with Kihara, and eventually he pulls a knife out. Midori gets a hold of the knife, and slashes his arm. She scrambles to the bathroom, her feet tied together. Kihara follows with the video camera, grinning. Midori, still clutching the knife, climbs into the full bathtub. Kihara sets the camera tripod down, aiming at the tub, and lunges at Midori. The knife plunges into his chest, killing him.

The incident shows up in the news, and Midori is more or less getting out of the crime by calling it an act of self defense, which the video tape more or less proves. Nukada, aware of the incident, is thrilled when his coworker (the same one who introduced him to Midori) tells him about the existence of the video tape, and then manages to get him a copy. While watching the video tape he notices a few frames of video at the beginning that are not from the night in the love hotel. After freezing the frames Nukada discovers that it is Midori and Kihara's wife talking on top of a roof.

Within the last fifteen minutes of the movie, much is revealed that comes as a shock to the viewer, without revealing the main "punch" of the ending, it's safe to point out that in reality, Kihara was suicidal, but unable to kill himself. He more or less manipulated his wife and Midori into the situation where he knew he could die, and it would simply appear to be an act of self defense from Midori. But the real shock is yet to come.

Sato once again proves he is a master of the subversive, pushing the sex scenes in this film to what is basically the hardest point he could within the context of the film. The extreme violence of the sex scenes fully expand upon the state that Kihara himself is in, and Midori's reactions are perfectly consistent within what is revealed to be her outlook on life.

Sato also handles his fascination of the interaction with technology greatly, with key elements playing out on TV and monitors, slowly being followed by a pan to the actual action; the double view points out to us, as viewers to a) think about our reality versus the reality of the film and b) create a divide in the motivations and actions of the characters themselves in the film. In a brilliant move by Sato, the ultimate reality of the characters, at the end of the film, is revealed through a video cassette.

The revelation of Kihara's suicidal intentions are also linked to technology; Kihara says he has compiled all of his life's data into a computer program, and the program has chosen suicide as the most reasonable and preferable death. This method, aside from commenting on the technology issue, also touches on Kihara's isolation; he puts more faith into a machine than he does in any of his interpersonal relationships (of course; the only relationships we are exposed to are those of Kihara to his wife, Midori, and briefly to Nukada).

Midori also reveals an intense sort of desperation that Sato seems to find in many young characters in his films. She was witness to a pop stars suicide and becomes more or less obsessed with the details and the actual situation (the act of falling, and hitting the ground) itself.

All in all, Survey Map of a Paradise Lost is a very powerful film. It's social commentary and artistic achievements (Sato's world view has always been ahead of it's time) are vast. If one can view sadomasochistic sex not as exploitive titillation and more of a metaphor of the desperation for a final pleasure, then the film is wholly relevant and a great way to spend sixty minutes.

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