A surreal, isolated village sees its inhabitants gradually leave behind their mutual traditions and superstitions as they leave for the city. Among them are two cousins who love each other and who get into a quarrel with other villagers.
Near a remote Buddhist monastery, a young man falls in love with his sister and gets her pregnant. After a monk finds out, the young man becomes an assistant to a master sculptor, only to proceed to complicate matters with his affairs.
Two interwoven stories. The first is a biography of anarchist Sakae Osugi which follows his relationship with three women in the 1920s. The second centers around two 1960s' students researching Osugi's theories.
Third (Toshiyuki Nagashima) is an aimless young man who hangs around with a couple of girls who are amateur hookers. One day, while acting as their pimp, he gets into a conflict with a young gangster and winds up killing him.
Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets is the first experimental feature film by Shuji Terayama, a poet, playwright, avant-garde director who was also an avid boxer (his love of boxing is referenced several times in this movie, for example). It follows a nameless young boy, whom Terayama calls Watashi ("Me"), and whose family is a complete dysfunctional wreck. His sister has an unhealthy relationship with her pet rabbit, his grandma is a shoplifter, and his frustrated father takes "Me" to the whorehouse.
The story is completely non-linear, interfused with strange phantasmagorical collages, music videos and surreal imagery. A lot of scenes are colored in nauseating filters of green, red and pink, which are even more annoying in occasional motion sickness-inducing shaky cam scenes. There's also a scene of random people longing to find soul mates and putting a newspaper ad. Another repeated element are "Me"'s day dreams, which see him trying to fly away on a plane, but his hopes of getting somewhere are ruined in the scene where he calls out the country of Japan for a moral decline, and his fiery plane comes crashing down to earth.
The message of the film is presented bluntly in its title. Terayama tells the academics that their approach to this film simply isn't needed. A film should be experienced, not analyzed, and people should spend time on the streets instead of spending it at a cinema or reading books (this message would be more understandable if city life were as crazy as a Terayama film). This message is featured everywhere in the film. Quotes from famous thinkers graffiti'd on the walls. An intellectual in a restaurant boring his female companion to death by talking about literature (and later we're given a more entertaining take on books from a local prostitute). The recurring riddle "What goes one way in and two ways out?", which we're lead to believe the answer to is something deep and intellectual, happens to be revealed simply as "a pair of trousers".
Terayama also breaks the fourth wall a lot to establish an anti-cinema approach to filmmaking. The movie begins with an uncomfortably long black screen, when suddenly "Me" appears, asking the audience what they're doing sitting in front of a black screen, and then mocks them because they're hidebound in a theatre while he's free to do whatever he wants, like light a cigarette. The ending is about 10 minutes long; in it, the entire crew is gathered in a single shot while "Me" holds a speech about the boundaries of cinema ("Polanski, Nagisa Oshima, Antonioni... All that is just a world that disappears when the light is turned on"). After that, the camera trails the faces of everyone involved with the film in close-up and the film fades to black.
I forgot to mention the countless locker room scenes where "Me" and the other boys discuss masturbation techniques and how sports ball sizes are parallel to virility. I guess these scenes are meant to portray "Me"'s frustrations related to masculinity. Later his locker room friends gang rape his sister under the shower and we're subjected to a short musical sequence spoofing Ken Takakura, a famous macho movie star known for yakuza films.
Regarding the soundtrack (by Tokyo Kid Brothers and J. A. Seazer, who appears as a long-haired poet), it's awesome. Probably one of the best movie soundtracks I've heard in a while. It's like a mix of nursery rhymes and post-hippie psychedelic rock. It's crazy. One of the musical scenes starts with a burning American flag which reveals a couple having sex and youngsters raising chaos on the streets. After that, a humorous scene where a young girl protests because people took her phallic punching bag off the streets explodes into an angst-ridden, energetic song "Who is it for?" But by far the catchiest and the most radical tune is what I presume is called "Mother", which even borders on Oedipus' complex (another running theme in Terayama's films). The imagery the song is set to is an American comic (the style reminds me of Robert Crumb) where a father has sex with his daughter after he sees her masturbating, after which the mother asks her son if he jerks off. Trying to follow this comic while reading the song lyric-subtitles while trying to enjoy the song is a complete sensory assault and it's hard to find anything similar. Did I mention the short musical interlude that features a group of schoolgirls casually stripping on a farm, singing how they'll become prostitutes?
The movie, as I described it, seems completely crazy, fun and incomprehensible, but unfortunately the scenes of true cinematic weirdness are sandwiched between long scenes of dubious importance which border on tedium, and overall the film is largely undeserving of its runtime. I'll give it a higher rating just for the kick-ass soundtrack though.
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