Tag Archives: Revenge

294. TITUS (1999)

“Why makest thou it so strange?”–Demetrius, “Titus Andronicus,” II, 1.

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Alan Cumming, Laura Fraser, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Matthew RhysAngus Macfadyen, Osheen Jones

PLOT: Titus Andronicus, a Roman general, returns from conquering the Goths; he imprisons the queen Tamora and her three sons, killing the eldest boy as a sacrifice to the gods. Back in Rome, the emperor is dead and the popular Titus averts a civil war by supporting Saturninus for emperor against the rival claim of his brother; once on the throne, Saturninus surprises Titus by taking Tamora as his queen. Tamora and her secret lover, the Moor Aaron, then set about plotting revenge against Titus and his entire family.

Still from Titus (1999)

BACKGROUND:

  • Written in the style of the Jacobean revenge tragedy, “Titus Andronicus” is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, and perhaps his most disliked by critics; some even went so far as to speculate that the play must be misattributed to him, as Shakespeare could not have written such trash. Harold Bloom scathingly called it “a howler” and “an exploitative parody” and suggested Mel Brooks would be the director most suited to the material.
  • Julie Taymor adapted this film version from her off-Broadway stage production. Titus was her debut film, although she had achieved fame, and won a Tony award, for her 1994 Broadway stage production of “The Lion King.”
  • Taymor chose production designer Dante Ferretti because he had worked on one of her inspirations for Titus‘ look: Fellini Satyricon.
  • An orgy scene had to be edited (reportedly, to excise male genitalia) to earn the film an “R” rating.
  • Reputed auto-fellator Steve Bannon served as one of the executive producers.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: For this adaptation, Taymor fashioned four short, digitized dream sequences that she calls “penny arcade nightmares.” We selected the one where Lavinia remembers her own rape, imagining herself as a doe (with a deer’s head and hooves) menaced by ravishing tigers. Trip Shakespeare, for sure.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Paper bag brat; those are twigs that were her hands; Shakespearean video games

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Julie Taymor gives Shakespeare’s least-respected, bloodiest play an anachronistic avant-garde treatment, with fascist emperors riding in convertibles, Roman orgies, “penny arcade nightmares,” and all of the rape, dismemberment, and people-eating that we associate with the Bard’s work.


Original trailer for Titus

COMMENTS: “Shakespeare was a drive-in kind of guy.” I don’t think Continue reading 294. TITUS (1999)

LIST CANDIDATE: BLIND WOMAN’S CURSE (1970)

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DIRECTED BY: Teruo Ishii

FEATURING: Meiko Kaji, Hoki Tokuda, Makoto Satô, Tatsumi Hijikata

PLOT: A female yakuza leader blinds an enemy in a sword fight, then years later is hunted by a blind woman seeking revenge.

Still from Blind Woman's Curse (1970)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Blind Woman’s Curse is an odd stir-fry of yakuza, samurai and ghost story genres with psychedelic seasoning. It’s also a good example of how Japanese genre films of the period had every bit of the style and technical prowess of their arthouse competitors like Kurosawa and Ozu, giving it a good outside shot at making the List.

COMMENTS: Teruo Ishii made Blind Woman’s Curse at Nikkatsu Studios only three years after the studio fired for making the “incomprehensible” yakuza pic Branded to Kill. Curse is not quite as bizarre as Suzuki’s notorious film, but it suggests that by this time the studio heads may have lightened up on their aversion to pop-surrealism—as long as the film in question also contained ample bloodshed, tattoo flaying, and a duel between sexy swordswomen. Still, the colorful, hallucinatory carnival sequence in the film’s first act may have raised some suit’s eyebrows: cat women in bikinis crawl on a bamboo roof, an old man fishes doll parts out of a hot wok, and a hunchback hops around while a woman simulates copulation with a dog wrapped in the Japanese flag. Other elements that smear the film with a disreputable weirdness include a blood-licking ghost cat, a thug in a thong, and a topless opium-smoking scene shot from under the floorboards.

But, besides the tangy surrealism, Curse‘s biggest asset is Meiko Kaji (the future Lady Snowblood) in one of her earliest leading lady roles. Kaji only sports one expression in this movie, but it’s a great one: dread wrapped in a mantle of determination. She’s beautiful, graceful, and handles a sword as well as she does a song (she sings the theme song). Kaji has an undeniable presence, and it’s no surprise she went on to cult stardom. She has a male counterpart in Makoto Satô, a wandering mercenary with a taste for justice, but the men are subsidiary here, relegated to subplots or secondary villains. Kaji’s primary antagonist (setting aside the black cat that stalks her) is Hoki Tokuda as the blind swordswoman; her stoic countenance is striking in a very different way from Kaji, making for a mythic contrast in the morally ambiguous final showdown. The incestuous mixing of genres, the arthouse technical skills combined with exploitation sensibilities, and the under-the-radarness make Blind Woman’s Curse a wet dream.

Blind Woman’s Curse was supposedly the third entry in Nikkatsu’s “Rising Dragon” series, although it’s a thematic connection only since the first two entries featured a different actress (Hiroki Ogi) with a different character name. Ishii also directed the first in the series, Rising Dragon’s Iron Flesh (1969).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Ishii keeps the film straddling the border—quite successfully—between bizarre, surreal horror film and period yakuza tale.”–Chris D., “Gun and Sword: An Encyclopedia of Japanese Gangster Films 1955-1980”