APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE MAD FOX (1962)

Koiya koi nasuna koi; AKA Love, Thy Name Be Sorrow

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DIRECTED BY: Tomu Uchida

FEATURING: Michiko Saga, Hashizô Ôkawa

PLOT: An apprentice astrologer, betrayed and driven mad, flees to the countryside where he meets both the twin sister of his lost beloved and fox spirits.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: The Mad Fox opens as a medieval Japanese epic with a  folkloric spin and then suddenly goes mad, turning into kabuki theater and ending on a flying flame.

COMMENTS: The Mad Fox begins on a grandiose note when a “white rainbow” portentously appears in the sky. The Emperor summons the court astrologer, who predicts doom for the kingdom. Before the sage can divulge a remedy suggested by the astrological scroll that holds the answers to future, he is slain by bandits. Only his chosen successor can read the scroll, but the astrologer died without officially choosing between his two disciples. Much scheming and intrigue follows, and the first act ends with Yasuna, the good and faithful disciple, fleeing to the countryside after the death of Sakaki, his beloved and the astrologer’s adopted daughter.

This first section of the film is a sumptuous Technicolor spectacle that plays out on lavish courtyard sets with characters kneeling about in embroidered silk robes, a mise-en-scene that wouldn’t be out of place period piece. Things shift precipitously towards the abstract once Yasuna’s insanity hits, however. The exiled apprentice finds himself in a sea of glowing sunflowers while butterflies on visible strings flit by and a traditional Japanese singer warbles a warning to “never fall in love.” After this Expressionist interlude, act two begins when he stumbles upon Sakaki’s twin sister and, in his madness, believes her to be his lost love. Things get further complicated when the noble Yasuna rescues a wounded fox, transformed into human shape. The fox spirit’s granddaughter falls in love with him and when Yasuna is later wounded, she assumes the likeness of Sakaki and appears to him and licks his wounds clean. It’s a shade of Vertigo, but with the madman desperately falling for two separate specters of his lost love. As Yasuna and the fox build an illusory family, the final act leaves realism even farther behind, turning into a kabuki performance played out on an obvious stage set.

For some reason, synopses and reviews often stress that the movie is “hard to follow.” Although a few details of Tokugawa era society might be unfamiliar to Western audiences, this concern is greatly overblown; I had no more trouble following this than I would a Shakespeare play. The more common complaint among the movie’s rare detractors is that the stylistic transitions Uchida employs are jarring, which I consider to be an asset rather than a liability. The second half of the film, when we follow Yasuna into his delusions, are consistently more engaging and moving than the realist set up–at least, for those of us who value deep imagination over shallow authenticity.

Though respected in his native Japan, Tomu Uchida never broke through to international audiences, for reasons that probably have more to do with bad luck than anything else. The Mad Fox was seldom exhibited outside Japan. Arrow Academy rediscovered and restored this minor classic in 2020 and released it on Blu-ray, where it can now be experienced by the adventurous cinephile with moderately deep pockets.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… there reaches a point at which the movie just goes off the rails in terms of strangeness; Uchida throws anything even resembling logic out the window and begins offering up increasingly oddball elements – including musical numbers and animated sequences – before the entire thing transforms into a filmed play (literally!) that even Max Fischer would find overwrought.”–David Nusair, Reel Film Reviews

2 thoughts on “APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE MAD FOX (1962)”

  1. This sounds great, Arrow Academy recently had a sell in the UK so wish I knew about this to pick up then but shall definitely be getting at the next opportunity!

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