Tag Archives: Shuji Terayama



DIRECTED BY: Shuji Terayama

FEATURING: Hiroshi Mikami, Takeshi Wakamatsu, Keiko Niitaka

PLOT: A youth embarks on a quest through his unconscious to uncover a tune that his mother used to sing for him as a child.

Still from The Grass Labyrinth (1979)

COMMENTS: Shuji Terayama, emperor of Japan’s post-war avant-garde scene, made a name for himself mainly through experimental plays and films such as Death in the Country, The Fruits of Passion (starring ), and the controversial Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Grass Labyrinth is a 40 minute work that extravagantly exhibits the author’s tendencies and style while also assuming a relatively restrained approach.

The premise of an investigation into the labyrinth of memory allows for an exercise in oneiric and experimental filmmaking free from the solidity of conventional narrative. Images float in and out of the screen in a liquid stream of consciousness, like half-remembered memories (the other half filled by reconstructions, dreams and hallucinations) in a state of hypnagogia. Recurring motifs and ideas form a subliminal thread that never assumes the form of a clear and rational plot: mother figure, appearing in an Oedipal context (already suggested by the film’s premise); open fields; the ocean; and, of course, the melody of the song that our protagonist so desperately seeks, the picture’s main leitmotif.

The search for a lost childhood item (with all its psychological implications) provides the film’s central point of focus, the axis around which all the apparitions dance. The immersion in the confusing (and occasionally terrifying) sea of childhood memories summons a cast of disquieting sights and sounds, specters of all sorts that haunt the boy’s psychic depths. The mother, who at times seems to be conflated with the song itself, is the most prominent vision, but we can’t ignore the contribution of the unnamed woman who inspires contradictory attitudes of attraction and repulsion in the main character, or a troupe of demonic figures that burst into the film in a loud and ritualistic spectacle typical of Terayama’s style.

Grass Labyrinth succeeds in replicating the aura of a striking but badly remembered dream, or a trip down unconscious lane. Like other works by Terayama, it subverts the conventional trappings of cinema in order to provide an experience that couldn’t be communicated otherwise. Standing in between the author’s more experimental short-films and his (relatively) more accessible full-length outings, it works well as an introduction to the overlooked auteur.


“…a surreal trip of a short film…. It doesn’t take long for Akira’s journey to fall down a rabbit hole of weirdness and the movie quite literally ends in a madhouse.”–Trevor Wells, Geeks