Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Cage

The naked figure runs towards the gate. The surface of it fills the frame, becoming a barrier; an ornate wall - itself a relic to another time - which reduces the body of this man to something small and insignificant. We watch as his futile fists pound on the heavy exterior, both desperately and aggressive; trying without any great success to rend the gate open in a fruitless effort to break through to the other side. Excluding the music there is no sound, but we can imagine what is said: "let me out!" or possibly "let me in!"

From the images and the English translation of the title we can infer meaning. Time as a cage; a prison.

The Cage directed by Shûji Terayama, 1964:

The images are strange and enigmatic, but seem to suggest the various themes that explain what the film is potentially about. The above image can possibly be read as representation of birth. The figure - anxious, naked, desperate to escape this netherworld, to embrace life, or something like it - becomes like a child; his stature reduced to that of an infant in contrast to the overwhelming scale of the barred exterior, which looms before him in stoical reception.

Such a reading might seem too literal. The film certainly doesn't require such elucidation - the mood of the thing is enough to entrance us or provoke a response; the images suggesting stories or interpretations, but really just catching our eye with their disarming compositional approach - but it does make the experience of viewing more intriguing.

The images tell the story, or suggest one. An eye squints through the bars, like the eye of the viewer - the bars, as ever, a representation of the one-way relationship between the audience and the film - watching these images unfold. Some of the images conjure immediate associations, such as the old woman carrying the clock, carrying time, as a figurative gesture. Each of us are a prisoner of time, conscious of it. Perhaps not every second or every minute, but certainly the months, years and decades.

Other images seem vague or beyond easy interpretation. Two men exercise in unison, like prisoners in the yard. A hooded figure stands in the centre of a clock face, his silhouette - a body without a soul - becomes the hour hand, marking time.

These images add to the atmosphere of the film. That heavy sense of foreboding, which is only intensified by the tortured soundtrack; the thump of a drum, counting the seconds, or the howl of an anguished cry. Terayama's short is haunting, mesmerising, like much of the director's work (though some of his films are admittedly too contentious for my tastes), becoming, in effect, a series of bold gestures that suggest different meanings, different ideas, that play on the subjective gaze of the audience, like all art does.

Other viwers might disagree with these suggestions, but for me the film is a great figurative essay on time. A slow march towards the inevitable... like death or something else?