Affect and material contagion in Harakiri

Anne Rutherford


[Download PDF]



This piece is an excerpt adapted from a longer article that explores an affective resonance between sound and image in Kobayashi Masaki’s 1962 film, Harakiri.[1] It draws on a performative exploration of how mise en scène becomes charged through image-sound relations, and how sound pulls us into the cinematic materiality of the present moment, into an experience of heightened embodied affect. The longer article argues that space is not just visual or aural; it is experienced in a fully embodied way, through the “thickness” of the body. This happens through the awakening of the sensory experience of the spectator to a heightened mode of mimetic perception—a sharpened engagement with the moment of experience as it is unfolding, an attunement with the pulse of the film as it flips effortlessly from sound to vision. [2] Furthermore, this intensity accumulates: a shot pulls us into the sensory moment but that immediacy is not only in the present: a shot contains movement and energy that come also from the accumulated sensory awakening and intensity set up by previous moments. Exploring affinities between Eisenstein’s approach to montage and concepts of traditional Japanese aesthetics, the longer article argues that a space is not simply a physical space, an actual space with physical correlates—it has affective correlates: it is a space laced with sensory-affective memory.


The heterogeneous materialities of sound and image: polyphonic montage

In his version of the evolution of the sound film, Gilles Deleuze writes of the transformations that produced modern cinema, which, as he sees it, broke what was previously a unity between sound and image, producing instead two heterogeneous materials or entities—sound and image—and a cinema in which the autonomy of the two and the dissonance between them is paramount.[3] Harakiri, however, departs from the classical assumption of the unity of sound and image, without following the precepts of the European modernists, with their heritage in an avant-garde that would focus on the disjunctive potential of bringing together two heterogeneous materialities. In Harakiri, sound and image retain their heterogeneous materialities but those materialities are held in a dialogue with each other, as if one energy or impulse is passed back and forth between image and sound and the energy erupts in the space, the interval between them—across the gap—in a kind of relay between the senses.[4] A sensation, an intensity or a narrative pivot simmers in the image and is then flicked over from one sensory medium to another—from image to sound and back again—so that, as viewers, we are flipped between visual and aural—between the different registers in a relay—awakening one sense and then the other.


Affect and Material Contagion in Harakiri (Kobayashi, 1962) via


This sensory “flipping” is nowhere more evident than in the final duel fought between two samurai on a plain. The camera cuts from the open space of the windswept plain, held down by ominous dark clouds, to close-ups of grass beaten down, driven in every direction by the frenzied force of the wind. Cynthia Contreras writes that the final duel “takes place in the grass,” but this grass is in no way simply an inert background.[5] The rippling, bristling grass “figurises”—comes forward as a material entity in the shot—and brings out the bristle in the poise of the samurai.[6] The rhythm and agitation of the wind are carried over into the bodies of the samurai. This is not a metaphor; it is a material contagion. The grass in turn takes on the agitation, the ripple, as if it is a muscular spasm that flicks across from the poised bodies of the samurai. The image cannot be understood without reference also to the sound. The howl of the wind pulls our attention into the grass, the rippling close-ups that agitate the whole shot, spreading the texture of chaotic movement across and beyond the frame. In a film with very few diegetic sound effects, suddenly the insistent presence of the wind in the grass, a scratchy aural close-up, impinges on the viewer in its haptic proximity.

Into this cacophony of rhythms—the rustling and rippling grass, the howling wind, swirling mist and clouds and the poised choreography of the samurai—cut the strumming, striking and tremolo plucking of the biwa. To know Harakiri is to be in awe of the dramaturgical quality of this instrument, the way its high frets and loose strings allow the sound of a single strum to degrade and decay through unpredictable, indefinable transitions that can only be grasped once they are complete.[7] The biwa rivets the viewer into the quality of the sound itself, the sawari (beautiful noise, as composer Takemitsu Toru calls it), its emotional resonance, as it jars and jangles the space. The grass figurises; sound figurises.

The film has set up the expectation that sound punctuates pivotal moments, flipping them onto another register. The aural rhythm has been set up in the preceding shots as the samurai walk through a cemetery, as a repeated motif of beats is counted out in the music, followed by the whooshing howl of the wind. As soon as the samurai step onto the plain, the music cuts out, yielding to the sound effects of wind and footsteps, but the rhythmic beat continues in the choreography as the samurai step out three steps and pause, three steps and pause. The aural close-up of the wind rustling through the grass carries over the rhythmic structure of the music, as its volume rises and falls, pulling in and out, in mimicry of the crescendoes in the earlier music.  It will be almost three minutes before the biwa suddenly breaks back into the scene; for three minutes the focus is on the rhythm of the choreography.  This is a choreography not only of the bodies of the samurai but of every other element of the mise en scène.

Adrian Martin has written of cinematic moments when the “energies of bodily performance, of gesture and movement collide willy-nilly […] with the figurative work of shooting, framing, cutting, sound recording.”[8] Martin writes of the performing bodies of actors, but here it is also the multiple “cinematic bodies” that perform: the cinematic body of the rippling grass, the body of the swirling mist, of the gathering clouds, of the clashing swords, of the horizon tilting precariously, the body of the scraping, grating wind sounds in the grass and, as the music comes in, the cinematic body of the biwa and the percussion instrument, with their jangling, aggressive posturing. All are choreographed against/collide with the performing body of the camera as it plunges into ever more oblique angles. The intensity of the scene is held here in sound, there in image; here in bodies, there in wind; here in space, there in pace. This is what it means to have a performative understanding of mise en scène: to understand that pictorial composition is but one dimension of the complex, dispersed rhythms and intensities of sound and image. Kobayashi and his composer, Takemitsu, work with the divergent material properties of sound and image but bring them together, into dialogue.  While they retain their heterogeneous materiality, the senses that they bring alive are harvested into one aesthetic energetic impulse.

The best model we have to describe this process is Sergei Eisenstein’s concept of polyphonic montage. In formulating his conception of montage, it is no coincidence that Eisenstein turned to traditional Japanese theatre for inspiration. He evoked the kabuki actor, Shocho, describing the way the actor performs in a body in fragments, which he called “disintegrated acting”:

[Shocho […] performed his role in pieces of acting completely detached from each other: Acting with the neck and head only. (The whole process of the death agony was disintegrated into solo performances of each member playing its own role: the role of the leg, the role of the arms, the role of the head). A breaking up into shots. With a gradual shortening of these separate successive pieces as the tragic end approached […] by this method, the actor is enabled to fully grip the spectator by “rhythms.”[9]

Eisenstein describes this as a kind of relay—passing the baton from one element to another, or like a soccer team passing the ball back and forward as they run. This relay becomes a key model for his concept of polyphonic montage; he writes of film as a symphony, and envisages a film score like an orchestral score, on which are plotted the complex articulations of “figuration, montage, sound, color, etc,” as Jacques Aumont writes.[10] Aumont describes Eisenstein’s vision of a polyphonic montage in which all of the “various audio-visual elements have ‘equal rights’,” and writes that:

Eisenstein goes as far as to imagine a completely new “mixture” of all the stages at the same time—instances, for example, where the function of figuration would be assumed by the music, and where the visual elements would construct the global image from this figuration.[11]  The influence of traditional Japanese aesthetics added depth and subtlety to Eisenstein’s understanding of montage. As Michael Taussig writes, this heritage fed into Eisenstein’s thinking about the physiological dimensions of cinematic affect.[12]

Harakiri’s composer, Takemitsu, appears particularly attuned to the discovery of similarity or pattern between modes, to thinking cross-modally—experiencing and thinking of one sense as the other or complemented by the terms of the other. He describes his way of working with film, in which sound and image cannot be conceived separately. He sees images as music: “I love movies because I experience them as music” and sees music as image: “when I hear sound, maybe because I am a visual person, I always have visions. And when I see, I always hear. These are not isolated experiences but always simultaneous, activating imagination.”[13]

Again and again, Eisenstein’s statements about the sound film echo the synaesthetic schemas of Takemitsu. Eisenstein writes of “finding an inner synchronization between the tangible picture and the differently perceived sounds,” of “a perception of the pieces (of both music and picture) as a whole.”[14] He refers to jazz as a model, which, he says, “doesn’t employ voices with accompaniments, similar to figures against the background. Everything works. Each instrument performs its solo while participating in the whole.”[15] In “The Unexpected,” he writes of the method, in kabuki, of “in place of accompaniment transferring the basic affective aim from one material to another, from one category of ‘provocation’ to another.”[16] One must, he writes, “develop in oneself a new sense: the capacity of reducing visual and aural perceptions to a ‘common denominator’.”[17] The core of the connection he sees between film and kabuki is the “non-differentiation of perception”: “the unexpected junction … of non-differentiated sense ‘provocations’ of kabuki on one side, and on the other—the acme of montage thinking.”[18]

Recent debates on synaesthesia probably offer the closest approximation to articulating how this “flipping” occurs, but Harakiri demonstrates the potential of cinema to produce modes of experience that are more than simply cross-modal experience. This is of a different order: this is not just sound as image or vice versa. It is a recognition that the ways we watch and experience film are much more fluid, more flexible than any analysis of sound or image as separate modalities—or any cross-modal analysis—could encompass. It is a recognition that a musical beat, for example, can evoke rhythmic patterns that can then be taken up as the rhythmic beat of an image in a recognition of mimetic similarities: that agitated grass can fracture the plane of the image, “grating” the visual field such that, when the biwa comes in, it can catch that discordant grating and amplify and spread it, fling it back onto the body of a samurai; just as Shocho could act with one element then another to produce what Eisenstein calls a “monistic ensemble,” so can a scene disperse its intensities across the whole cinematic system to awaken the full mimetic experience of the viewer.[19]

It is most likely that Takemitsu was familiar with Eisenstein’s theoretical work on montage, given the long history of interest in Eisenstein’s work in Japan dating back to both personal and intellectual exchanges in the Taisho era (1912-26), when his work was translated and vigorously debated in the context of Japanese left-wing artistic movements. There were also extensive debates on Eisenstein in Japanese avant-garde circles in the 1950s and 1960s.[20] Given that several of Takemitsu’s key film collaborators had a vital interest in Eisenstein’s ideas, it seems that Takemitsu’s understanding of his film scores could not be uninfluenced by these debates on Eisenstein’s seminal theorisation of the nature of audio-visual counterpoint in the sound film, which in turn drew on the Russian’s encounter with kabuki.[21]

Takemitsu’s writing is full of a fascination with, and a close interrogation of, the aesthetic concepts of traditional Japanese music: the attempt to “study very deeply, and very carefully, the essence of traditional Japanese music, to explore unknown worlds, and to recreate, or reelucidate, in new, modern forms, what we’ve learned from our traditions.”[22] When Takemitsu talks about space, time and the image, he draws on a lexicon of traditional concepts that impregnate space with the rhythms and punctuation of time, that instil supposed stillness with movement and transformation and that saturate image with sound, and sound with image. Central to Takemitsu’s writing about the question of time and space is the concept of ma. The Noh scholar, Komparu Kunio, describes ma as “a unique conceptual term, one without parallel in other languages … because it includes three meanings, time, space and space-time.”[23] The concept is loosely translated as “a pause, or interval.” [24] Takemitsu describes ma as a rich, resonant silence and as a “living space, more than actual space.”[25]

Takemitsu’s transformational conception of the relationships between two entities has a close affinity with the concept of montage—an understanding of how to mobilise the interval as a transformative moment—and resonates strongly with Eisenstein’s synaesthetic aspirations for cinema. Takemitsu’s contemporary reframing of ma, as an aesthetic foundation for the conceptualisation of audiovisual space-time relationships in his film scores, speaks to a highly syncretic reinvention of audiovisual montage as a model that has flipped back and forth across the plains of Siberia over decades of cultural cross-fertilisation. The concepts Takemitsu evokes from traditional Japanese aesthetics give us another way to think this fundamental principle—that space and time are not separate (space is temporal/ lived); that sound and silence are not opposites (jostled silence); that image and sound can be thought as mimetically similar—of the one impulse.[26]


Space and time; Stillness in motion

Writing of the composition of architectural space in Harakiri, Contreras does not ignore the question of time. She writes that “[u]ltimately [Harakiri] is about the interaction of time and space.”[27] However, when she writes of the interplay between the visual parameters and the action and figures, Contreras describes this dynamic as two axes in the film: static space and moving time. She sees space and time as two poles articulated against each other in a dichotomy between composition and choreography and between stillness and motion. This conception of time and space and how they function in mise en scène cannot grasp the dynamic energies of the film.

Whereas Contreras argues that Kobayashi counterposes movement and stasis, I would argue that the film works, rather, with the movement in stasis. The only way we could describe this as static space is to marginalise time from our understanding of mise en scène, for casting a shot composition into the flow of time, the pressures exerted by time, is to cast it into the process of its own transformation.

The implications of Contreras’ separation of time and space, evident in her account of shots in which the camera and figures rarely move, are thrown into stark relief in its application to the action sequences. It is with the duel scene that Contreras’ discussion of the film reveals most clearly the inadequacy of a pictorial approach to addressing the dynamism of the film or to giving an insight into why it is so thrilling.

Contreras’ account focuses on describing the diagonal lines that the figures of the samurai make with their bodies and swords against the horizon:

The stylised duel…takes place among wind-blown grasses against a stark open landscape…Diagonal forms are emphasised throughout the scene in the line of the sloping land behind them, a sword slanted across the frame, the placement of characters in opposite corners of the screen, and in the frequent use of oblique angles.[28]

To be sure, the shots are composed on diagonals, but can diagonal composition and the canted camera angle explain how we can feel invigorated, poised on the edge of our seats, holding our breath, senses alert, bristling, electrified by this scene? In Contreras’ account here, movement is conceived almost like flip cards—a shift from one fixed composition to another. Hence the end-point of a sequence of movement, which results in a diagonal composition, is seen to shift to the next end-point—the next diagonal—as if these are frozen moments. The transitions between the fixed poses—the movement itself—appear inconsequential, as is the tremulous disequilibrium—what Alexandre Astruc calls “plastic fatalities”—that continues at these supposed end-points—the accumulation of tensions within and between shots that prefigure and threaten their dissolution.[29] In the cut and thrust of the duel, poses are not so much held as poised, taut, ready to strike; the momentum of the scene is driven not by stasis but by the kinetic energy that bristles and builds with every poised gesture. The strike is contained in the pose, like the cobra, and in the total composure and inner stillness, clarity or precision that animates and underpins the choreography. This is different to figures in painting and we need an entirely different conceptual tool-box to understand it. Indeed, we need to look to traditions of thinking about bodies in space—the kinaesthetic traditions of dance or dramaturgy—for methods of analysing this motion in stasis.[30]

Wong Kin-Yuen has written of a motion/stillness dialectic in action cinema but in a way that emphasises, following Deleuze, that “all images are thought of as moving images.”[31] Evoking David Bordwell’s idea of the “burst-pause-burst action” of kung fu films, he discusses the concept, in Chinese aesthetics, of “being very ‘still’ to the naked eye, but in fact, full of intense energy,” and evokes “the kung fu idea, based on Daoism, of ‘gathering up your shi to a bursting point’.”[32] Wong writes, “the idea is that crouching within things or matter which are supposed to be still are dynamic forces of intensity, ready to burst out at a moment of utmost disequilibrium.”[33] This is a vital concept for thinking about the energy and dynamism of the spaces of Harakiri, in which very little moves physically but the space-time simmers, builds the intensity of the space to an unbearable tension. In order to understand the affective dynamics of cinematic bodies in cinematic space, we need to understand space experientially, kinaesthetically, and to integrate the temporal into that understanding.

In order to fully understand the implications of this, we need to integrate into our way of thinking about filmic space the implications of several decades of work on spectatorship. We need to shift our understanding of film off the exclusive focus on the screen and into the experiential moment. It is not adequate to talk about the “representation of” space, as if it is a question of representation—it is, by definition, a question of experience, in particular the materiality of that experience: it is embodied. In the duel, the tension is not only in a contrast between the lines of the frame and those within the frame. The tension lies in us, as spectators, between our sense of equilibrium and its skew in the image. It is not only the image that threatens to fall over but we also who are teetering on the edge. Because we know the symmetry, the balance and equilibrium of the quadrilateral, the diagonal skews us to lose balance. Our conceptual approaches need to find ways to hold together, in the one frame, these two dimensions: the textual and the experiential.


The mathematics of cinematic polyphony

What does it mean to posit sensory experience as a relay across the senses? This suggests an understanding of perception not as a conglomeration of five discrete senses but as a complex, fluctuating mosaic of sensory memory, templates that match sense and affect, fragments that come to the fore to process certain contexts, certain images, and then recede and lie dormant or resonate lightly while other saturated fragments take on the front-line of perceptual contact. This is not a claim at a scientific model of perception; it starts from experience and works backward to try to find a way to formulate how these experiences of moments of saturated intensity seem to work. We could say, following Benjamin, that we perceive and engage with bristling things in the part of us that bristles, that we perceive tight things with the part of us that knows constraint, and expansive things with the part of us that opens out in a more expansive way. Our reception/perception is woven from these fluctuating articulations of affect and mimetic experience, in much the same way as we could say that sounds vibrating at a certain frequency evoke a sympathetic vibration in substances that have the right vibratory range.[34]

Takemitsu writes: “[s]tones may appear silent, but in relationship to their surrounding they seem to be conversing.”[35] It takes a composer who understands the way stones speak to know how to invent ways of working with the musicality of architecture—to enter inside the mise en scène and set up a conversation between the physical, plastic space of sets, the resonant space of sound and silence, the spatio-temporal fluidity of the camera and the flow of experiential time as the film moves forward. It is this perception of similarities between image and sound, between space and time, and between sound and silence that encapsulates the transformational nature of Takemitsu’s work on his film scores: his transmutation of space into patterns of mimetic awakening.

Walter Murch once described cinema as “stumbling around in the ‘pre- notation’ phase of its history.” He said:

I think cinema is perhaps now where music was before musical notation […] was invented […] when modern musical notation was invented, in the eleventh century, it opened up the underlying mathematics of music, and made that mathematics emotionally accessible. You could easily manipulate the musical structure on parchment and it would produce startlingly sophisticated emotional effects when it was played. And this in turn opened up the concept of polyphony—multiple musical lines playing at the same time. Then […] music really took off. Complex and emotional changes of key became possible across the tonal spectrum … [36]

Eisenstein’s model of film as a symphony and Takemitsu’s schematic diagrams of space-time flow gesture towards the desire for this kind of notation.[37] While it may never be achieved—or perhaps even be desirable—this vision opens up the possibility of a polyphonic conceptualisation of cinema, in the manner of an orchestral score, as an attempt to map sound and image in the affective space-time of cinematic experience. It holds out the promise that this conceptualisation itself could open up the sensory-affective dynamics of cinema and elevate them to their rightful place as the phenomenological pulse of cinematic experience.


Anne Rutherford teaches Cinema Studies at Western Sydney University. She has published on cinematic affect and embodiment, cinematic materiality, mise en scène, indigenous cinema and documentary, and is the author of ‘What Makes a Film Tick?’: Cinematic Affect, Materiality and Mimetic Innervation. Her recent research explores montage and performativity in the work of William Kentridge; and the film work of Indigenous Australian director, Ivan Sen. She has also made several short films.



[1] This article is an adapted excerpt from a longer article, published as ‘Anne Rutherford, “Volatile Space, Takemitsu and the Material Contagions of Harakiri,” Screening the Past 27 (2010).

[2] In all references in this article to the mimetic, I draw on Miriam Hansen’s understanding of Walter Benjamin’s concept of mimetic experience, as a perceptual experience that brings the perceiver into contact, into proximity, with the perceived. Hansen writes that Benjamin’s use of the term dissociates those understandings of mimesis associated with verisimilitude: “beyond naturalist or realist norms of representation and a particular relation (copy, reflection, semblance) of the representation to reality, the mimetic is invoked as a kind of practice that transcends the traditional subject-object dichotomy […] a mode of cognition involving sensuous, somatic, and tactile forms of perception,” Miriam Bratu Hansen, “Benjamin and Cinema: Not a One-Way Street,” Critical Inquiry: 25:2 (Winter 1999): 9). Taussig writes of the capacity of mimetic experience to generate a “palpable sensuous connection between the very body of the perceiver and the perceived,” Taussig, Mimesis, 21. As Gertrud Koch writes, the concept of mimesis in the work of Benjamin, Adorno and Horkheimer gives us a framework to think about ways that “spectators may get riveted to any detail within the frame, they may identify—in a sort of mimetic process—with a landscape, with individual objects or clusters of objects. […] This implies a more emotional, one could even say, animistic relationship to the object,” Gertrud Koch, “Ex-Changing the Gaze: Re-Visioning Feminist Film Theory,” New German Critique 34 (1985): 139-153: 145. In Hansen, Taussig and their Frankfurt School sources, the mimetic faculty is a propensity for a type of perceptual experience; mimetic experience is “the correspondences actualized” by certain types of representation—not the representation itself—and the experience of a relationship, of “patterns of similarity” between things, Hansen, “Not a One-Way Street,” 196.

[3] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema Two: The Time Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 241ff).  Deleuze himself give many examples, but one need look no further than, for example, Antonioni’s so-called “unmotivated” sound montages in a film like Zabriskie Point (dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy 1970) for an illustration of this modernist development.

[4] Harakiri (Seppuku), dir. KOBAYASHI Masaki, Shochiku Co., Ltd., 1962.

[5] Cynthia Contreras, “Kobayashi’s Widescreen Aesthetic,” in Cinematic Landscapes: Observations on the Visual Arts and Cinema of China and Japan, ed. Linda C. Ehrlich and David Desser (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1994).

[6] Raymond Bellour writes of moments when the materiality of space, its resonance, comes to the fore. Bellour describes mise en scène as enacting what he calls a “back-and-forth movement,” in which figures oscillate between two functions: between functioning as an object with identity—with a narrative role, for example a space as a location or background against which the drama of characters is played out—and then functioning as pure intensity. He describes this second function as literally “figurising,” Raymond Bellour, “Figures Aux Allures De Plans,” in Jacques Aumont, ed. La Mise En Scène (Bruxelles: De Boeck Université, 2000): 115.

[7] For an account of the sound quality of the biwa, see TAKEMITSU Toru, “The Distance from Uid to Biwa,” in Takemitsu, Confronting Silence: Selected Writings, eds. and trans. KAKUDO Yoshiko and Glenn Glasow (Berkeley, Calif.: Fallen Leaf Press, 1995), 53-55.

[8] Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin, eds., Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia (London: British film Institute, 2003), 5-6.

[9] Sergei Eisenstein, “The Cinematographic Principle and the Idiogram” (1930), in Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1949), 43.

[10] Jacques Aumont, Montage Eisenstein, trans. Lee Hildreth, Constance Penley and Andrew Ross (London: BFI; Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987), 185.

[11] Aumont, Montage Eisenstein, 185; 183.

[12] Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (Routledge: New York & London, 1993), 28. Taussig writes of the imbrication of Eisenstein’s montage theories with Benjamin’s concept of the mimetic faculty: “time and again in word and image [Eisenstein] expressed those principles at the heart of Benjamin’s fascination with the mimetic faculty” (28).

[13] Donald Richie, “Notes on the Film Music of Takemitsu Toru,” Contemporary Music Review 21: 4 (2002), 5-16: 9; Takemitsu, Confronting Silence, 102.

[14] Leyda, Film Form, 70; 73.

[15] Leyda, Film Form, 82.

[16] Eisenstein, “The Unexpected,” (1928), in Leyda, Film Form, 21.

[17] Eisenstein, “The Unexpected,” 24.

[18] Eisenstein, “The Unexpected,” 26; 27. For a detailed account of the affinities between Eisenstein’s synaesthetic models and traditional Japanese aesthetics, see Steve Odin, “The Influence of Traditional Japanese Aesthetics on the Film Theory of Sergei Eisenstein,” Journal of Aesthetic Education 23: 2 (Summer, 1989).

[19] Eisenstein, “The Unexpected,” 20.

[20] For details of some of the extensive Japanese literature on Eisenstein, see Rutherford, “Volatile Space,” note 26.

[21] Everything in Takemitsu’s milieu suggests that he would be familiar with Eisenstein’s work: one of the first films he scored (Silver Circle, 1956) was for the director MATSUMOTO Toshio, renowned for his work with Eisenstein’s principles. Aaron Gerow writes that Matsumoto’s films were “masterful … in the use of montage,” and that his book, Eizo No Hakken: Avan-Gyarudo To Dokyumentari (Discovering the Image) (Tokyo: San’ichi Shobo, 1963) “was one of the most influential pieces of writing on film in Japan in the 1960s.” Aaron Gerow, “Documentarists of Japan #9.” Accessed 2 Apr. 2010, no pagination. The collaborations between Takemitsu, director TESHIGAHARA Hiroshi and screenwriter ABE Kobo suggest another thread of influence. Yuji Matson traces the importance in Abe’s thinking about film of the work of HANADA Kiyoteru, who “in a similar vein as Eisenstein before him, claimed that artists must rely on ‘musical thinking and pictorial thinking,’ which would inevitably lead to ‘cinematic thinking, a dialectical integration of the two’, ” Yuji Matson, The Word and the Image: Collaborations Between Abe Kôbô and Teshigahara Hiroshi, MA thesis, Department of Pacific and Asian Studies, University of Victoria, 2007, 44. Accessed 1 July, 2009. Takemitsu, Abe and Teshigahara collaborated on Pitfall in 1962 but Peter Grilli notes that “Abe had worked earlier with Takemitsu on radio dramas and seen how the composer’s soundscapes brought unexpected emotional depth to his words,” Peter Grilli, “The Spectral Landscape of Teshigahara, Abe, and Takemitsu,” Accessed 2 April 2010 (no pagination). Abe had also written the scenario for Kobayashi’s 1956 film, The Thick-Walled Room (Kabe Atsuki Heya) (Matson, The Word and the Image, 46). In 1960 and 1962, Takemitsu also scored two films for SHINODA Masahiro, who was later to write a book on Eisenstein (SHINODA Masahiro, Eizenshutein (Tōkyō : Iwanami Shoten, 1983) Citation accessed 2 April, 2010. Clearly this genealogy of collaborations and influences does not elucidate the nuances of how Takemitsu responded to this body of ideas: to trace this response would require a much more detailed excavation of sources not available in English. It does, however support the thesis of his probable immersion in debates around Eisensteinian principles.

[22] TAKEMITSU Toru, “Contemporary Music in Japan,” Perspectives of New Music 27: 2 (Summer, 1989), 198-204: 203.

[23] Richard B. Pilgrim, “Intervals (‘Ma’) in Space and Time: Foundations for a Religio-Aesthetic Paradigm in Japan,” History of Religions 25: 3 (Feb., 1986), 255-277: 257.

[24] Toru Takemitsu, Tania Cronin and Hilary Tann, “Afterword”, Perspectives of New Music 27: 2. (Summer, 1989), 205-214: 212. While I have not seen any distinct evidence that Eisenstein had direct access to the actual concept of ma, it is not unlikely, given his close collaboration with Japanese filmmakers such as KINUGASA Keinosuke, and his interest in Japanese aesthetics.

[25] Takemitsu, Confronting Silence, 51; Takemitsu, “Afterword,” 213.

[26] Takemitsu writes at length of the idea of ma as a rich, resonant silence, or a “jostled silence,” Reynolds, Roger “A Conversation.”

[27] Contreras, “Kobayashi’s Widescreen Aesthetic,” 259.

[28] Contreras, “Kobayashi’s Widescreen Aesthetic,” 256.

[29] Alexandre Astruc, “Le Feu Et La Glace,” Cahiers Du Cinéma 18 (December 1952), cited in Lutz Bacher, The Mobile Mise en Scene: A Critical Analysis of the Theory and Practice of Long-Take Camera Movement in the Narrative Film (New York: Arno Press, 1978). Astruc uses the term, “plastic fatalities,” to describe the way in which, in the cinema of F. W. Murnau, “each image is an unstable equilibrium.” The “temporal uravelling” of the shot, in his account, drives an “unbearable tension” that must end in annihilation (13-14). (Astruc’s original articulation of the term mise en scène indeed came through the close study of Japanese film, especially the work of MIZOGUCHI Kenji.) Even if we accept these end-points as pivot points—the culmination of a movement like a tableau, as Tadao Sato describes—this is not a static notion. Sato writes of the technique within Japanese classical dance, in which a “dancer momentarily holds a certain pose or gesture […] moments […] called kimaru (‘form resolution’), and then moving from one to the next, the body changes its balance in a smooth, flowing manner.” (Tadao Sato, Currents in Japanese Cinema (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1982): 181-2). Sato here emphasises the continuity of time, which renders held moments dynamic and transformative, using the work of Mizoguchi as an example.

[30] It is pertinent here that film scholar Donald Richie makes a distinction between the history of western cinema, in which, he argues, painting and photography have been central, and a pivotal focus on the heritage of theatre in classical Japanese film, suggesting that we should turn to dramaturgy rather than the pictorial arts in our study of Japanese film.

[31] WONG Kin-Yuen, “Technoscience Culture, Embodiment and Wuda Pian,” in Hong Kong Connections: Transnational Imagination in Action Cinema, eds. Meaghan Morris, Siu Leung Li, and Stephen Chan Ching-kiu (Durham: Duke University Press; Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2005), 279.

[32] Wong, “Technoscience Culture,” 277-8. Wong links this argument to Deleuze’s concept of the time-image (279). Wong here cites David Bordwell, Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment (Cambridge, Mass. & London: Harvard University Press, 2000), 222-224.

[33] Wong, “Technoscience Culture, 278. We could explore this framework through the historical cross-fertilisation between kung-fu films and samurai and sword films in the Japanese cinema, or possibly through the links between the Chinese martial arts and bushido, the code of the samurai. This connection has been discussed by M. T. Kato, in From Kung Fu to Hip Hop: Globalization, Revolution, and Popular Culture (Albany: Suny Press, 2007): 13 ff.

[34] This also gives us a way to understand the extraordinary variability of film reception and experience, and even our fluctuating experience of a film at different viewings: that we are made up of a multitude of affective/mimetic interfaces that are constantly evoked and remade with each new experience.

[35] Takemitsu, Confronting Silence, 121.

[36] Michael Ondaatje, The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film (London: Bloomsbury, 2002), 50.

[37] For an example of these diagrams, see Rutherford, “Volatile Space,” no pagination.


The Cine-Files, issue 10 (spring 2016)