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Fantoma Films presents
Manji (1964)

"Love between women is like the love of a work of art."
- Sonoko Kakiuchi (Kyouko Kishida)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: April 29, 2002

Stars: Ayako Wakao, Kyouko Kishida, Yusuke Kawazu, Eiji Funakoshi
Other Stars: Kyu Sazanka, Ken Mitsuda
Director: Yasuzo Masumura

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:29m:58s
Release Date: April 23, 2002
UPC: 014381169126
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-B+B+ C

DVD Review

The world of obsession and desire come to life in Yasuzo Masumura's screen adaptation of Junichiro Tanizaki's Manji. Demonstrating the power of iconography, the manji—a cross with hooked arms pointing in a single direction, and mirror image of the swastika—is easily misinterpreted in modern culture as the symbol for Nazism, though its origins date back to 2000 BC. The Sanskrit swastika denoted good fortune, and the ever-changing universe, contrasting the heavens and earth, night and day, in opposing though connected and balanced fashion. Buddhism adopted it as the "seal on the heart of Buddha," and the ancient Chinese wan symbolized the four points of the compass; circa 700 AD it became the character for the infinite (literally 10,000, or countless). Through its Buddhist origins, the Japanese took the manji as a symbol for enormous luck and protection against evil powers, while reversed, it signified grave misfortune.

As pointed out in the accompanying essay, for the purposes of the film, the form of the symbol is much more relevant than its historic meaning, as the protagonists in the story each have separate directions, yet are fixedly intertwined. Through the confessions of one of the characters, Manji explores the relationship between four people, all drawn together by an inescapable force. As she tells her story, a woman captivated by the beauty of another spins a tale of forbidden love, treachery and tragedy.

Sonoko Kakiuchi is the wife of a lawyer, who is taking amateur art classes as a way to escape her dull lifestyle in Osaka. While sketching the image of the Goddess of Mercy using a class model, her principle notes that the face is not that of her subject, but of another student. Mitsuko Tokumitsu is the woman she is drawing, an idyllic beauty who has captured her imagination. When rumors begin to circulate that the two women are having an affair, they finally meet and decide to play along with the speculation.

Married for her family's wealth, Sonoko's relationship with her husband isn't spiritually fulfilling. While there isn't any real animosity between them, there is a distinct lack of passion, so when Mitsuko agrees to accompany Sonoko home to pose for a new portrait, the housewife finds herself uncontrollably attracted to her, which begins their torrid affair. Sonoko's husband Kotaro objects to the situation, not quite grasping what is happening between the two women, but repulsed by the thought that they are lovers, an unnatural and taboo arrangement. Sonoko is not willing to give up her new partner, but things get more complicated when she discovers Mitsuko has another lover, a sly and manipulative young man who has his own dangerous obsession with her. A web of deceit begins to unravel, drawing the players ever closer in an intense spiral of jealousy and betrayal, with the inevitable consequences causing an abandonment of all sensibilities and reason.

Masumura was the first Japanese student to attend Italy's prestigious Centro film school, whose alumni include the likes of Michaelangelo Antonioni, Liliana Cavani and Dino de Laurentiis. Filmed in glorious scope, Masumura fills his screen with simple, yet effective compositions. The direction is even, with his cast of players, most of whom have a long association with the director, embodying their roles wonderfully, exuding the passion and turbulence caused by their tangled affair. The exposition is well paced, as twists in the plot emerge with each meeting. The melodrama is high in true Japanese fashion, as pacts and allegiances shift the balance of power throughout the picture. While able to capture the sensuality of his subjects, Masumura does so without excessive voyeurism or blatant sexuality. The result is an exquisite photoplay, rich in the pitfalls of human desire, with interesting and dire unexpected consequences.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The scope image is very good overall, somewhat soft, but natural in look. Fine grain is well preserved, colors are solid and well saturated, and black levels appropriate. Print defects are pretty minor, limited to a few jump frames and some specks here and there. Aliasing or shimmer are minimal at best, but there is some dot crawl in the reds or around high contrast areas, but not enough to prove distracting.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Mono Japanese is presented fairly well, with most of its problems related to the source. Sync is off in places, there are some clicks and pops throughout, as well as the odd dropout. Sibilance is a bit excessive, and there is an edge of distortion at times. Frequency coverage is acceptable, but limited in range. Instrumentation in the score is well defined.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
  2. Essay
Extras Review: Extras include a decent biography and filmography for the director, the theatrical trailer, and an 11-image photo gallery. Menus feature simple animated inserts, with the central theme as background music; however this is fairly harsh sounding. The insert contains an essay which covers various aspects of the film, in particular the symbolism of the title, and contrasts to other films by the director.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

With a masterful sense of exposition, Yasuzo Masumura's Manji delves into the taboo of forbidden sexuality, weaving an intricate web of circumstances and relationships from which the only escape is in death. Splendid performances, exquisite cinematography, and an engaging storyline combine to create a very interesting film. Its only drawback for western audiences may be its reference to cultural ideologies, whose societal importance may not be as easily perceived by cultures less steeped in tradition.


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