“Kichiku” (original title)
Sometimes I stumble upon disturbing movies. Movies so difficult to watch that in the ritual of masochism I watch them in silence. “The Demon” was such a movie and at the end of it, I felt relieved, but deeply bothered with what I’ve just seen.
Kikuyo, a mother with three children comes to her lover Sokichi who is happily married to another woman. He doesn’t provide for them anymore because his job in lithography workshop is in decline. In passionate conflict with his wife she is humiliated and out of protest, she’s left the children to his care and gone away. His wife Oume, surprised by the events is angry and doesn’t want to carry the burden of children she didn’t want in the first place. The beginning of “The Demon” is at hand and one of the most disturbing movies I’ve seen in a while will take its turn.
Like in some Grimm fairy-tale, stepmother and father will implement the solution to their problem which is impossible to comprehend, but that solution will completely justify the title of the movie. Three children, Riichi, Yoshiko and Shôichi will endure heavy abuse from Oume with indifferent reactions of the father. Torment is, however concealed within the “family” and all the institutions are failing to react. Social and realistic picture of postwar Japan painted by great Japanese director Yoshitarô Nomura will heavily disturb the viewer and it will be extremely difficult to comprehend but it’s worth it.
Cinematography of this movie is exquisite. Sometimes I had a feeling that I watch a collage of wonderful pictures and that brightly painted nature of Japan gave an interesting contrast to the bleak and disturbing subject of the movie. Every sane person must ask itself about the reasoning of Oume and Sokichi. Ken Ogata played spineless Sokichi so well that all the layers of his internal conflicts were completely revealed to me. Scenes of his conversations with Oume (which could pass for real demon of this movie) were very emotional and in one particular erotic scene after the tragic event “The Demon” reminded me of an “Antichrist” by Lars von Trier. Same disturbing feeling about the child’s fate was present here, and same reaction of the parents too. Film as an art has already dealt with the subject of tormented children prior to “The Demons” (“Carrie”) but it has never done it quite like this using in completely realistic and everyday setting. That’s why Nomura’s movie is part of “Criterion” collection and why it’s important in the history of the cinema. The most extreme of all evils a man can do is an evil done to his own children. It’s always hard to approach such subject. It’s as extreme as it can be and the filmmakers are always in the danger to overdo it and loose the reality grip. That was not the case with Nomura. He managed to give us the insight into the social and very realistic picture of Japan in the time of crisis and the feeling we have for the characters were powerful enough to keep the attention and interest through all the monstrosities in the movie.
Shima Iwashita in the role of an evil stepmother was truly powerful. The story goes that the children of the film couldn’t be near her during the first screening of the movie because they were too traumatized by her performance. They, supposedly, even refused the sweets she offered them. Her performance was the embodiment of the fear itself. She could be the villain in a horror movie if the movie was made differently. However, the true horror of “The Demon” is hidden in its realism. The movie was based on a novel inspired by a testimony of a Tokyo detective about the true case which took place in post-war 1950s. Japan had a problem of a large number of abandoned children which couldn’t be fed and provided for in a time of crisis. Abandoned children were a burden for devastated state and “The Demon” is among the first movies about the subject which faced the Japan with the other, horrific image of postwar reality. Another worthy performance was that of Hiroki Iwase, child-actor who played the oldest of three children in the movie. As the oldest he was fully aware of everything that took place around him and his reactions were excellent to see. As the film was coming to an end, Iwase became more and more important and in the most dramatic scene when his father was holding him looking at the sunset in his hand everything that happened up to that point came into balance. We understood the true meaning of inhumanity, and Nomura made it as a parody of aesthetics conflicting the most poetic scenery (sunset) with the most dramatic choice (fate of the oldest son). Japan is often referred to as a “land of a rising sun” but in Nomura’s world the sun is falling. His Japan has lost its optimism and his look into the future is very pessimistic.
However, the conclusion of the movie is not without hope. The biggest question is left for the last scene. Will the circle of evil and inhumanity continue? Is there any hope left for humanity? I’ve read that the best translation of the title would be “inhuman” instead of “The Demon” and that’s maybe true. The strongest emotion of all is the bond of parent and the child. When that bond is severed as it was in this movie inhumanity thrives.
Hope is hidden in the fact that the children, more often than not, are willing to forgive.