The school of new perceptions
A Page of Madness is a Japanese silent film of 1926 directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa. For over 45 years the film was lost, then found by the director himself in his warehouse randomly in 1971. It is a film designed by the Japanese Artists Movement called Shinkankakuha, which means school of new perceptions.
It was an avant-garde movement that in some ways resembled German and European expressionism, which moved away from the conception of pure vision of reality to contaminate it with visions of the unconscious and deform it with the fears and emotions of the mind.
The film was often juxtaposed with German Expressionist masterpieces such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The German film in fact, it is the cinematic deformation par excellence: all the scenographies and sets of the film are completely unreal, built with oblique lines and false perspectives, typical of the dream language.
A page of madness does not reach this scenographic artifice: it tries instead to bring vision and surrealism into everyday images, as happens in a certain sense in David Lynch’s cinema.
The screenplay is the result of the collaboration between the director and 3 other writers, including the writer of the original story Yasunari Kawabata, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1968.
A page of madness: the plot
Experimental, surrealist, dense film of dreamlike visions, the plot of A page of madness is a pretext to delve into the meanders of the unconscious. A man works as a janitor in an asylum. He receives a visit from his daughter and we discover that he was previously a sailor who changed jobs to be close to his wife in the asylum.
In fact, he himself is the cause of his wife’s madness. His guilt complexes prompted him to be a madhouse keeper to take care of her. The daughter tells him that she is getting married but the father is worried that the groom will discover the madness of his mother. In fact, it is said that madness is hereditary and the betrothed may be afraid of having a mad wife in the future.
The caretaker then, in the throes of mental delusions, decides to hide his wife in a place where no one can know of her existence anymore. He also plans to kill the head of the asylum. Then he completely loses contact with reality and has increasingly crazy visions, such as the vision in which he sees a bearded man in the asylum marrying his daughter.
The boundary between reality and nightmare dissolves. Visions and real images are confused in a film that is the very representation of madness. Cinema is the most suitable tool to represent the crazy and dreamlike world of the mind, the deep fears of the unconscious.
The Style of the Film
There is no doubt that the story of A page of madness is unique and somehow related to its content. It is as if the film itself, lost and confined in a warehouse for 45 years, has been confined and marginalized by society. He rediscovered rationality and his cinematic life only thanks to the discovery of the director after almost half a century.
The film is a critique of asylums and the treatment of people with mental illness. A very heartfelt theme in those years all over the world, as evidenced by many other films made in that period on this theme. Among all we can mention the Swedish masterpiece Haxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages, by Benjamin Christiansen.
It is as if A page of madness transforms mental illness into cinematic language: nightmares, distortions, blurring, doubling images, overlapping, overexposure of light. Nightmares and delusions of the mind are the language of the film itself.
The masks are the symbolic theme around which the whole film revolves, the concrete representation of the loss of the individuality of the asylum patients, locked up between bars and dark corridors without end.
Some scenes are complex and difficult to understand: at the time they were explained in Japan by a Benshi, a man who explained the plot during the screening. What in Europe was called a barker.
But this complexity, this lack of a classic plot is precisely the reason why any lover of surrealist cinema should definitely not miss the movie A page of madness.
The cinema of the unconscious
It is an extreme cinema, experimental and crazy, which goes beyond the codes of the narrative known up to that moment. It is a vibrant work of great emotional impact, which takes the cinematic experience to another level of perception.
A page of madness and undoubtedly one of the most radical and disturbing Japanese films ever made, which explores the enormous potential of cinematographic art still unknown today. Storytelling, photography, editing and music blend perfectly in a hypnotic visual flow, a musical of the unconscious.
David Lynch is a director who loves the ballets of the unconscious: Mulholland Drive begins with a dream dance, just like the end of Inland Empire. Perhaps A Page of Madness was a source of inspiration for David Lynch as well.
The images of A page of madness are printed for a long time in the mind of the viewer. Probably because they are archetypes of our collective unconscious. Imagine that somehow we have all met sometime in a dream or nightmare.
The film was featured in the prestigious Slant Magazine as one of the 50 best horror films of all time. It is actually mainly a drama with horror influences.
The director of A page of madness
Teinosuke Kinugasa devoted himself to avant-garde cinema at the beginning of his career, making two masterpieces of silent cinema as A page of madness and Jûjiro, the first Japanese film now distributed in Europe.
Subsequently, in the 1950s, he devoted himself to large costumed productions while retaining a refined and avant-garde cinematographic language, such as the masterpiece Gate of hell of 1953.