Sunday, July 1, 2012

Akutoku no Sakae (Akio Jissoji, 1988) @mondomacabro

I have a weird relationship with films that claim to be "inspired by" or "based on" the works of the Marquis de Sade. Being a Sadean in many respects, I revere le Divine Marquis and know his works to be the stuff that film cannot capture, yet I know I must watch anything that makes either claim. Sometimes, fortune smiles and we find a film that lives up to the name in many regards, or at least treats Sade with an appropriate amount of reverence and disdain. Akio Jissoji's The Prosperities of Vice (Akutoku no Sakae) is such a film.

Rather than recreate the story of Juliette, a tome so long it would require a host of films to complete, this film takes on the themes in Sade's work from a philosophical perspective, acting out certain scenes or ideas from Sade's work in the theatre of The Marquis (Kôji Shimizu) during the Shōwa Restoration (so, the film takes place in the 1930s). Like the book, The Marquis is part of a Sodality of Crime, a small brotherhood of libertines with influence and power who commit crime for crime's sake and for the pleasure it brings them. Our leading lady, The Marquise (Yasumi Hara), is wife and slave to the Marquis and his mistress. There are numerous other characters that are only briefly explored.

It is a rather beautiful film to watch. Despite its 1930s setting, it has a 1980s feel... though not in the neon and spandex way, but has similarities to the art films of the day. There is a great deal of switching between "real life" conversations, play rehearsal, and play performance which builds as the characters fall deeper into the abyss of Sade's work. The troop is comprised of (mostly) low-level criminals, people The Marquis can control, and the Sodality of Crime is predominated by libertines who do not wish to get their hands dirty. The pervasive influence of Juliette appears to turn the tide.

Now, from a historical aspect, I cannot speak much to the subtext here, save that the setting of the film during the Shōwa Restoration is not accidental. During the restoration, there was a similar group of "elites" who attempt a coup d'etat designed to centralize power under Emperor Hirohito. This works beautifully with Sade's major villains, who are (almost) always power players; rich men and women who hold sway in the aristocratic, financial, clerical, or judiciary circles. Their grand designs often involve the destruction of the status quo, particularly when there is reward and promise of power to be had.

The best part of the film is that the libertines are essentially rather weak-willed poseurs. Their commitment to crime is only as strong as their position to commit it. Like the Four Friends of The 120 Days of Sodom, the Sodality's members are not people to praise, and ultimately they rely on the strength of those they control for commission of their greatest crimes. Taking a stab at Sade himself also (something Sade would perhaps grudgingly approve of) the The Marquis fights between The Marquise's nature. Is she Justine (the pure) or Juliette (the wicked)? Ultimately we learn she is neither, yet both, just as we all are.

So, for fans of Sade, this is an excellent bit of film. It is critical of Sade's work while being true to it. The extreme perversion we expect from Sade is not present, only a smattering of nudity which is rather tastefully done. There is but one scene that reminds one of Pasolini's Salò which involves sea cucumbers, but aside from that the perversion is of the metaphysical variety. The transfer from Mondo Macabro (reportedly the first US release of this film) is beautiful, and you would have a hard time believing the film is nearly 25 years old.

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