Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Suffering of Ninko – review

Director: Norihiro Niwatsukino

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

Suffering of Ninko is a Japanese release that in one moment is a comedy and in the other an interesting take on both Japanese art and Buddhist symbolism – using both traditional ukiyo-e style illustrations and mandalas within the film to stylise in-film animations. It is also deemed as an erotic piece, something I did not particularly agree with – the comedy within it is almost (and I stress almost) bedroom farce, perhaps even seaside postcard or Benny Hill in nature, but that does not make for a film to be especially erotic.

There is a nice play on a yōkai within the plotting, also.

unwanted attentions
After a moment where we see the novice monk, Ninkô (Masato Tsujioka), in a forest reciting the heart mantra as we see a desiccated body and a bloodied corpse, we move to the monastery and meet Ninkô properly. He is a devout young monk, an exemplary novice, but he has one massive problem. Whilst a monk must be celibate, women cannot resist Ninkô. We see him and his fellow monks in a nearby village begging for alms and the women are all over the young man.

friendly monks
The narration also tells us that his problem is not solely with women and certainly there are a couple of monks in the monastery who have a more physical than spiritual interest in the young novice. To try and change this – as he believes it must be something within himself – he tries even harder to be the exemplary monk. However Master Myoko (Seiichi Shido) decides that Ninkô will not go to beg alms – a decision unpopular with the women of the village.

burnt hand
Whilst his fellow novices are out (and getting a hard time because he isn’t with them) Ninkô sweeps the steps of the monastery, when he hears a female voice calling his name. Seeing nothing he goes into the forest to investigate and sees a woman – hiding her face behind a mask. She disrobes, asking Ninkô to relieve the heat inside her and grabbing his hand, placing it on her breast. The flesh burns his hand and he falls to the floor in pain. When we see her without the mask, we see her face as featureless.

the masked woman
After the incident the attention of the village women becomes worse, with them baring their breasts as they chase after him in the village, grabbing at him and demanding his reaction. Through those scenes we see the masked woman dancing, as though she deliberately intensifies the reactions. There is an interesting theme of consent through the story that I’ll touch on later. Eventually he decides to leave the monastery. Myoko – as a parting gift of wisdom – tells Ninkô that to deny his ‘disturbing emotions’ and to overcome them are two different things, suggesting that Ninkô is a victim of his own karma – something he can’t escape. Eventually, on his journey, he starts hallucinating lascivious women and goes mad for a while.

drained of life
After his bout of madness, he meets a ronin called Kanzô (Hideta Iwahashi). The ronin is stood over a corpse and asks Ninkô to chant for him, claiming he never killed him. He recognises Ninkô as the famous womaniser monk (later his reputation is enough to have him called a satyr). Kanzô decides to follow the monk. They get to a village where the people mourn over a desiccated corpse – the remains of a husband.

Yamma-onna and a victim
The village elder (Masamichi Hagiwara) tells them that the nearby mountains are haunted by Yama-onna (Miho Wakabayashi) a creature described as having pale skin and wearing red rags who seduces (or charms with sorcery) men and steals their life energy – the elder asks for the two men to help defeat her but Ninkô refuses even as Kanzô accepts – demanding the widow (Tomoko Harazaki) and her home as payment. Eventually, however, Ninkô goes into the mountains both because he realises that he and Yama-onna may be in some way akin but also because the widow throws herself at him.

eyes removed
So, Yama-onna is almost succubus-like and is certainly an energy vampire. From what I can gather the name translates as Mountain Woman and she is a yōkai, akin to yamauba – a yōkai known for her ferocious hunger (though yamauba devours her victims through an enormous mouth hidden below her hairline rather than drain their energies). There is a missing villager, assumed victim, who took his own eyes out to escape her charms.

Masato Tsujioka as Ninkô
The film is begging for an analysis around consent and victim blaming. Ninkô blames himself for the actions of the women – as does Myoko who identifies an inner quality within Ninkô that causes the others to behave the way they do and also suggests that it is his fate. Ninkô unfairly gains a reputation despite the fact that he never acted on the temptation in his way and yet, when he finally succumbs to the pleasures of the flesh he blames Yama-onna rather than himself, repeating a mantra of “It’s not my fault”, and then ignoring her withdrawal of consent as now it is her who is blamed.

ukiyo-e style
This is a fascinating film, which at just over 70-minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome. Whilst it is a comedy, as mentioned, one might call that comedy black given the undercurrent of consent and victim blaming identified. The animations are lovely and the film itself has a minimalist feel with a luscious soundtrack – the arrangement of Ravel’s Boléro on traditional Japanese instruments works wonderfully well. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On Blu-ray @ Amazon UK

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