Not a very good movie, Iím afraid, although this Japanese made
depiction of wartime cannibalism is reasonably striking with its
restrained yet startlingly graphic approach.
LUMINOUS MOSS (HIKARIGOKE; 1992) was adapted from a
1954 novella by Taijun Takeda that used an incident of cannibalism to
examine civilized manís attitudes toward violence, illuminated in a play
the novelís inquiring protagonist writes about the incident.
Director Kei Kumai was certainly no stranger to
horrific material, having previously adapted Endoís notorious novel THE
SEA AND POISON, about the torture-murder of an American serviceman by
Japanese surgeons, into an equally controversial 1986 film. LUMINOUS
MOSS is just as gruesome, though far lesser known.
In 1991 a novelist on a research trip is shown a cave
filled with moss that emits an eerie green illumination. The writer is
also informed of a WWII incident in which the crew of a battleship
became stranded in a secluded island cave for three months. The lone
survivor was initially hailed as a hero, but that changed when the bones
of one of his crewmen were discovered packed into a box, suggesting that
the flesh had been cannibalized.
The writer becomes obsessed with the case, and
constructs his own version of what occurred all those years ago. Much of
the remainder of the film is taken up with the writerís imagined
dramatization, in which the stranded crewmen, suffering from extreme
cold and starvation, are forced to cut the flesh from the bodies of
their deceased comrades and eat it--and in one case kill a man outright
so there will be flesh to consume. Afterward a greenish halo appears
around the heads of those who partook (an element created by the writer
in memory of the luminous moss he viewed earlier).
The surviving captainís imagined trial follows, in
which he pleads innocent to the crime of cannibalism and argues that
heíd prefer to be judged only by those who themselves have eaten human
flesh and/or had their own flesh eaten. Naturally the judge and
prosecuting attorney disagree, and it seems as if the captain is going
to be found guilty--but then the sounds of bomber planes flying overhead
are heard, and the courtroom is cleared, leaving the captain alone with
his increasingly horrific memories.
From a visual standpoint this film lacks the formal
beauty that characterized director Kei Kumaiís better known effort THE
SEA AND POISON, being rather staid and uninspired in its visual design.
Iíll at least give the film credit for its unsparing take on cannibalism
that straddles but never quite crosses the line between art and
exploitation. That doesnít get Kumai off the hook, however, for the
supremely odd and confusing structure, taken up as it is largely with an
extended figment of its protagonistís imagination (itís the reason the
concluding trial grows increasingly surreal). The precise nature of that
fantasy will be incomprehensible to anyone who hasnít read the source
novel, whose avant-garde nature didnít transfer to the screen.
Another problem is the stagy nature of much of the
film, which is taken up largely with men talking about partaking in
cannibalism. Kumai might have done better to structure the proceedings
as a play (as was done in the novel) rather than as the lengthy
flashback presented here. As it is LUMINOUS MOSS essentially plays like
a horrific version of the Clint Eastwood directed LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA,
which in any event was a far more satisfying movie overall.
Film Crescent/Neo Life
Director: Kei Kumai
Screenplay: Taro Ikeda, Kei Kumai
(Based on a novella by Taijun Takeda)
Cinematography: Masao Tochizawa
Editing: Osamu Inoue
Cast Rentaro Mikuni, Taketoshi Naito, Hisashi Igawa, Satoko Iwasaki,
Eiji Okuda, Chishu Ryu, Tetta Sugimoto, Kunie Tanaka, Masane Tsukayama