Short Movie Time: Go Seppukku Yourselves (2021) review [Japan Cuts 2021]

Introduction

With Go Seppuku Yourselves, Toshiaki Toyoda completes his politically driven Resurrection Trilogy. After critiquing the problematic functioning of Japan’s police and law system in Wolf’s Calling (2019) and the Japanese capitalistic societal system in The Day of Destruction (2020), Toyoda returns to deliver a critique directly addressed to politicians.

Review

One day, Danbe (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) visits the local medicine seller and tell him of the witch hunt that is going on to ‘combat’ the epidemic that is raging through the lands. He warns him that they’ll come for him too because he benefitted from the epidemic. Danbe then tells him that he is searching for the demon responsible for the well contaminations and the epidemic.  

Then one day, Danbe arrests Raikan (Yosuke Kubozuka) based on his possession of a black and gold hannya mask, which represents a jealous female demon in Noh theatre, and an eye-witness account by a woman. Raikan is ordered to commit seppuku. Yet, he will not plunge the blade in this belly before speaking his mind.

Go Seppuku Yourselves (2021) by Toshiaki Toyoda

Toyoda’s Go Seppukku Yourselves might seem to be a simple jidai-geki narrative at first, it clearly functions as a commentary of the current political climate and societal atmosphere. The epidemic that rages through the land is none other than the covid-epidemic that lingers in Japanese society. The news that magistrate’s guards are eradicating lawbreakers by beheading or ordering them to commit seppuku is reminiscent of the way lawmakers are trying to curb the corona-epidemic by ordering the common folk to cut their freedoms.     

There is also a subtle flavour of irony present in Toyoda’s narrative. When the medicine seller remarks that the magistrate is finally paying for his wrongdoings, one realizes, at the same time, that the ones who suffer the most due to the demon’s deeds are the common folk. This contradiction is further emphasized by the medicine seller’s understandable rule ‘no money, no medicine’.

Go Seppuku Yourselves (2021) by Toshiaki Toyoda

Before committing seppuku, Raikan give a speech where he attacks the ruling class – or translated the current Japanese government. He does not only condemn them for allowing the epidemic to spread – You’re letting it spread itself [for economic reasons] – and make victims among the common folk, but he also questions the way they have dealt with things – the ironic conflict between the demand to stay-home and the go-to-eat and go-to-travel campaigns – and confronts them with their own demonic possession, their own intoxication with desiring power.

At a more figurative level, one could argue that Toyoda implies that the infection of the common folk is not so much due to a virus, but due to the way politicians rule the country and desire to control the people. Raikan critiques the oppressive Japanese societal emphasis on working – to live within the ‘law’, and that he demands a reassessment of the position of pastime within Japanese society – a life barely within the ‘law’.

He furthermore demands that politicians embark on a thorough introspection and question where their priorities lie. And he mischievously invites them to ask themselves the following question: do they dare to commit seppuku to see whether they will get another chance via reincarnation or be doomed to Buddhist hell. Toyoda skillfully implies that politicians very well know where they’ll end up.

Go Seppuku Yourselves (2021) by Toshiaki Toyoda

What Toyoda excels at in this short narrative is creating moods and atmospheres. The mysterious but alluring atmosphere that is evoked by his thoughtful combination of slow-moving shots, the darkish colour-palette and impeccable lighting design, and the enigmatic traditional musical accompaniment immediately grasps the spectators’ attention (Cine-note 1). The flow of moods, which mainly depends on Toyoda’s thoughtful and poetic interweaving of visuals with Noh-like traditional musical pieces, immerses the spectator and enables him to deliver his message with a powerful clarity (Cine-note 2).

With Go Seppuku Yourselves, Toyoda delivers, once again, an enthralling audiovisual experience and a powerful critique of the Japanese political system. This narrative, rather than addressing the spectator, is addressed to politicians. He loudly wonders if they have, in full consciousness of their conduct or their karma, the courage to kill themselves to see in where they will be reincarnated. For Toyoda, Naraya (hell) is their only possible destination.

Notes

Cine-note 1: The fact that this cinematographical combination is used to follow in its opening moments, a woman, prostitute (Haruka Imou), is not unimportant. Not only does this combination strengthen the mystery around her destination, but the subtle compositional emphasis of her nape adds a subtle erotism to this sequence. This ‘erotic’ emphasis, moreover, makes the revelation of the demon mask she is wearing and her subsequent act more impactful.

Cine-note 2: Yet we should not forget to note that Toyoda’s sense of geometry – e.g. symmetry – also intersperse his composition with visually pleasing shot-compositions.

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