Tattoo (Irezumi)

A rather melodramatic adaptation of the Junchiro Tanizaki novella by Yasuo Masumura, who adds plenty of ostentatious fights and writhing deaths. But as with Blind Beast, Masumura is adept at chronicling the subtle shifts in his characters' descent into nihilism and depravity. Otsuya starts of as a willful young girl eloping with her father's apprentice Shinsuke. She cares for him, and he is besotted with her, but their relationship is pushed past breaking point as they get swallowed up by the underworld. Shinsuke becomes a killer, and Otsuya a whore, largely by circumstance, but the more courageous Otsuya is better able to capitalise on her predicament. She starts to use the enthralled Shinsuke to enact her revenge on those who betrayed and exploited her, but she gradually loses interest in him as the body count rises and the prospect of becoming a concubine to a well-connected samurai opens up.

This descent is encapsulated by the tattoo Otsuya is forcibly given at the behest of her pimp Tokubei, a jorō spider with a woman's head that feeds on blood. As part of her initiation, Tokubei shows Otsuya a painting of a geisha standing on top of a pile of corpses – a visual imprinting of the role she will assume. The tattoo is a symbol of her monstrosity, yes, but it is one forced on her by the men who kidnap and prostitute her. The tattoo artist speaks about the way his soul has escaped and been grafted onto Otsuya, so that her murders feel like his. To some degree they are, in that Otsuya is a product of her environment, and that environment is made by criminal men. Perhaps the artist speaks for the director of the film as well, and the writers who conceived and adapted the story. Otsuya is their creation as well, and they are by turns attracted to and then horrified by her, to the point where they deprive her of her life. But they are guilty as well – after killing Otsuya, the tattoo artist plunges the knife into his own chest.


The Shining

One of the funniest bits in Vivian Kubrick's making of documentary is the footage of Jack Nicholson riling himself up for the "Here's Johnny!" scene: manically jumping outside the bathroom door, swinging the axe around, chanting "fucking fuck, die, pussy, die!" Subtext becoming text in between takes...

Because what is Jack Torrence if not a pygmy of a man, a failed writer who feels ashamed to work dead-end jobs? Nervy and insecure, he bullies his wife and takes her for granted. There is an internalised rage at his own impotence that only gets worse as his failure to create, or to exert control over his environment, becomes more and more evident. While his wife manages the household and raises their son, he does nothing but gnaw at his own pathetic existence.

There are subtle overlays to this resentment. Jack is induced to reassert control over his family by a posh Englishman. Patriarchy is associated with bourgeois standards of respectability: the husband gains his authority by being employed, his wife and children in turn must be utterly obedient to what he says. Sex and drink outside the family home are further rewards of this status, although Jack has an almost childlike awe and fear of the female body.

A hidden racism is also unearthed. His son forms a connection with a black man who becomes an alternative source of comfort and protection. Such mixing must be ended, say the haughty poshos. This unacknowledged racism also comes through in the fact that the hotel is built over an Indian burial ground. A horror cliche, perhaps, but it does nod to the genocide that accompanied the creation of the United States. The final shot is of Jack becoming one of those sinister poshos in a 1920s photograph of a ball in the hotel, 10 years after the original inhabitants were forcibly (and violently) shoved off the land it was built on. Intersecting forces of class, sex and race underlie Jack's descent into madness.

I'm minded to ascribe most of these nuances to Stephen King rather than Stanley Kubrick, who I have a low opinion of after the tedium of 2001. This is a far better avenue for his fixation on swooping through beautiful sets with wide-angle lenses. The inherently alienating effect this creates is a good match for the chilling distance between Jack and his family. Makes me think David Thomson is probably right to say The Shining is Kubrick's one great film.


Sex Criminals

Was just going to say: very impressed by Matt Fraction's bravery in taking on the challenge of writing about female sexuality from a female perspective. I'm in a lot of ways not the best person to judge, but his portrayal of Suzie felt very true and those first couple of issues is some of the best comics I've read this year (admittedly, I haven't read that many). When I heard about the eyebrow-raising pitch for Sex Criminals, I expected something vaguely Woody Allen. But the idea of orgasms literally stopping time is used quite cleverly. Suzie's origin story is all about the inherent power and weirdness of sex, and how disorientating it is when it bursts suddenly into an adolescent life. For an orgasm to do something as strange as stopping time, and for you to be unable to tell anyone, actually works as a pretty good metaphor for puberty.

Where the series goes from here is more uncertain. This power is being monitored by what looks like a secret society led by a puritan soccer mom, and Fraction may be thinking of exploring the ways desire is policed in society, or how it can help remake adult life. It's a tricky proposition, but then again the initial brief was tricky enough. And so far, Fraction and the artist Chip Zdarsky have excelled.