Harvard Film Archive: Shuji Terayama

  • 17 Nov 2017
  • 9:00 PM
  • Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138


Friday, November 17, 2017 at 9:00PM

     Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Introduction by Julian Ross & Chizuru Usui 

Young Person’s Guide to Cinema
(Seishonen no tameno eiganyumon)

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Henrikku Morisaki, Masahiro Saito, Sueshi Sasada

Japan 1974, 16mm, color, 3 min

The Reading Machine (Shokenki)
In this Borgesian satire on knowledge and technology, bibliophilic desire leads to the construction of a pedal-powered reading machine. Resembling a combination of gymnastic contraption, printing press and early cinematic apparatus, the machine’s purpose remains ambiguous. And like this machine, Terayama’s film connects his work in poetry, motion picture and graphic design by weaving together printed and projected, still and moving images. Alphabetic characters are shuffled across a board game, and costumed characters shuffle through a cityscape to the tune of J. A. Seazer’s imaginative soundtrack. The camera lingers on an image of a man crawling through a screen—a premonitory illustration of Terayama’s interest in rupturing façades, illusion and identity. The final book we see is blank, and the film ends in a funeral dance. Such ambivalence articulates Terayama’s interrogation of written and cinematic language, evident elsewhere in inky strikethroughs (Video Letter, 1983) and Brechtian transgressions (Laura, 1974).

Directed by Shuji Terayama. With Toshihiko Hino, Keiko Niitaka, Takeshi Wakamatsu
Japan 1977, 16mm, color, 22 min. Japanese with English subtitles

Les chants de Maldoror (Marudororu no uta)
A “reading film” of delirious image and text, Les chants de Maldoror takes its title and inspiration from Comte de Lautréamont’s 1869 proto-Surrealist poetic novel which, for instance, describes beauty as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table. In the novel’s six cantos, a young misanthrope indulges in depraved and destructive acts. Unexpected encounters abound, with turtles and birds joining Terayama’s regular cast of snails and dogs to wander over books and bare torsos. Feverish video processing posterizes, inverts and overlays images that are further colored by sound—pushing the limits of his literary adaptation. Terayama wrote that the only tombstone he wanted was his words, but, as Les chants de Maldoror demonstrates, words need not be confined to carved monuments or bound hardcopies.

Directed by Shuji Terayama
Japan 1977, 16mm, color, 27 min. Japanese with English subtitles

An Attempt to Describe the Measure of Man
(Issunboshi o kijutsusuru kokoromi)

Using bluescreen video techniques, Terayama playfully—and with a silent film theatricality—posits a series of postmodern vignettes featuring realities-within-realities as his protagonist attempts some kind of relationship with a nude woman on the screen-within-the-screen. In his struggles to “free” her, he exposes the absurd flimsiness, deceptiveness and mutability of both the cinema experience and our human dimension.

Directed by Shuji Terayama
Japan 1977, 16mm, color, 19 min. Japanese with English subtitles


Curated by Go Hirasawa and Julian Ross with Haden Guest.

Film descriptions by Haden Guest and Becca Voelcker.

Presented in partnership with Anthology Film Archives; National Film Center, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and the George Eastman Museum, with the generous support of the Kinoshita Group. Special thanks: Theodore C. Bestor and Stacie Matsumoto—Reischauer Institute, Harvard; Hisashi Okajima, Akira Tochigi and Chizuru Usui—National Film Center, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; the Japan Foundation; Jed Rapfogel—Anthology Film Archives; Julian Ross; Go Hirasawa.


Tickets go on sale 45 minutes prior to show time. The HFA does not do advance ticket sales.

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