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The Written Face

(Japanese dialogue)

(Japanese dialogue)

Swiss director Daniel Schmid takes in the twin traditions of the geisha and of the male Kabuki players who interpret female roles in “The Written Face,” a calligraphic blend of documentary and fictional interludes. Unveiling mysterious nuances of the feminine psyche in a style that’s more contemplative than revelatory, the film risks leaving audiences hankering for a more communicative guide. But its serene visuals and poised, Zen-like approach should secure it a festival life and some upscale TV slots.

The main subject is Tamasaburo Bando, one of the most renowned performers of the disappearing art of Kabuki theater, and an [7monnagata[22;27m — a male actor specializing in female characters — since the age of 5. Long, uninterrupted stretches of his performances are seen, along with the elaborate process of making up and the ceremonial blessing of the stage.

Bando talks about his approach to roles and figures from whom he gained his initial training and inspiration. Interviewees include actress Haruko Sugimura and the 101-year-old Asaji Tsutakiyokomatsu, doyenne of the geishas.

Other practitioners of classical Japanese music and dance are seen performing , often in unexpected settings such as Tokyo harbor.

Maintaining the distance of a self-acknowledged outsider, Schmid lets the images speak for themselves. As a sometime opera director, his fascination with the austere staging and leisurely elaboration of the Kabuki spectacles is obvious, and aficionados should readily tap into his frequency. General viewers may fail to come up with the emotional response Schmid is angling for.

The director’s regular collaborator, Renato Berta, contributed the graceful lensing.

The Written Face

(JAPANESE-SWISS -- DOCU)

  • Production: A Euro Space (Tokyo)/T&C Film (Zurich) production in association with Televisione della Svizzera Italiana. (International sales: T&C Edition, Zurich.) Produced by Marcel Hoehn, Kenzo Horikoshi. Co-producer, Shoko Kimizuka. Directed, written by Daniel Schmid.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Renato Berta; editor, Daniela Roderer, sound, Dieter Meyer, associate producer, Masamichi Matsumoto; line producer, Saburo Hori; assistant director, Shinji Aoyama. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (non-competing), Aug. 8, 1995. (Also in Toronto Festival.) Running time: 93 MIN.
  • With: With: Tamasaburo Bando, Han Takehara, Karuko Sugimura, Kazuo Ohno, Yajuro Bando, Kai Shishido, Toshiya Nagasawa, Asaji Tsutakiyokomatsu.