This review was updated on March 3, 2005
A series of 150-meter-long paper parchments are transferred to celluloid spools in “Into the Picture Scroll,” an ambitious and tediously faithful rendition of a classical Nipponese yarn. Strictly for dedicated Japanologists and other culture vultures, pic has an extremely limited market. Pubcasters seeking educational material, and Japan-affiliated art organizations, look to be the most obvious takers.
After a contempo prologue which contextualizes the 17th-century document, film reveals the tale therein through a combo of narration and detailed examination of the illustrations contained in the 12 scrolls. Though the producers advise viewers to read the plot synopsis beforehand to enhance appreciation of the classic artwork, yarn about the killing of Lady Tokiwa in the town of Yamanaka, and the subsequent revenge plan of her princely son, is relatively simple. Even in Japan itself, classical texts are an elite taste and, while the drawings are impressive, general auds are unlikely to be moved. English subtitles in print caught are crisp, helming is businesslike and technical credits are efficient. Extensive use of traditional Japanese stringed shamisen as musical accompaniment, though appropriate, may vex some audiences.