“Aayyyyyy, mis hijos!!!!! (Aiii, my children!!!).” Th is the cry of a desperate mother who, according to a Mexican legend from colonial times, turned into a ghost, and shows herself at crossroads, clad in black, dark hair blowing to the wind, moaning, this desperate cry, constantly calling to her dead children. This myth’s symbols are traced even further back: to the Nahua Tonantzin “our mother”, but are universally present with local variations. From the Spanish play Yerma, by Federico Garcia Lorca, which deals with a tragic search for motherhood, from which a dozen different films have been made, to films such as the Mexican Las lloronas (Lorena Villareal, 2004), almost every country and cinema has its own legend of a childless, disturbed woman. Ubume no natsu from Ikio Jissoji, screened in the Osian’s Film Festival is one of the most recent examples. Visually arresting, labyrinthic in its narrative, enigmatic and ultimately tricky in its resolution, Ubume no Natsu is foremost an auteur work.
During the 1950’s, a Tokyo woman from a wealthy family has been pregnant for 20 months while her husband has been missing for a year, apparently after vanish ing from inside a locked room. She lives with her mother in a big house that seems to be part of the key for the long delayed delivery. Sekiguchi, a young novelist has a s lukewarm interest in the case, sparked by hallucinations or, as they’re called in the film, revelations. The affaire is far from private, terrified people ask for police intervention and riot er menace to br eak into the house.
Akio Jissoji (Ubume’s director) has specialised in films and TV series where the mystery is mixed with eroticism, a kind of noir with a double twist. Already in his seventies, Jissoji is a director who’s work can be found only in film festivals, even if a great deal of his work is based in Natsuhiko Kyogoku, usually referred to as the “Japanese Edgar Allan Poe”. Jissoji established his reputation with TV Series such as like Ultraman and Ultra Seven, which have circled the world and been loved by many generations. Owner of a production company, Jissoji has remained true to his personal interests, refusing to give any explanations about his films: “I like things that don’t have a purpose. I don’t like films whose purpose is to move people or give them strength (…) my films don’t have any purpose.”
Symbols from Eastern and Western cultures a re deftly mixed in the script, crafted with elegance by Shinchi Inotsume. Freudian symbols are inter twined with characters like the Ying and Yang Master, an exorcist called to expel the ubume that supposedly haunts the house. This Master is a connoisseur of the human soul, chemistry and medicine. He started searching for something based o n faith, but uses weapons of science, and repeats to a wide eyed Sekiguchi : “ Nothing mysterious exist in the world, there is an answer for everything.”
Ubume could, with some reason, exasperate audiences who expect to be rewarded with a well-explained end. Actually the film br ea ks the rules of detective fiction since he never provides clues, reasons, histories, or motivation. The audience is presented with characters exactly when the Ying Yang Master needs them. But you have very little time to notice this since things happen in the screen , moving incessantly from past to present, from a war tragedy to a love story, from a calligraphic error to a riot; from a flower with narcotic powers to crimes repeated by generations. If the woman has a hysteric pregnancy, a real one or even if is she’s only constipated , this bears little effect in a film, made more to provoke than to explain.
The editing by Yosuke Yefune – who does not use Iranian long takes, nor quick MTV generation jump cuts, but a perfect dance of illumination and movement – has the right rhythm for a story that is more about human beings than about a ghost. Even if there could be a lot more than that, the visual pleasure is more than enough of a reason to spend 123 minutes searching for an ubume in the company of Akio Jissoji.