Takeo Kimura (1918-2010) was a Japanese art director who started his career in the 1940’s and worked on more than 200 films, most famously along Seijun Suzuki (1923-2017), before making a directorial debut, Nocturne of the Horse-headed Fiddle, at the age of 89. After coming across the trailer, I’ve been trying to track it down for years, so imagine my happiness when I finally found it at Vimeo on Demand! Even though it is available with no subtitles and I could only understand a few words of Japanese, such as ‘jigoku (hell)’, ‘kami (God)’ and ‘tenshi (angel)’, I immensely enjoyed its operatic score and experimental visuals merged into an avant-garde musical phantasmagoria.
A prime example of low budget gorgeousness, this 55-minute-long feature reflects on the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in which Ōura Cathedral (The Basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan) – designated as a National Treasure in 1933 – was damaged, and borrows the motif of Lourdes water that flows from a spring in the Grotto of Massabielle in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, France. Boldly subverting the traditional grammar of cinema, it reaches your subconsciousness by virtue of obviously foil-and-cardboard sets bathed in dynamic, colorful lighting and enhanced through aquarelle-inspired rear projections and CGI interventions that, paradoxically, evoke the fantasies of the silent era. Adding to its esoteric beauty are the lavish costumes worn (and designed?) by model and actress Sayako Yamaguchi (1949-2007) who appears as mysterious, shamisen-playing Zarome, with Seijun Suzuki, Mitsuru Chiaki and Hikaru Harada co-starring. Nocturne transcends both space and time, as it spirits you away to the world of heightened imagination.