ⓘ The Ceremony (1971 film)


ⓘ The Ceremony (1971 film)

The Ceremony is a 1971 film directed by Nagisa Oshima, starring Kenzo Kawarasaki and Atsuko Kaku. The film takes place in postwar Japan, following a Japanese clan through their wedding and funeral ceremonies, and the lengths the family goes to preserve their traditions in spite of the damage it causes to the younger generations.


1. Plot

The film begins with Masuo Sakurada receiving a telegram from his cousin Terumichi. He is traveling with his cousin Ritsuko to check out his cabin and see if the telegram is true. Masuo has a flashback to the ceremony on the first anniversary of his fathers death, after he and his mother are repatriated to Japan from Huludao. Because his younger brother died before they returned from the former Manchukuo, Masuo is expected to live for two sons.

Throughout each of the ceremonies, the tangled family web is revealed, with numerous instances of incest that make the relationships between each of the family members somewhat unclear. The continued incest is not only expected amongst the family. Masuo himself is interested in Setsuko, and later Ritsuko, and finds himself in competition with Terumichi for them.

Masuo finds himself sacrificing much of his freedom for the family. He has a talent for baseball, but gives it up when his mother dies and he is not present. He burns all of his baseball possessions except his glove. His sacrifice reaches its climax when he goes through a marriage ceremony to an absentee bride at his grandfathers insistence. He finally releases his frustration and hatred for his grandfather afterward. His grandfather dies years later, and at his memorial service Masuo is asked by his uncles to marry as quickly as possible to have another heir to the family lineage.

Masuo and Ritsuko finally arrive at Terumichis cabin in the films final segment, to discover that the telegram informing them of Terumichis death is true. Ritsuko feels an obligation to commit suicide next to Terumichi, because he had been her lover. Masuo leaves the scene, and outside has a flashback to a childhood memory of playing baseball with his cousins and Setsuko, who have all died.


2. Cast

  • Akiko Koyama as Setsuko
  • Kei Satō as Kazuomi, Grandfather
  • Fumio Watanabe as Susumu
  • Rokko Toura as Sakurada Mamoru
  • Atsuko Kaku as Ritsuko
  • Kenzo Kawarasaki as Masuo
  • Eitaro Ozawa as Tachibana Takeyo
  • Hosei Komatsu as Sakurada Isamu
  • Nobuko Otowa as Sakurada Shizu
  • Atsuo Nakamura as Terumichi
  • Kiyoshi Tsuchiya as Tadashi

3.1. Production Themes and interpretations

The Ceremony, like many other Oshima films, is often seen as a social critique of Japanese society. One of the most important themes in the film is that of the clans attempt to look prosperous on the outside, while it is secretly falling apart from within. In his article on Nagisa Oshima at Senses of Cinema, Nelson Kim makes the case that this is showing how Japan in and of itself is "trapped between past and present", with an older generation stuck in their ways and a younger generation afraid to speak up. Any attempt at changing of the social order is quelled. This is seen best with the character of Tadashi, a far right nationalist sympathizer who coincidentally dies after attempting to interrupt Masuos wedding ceremony.

The film also shows the lengths that the Sakurada clan goes to preserve traditions, and how they negatively affect the younger generations. This is best seen in Masuos wedding scene, in which his bride does not appear. Rather than canceling the wedding, Kazuomi insists that the ceremony go through as planned, with Masuo facing the embarrassment of having to marry a nonexistent bride.

The incest committed within the family is also a recurring critique of Japanese society. The clans obsession with inbreeding to keep the family line pure is a reflection of the conformity and xenophobia in Japanese Society. Xenophobia is also satirized again at Masuos wedding ceremony, when a relative of the absent bride is giving a speech on how this nonexistent girl is a "perfect and pure Japanese girl" who has been untainted by foreign influence.

A recurring scene in the film involves Masuo putting his ear to the ground. The first time the scene is shown, he explains that he is listening for his brother, who was buried alive in northeast China. This is repeated the night before Setsukos death, and again at the end of the film. This gesture becomes a metaphor for the backward morality and that has crippled the humanity of the Sakurada clan.


3.2. Production Style and form

The Ceremony has a nonlinear narrative, jumping back and forth between the present, with Masuo and Ritsuko heading out to find Terumichi, and the past, all the weddings and funerals Masuo attended through his life. Masuo often delivers voice-over narration directed to his relatives about his regrets of the past and his feelings of how they affected his life. The musical score appears mostly during the present day sequences between Masuo and Ritsuko, or in sequences which would otherwise be silent. The ceremonies in the past usually do not have any musical accompaniment.

Oshima and cinematographer Toichiru Narushima often make use of symmetrical framing and wide-angle lenses, and throughout each ceremony often track the camera in toward individuals who are talking. In wider shots within the ceremonies, the camera often focuses on one side of the clans seating arrangement at the ceremony, framed so that everyone in the frame is facing the same direction, similar to the family meal scene at the end of Yasujirō Ozus Tokyo Story.

The Ceremony makes use of many long takes. Some of the more private conversations during the ceremonies are played out throughout static long takes, with none of the characters moving around the screen. Wide-angle tracking shots are often used to help establish locations, as the film does not make usage of the 180 degree rule in its editing.