The third hour of Kiju Yoshida’s Eros + Massacre starts with Noe Ito (Mariko Okada), one of the lovers of Japanese anarchist and free love advocate Sakae Osugi, walking through a Japanese city in 1969. How did she get here? What time machine brought her here from 1923? The point of view shifts rapidly. Is Jean-Luc Godard watching the cars circle the roads? Is Michelangelo Antonioni staring at the humans eclipsed by architecture? Is Federico Fellini following a paparazzo?
Eiko Sokutai (Toshiko Ii) struts across the screen. Her walk, her outfit, her air – they all shout modern woman. She, however, is not interested in the modern. She is researching the past, the lives of Osugi and Ito. They are the progressives – she wants to know what they think about the future.
But, how can Eiko and Noe talk about the future? More importantly, when and where can they talk about the future? Eiko and Noe find a spot in the reeds with the city in the background and a cross between them. We are watching Eros + Massacre. Eiko is asking Noe questions. She asks, “What do you think of these past 46 years, from 1923 to 1969?”
The film continues thinking. Silence. Noe smiles. A funereal pipe sounds. Noe frowns. Osugi walks through the city with his son trailing behind. He is heading to his death. It is 1923. It is 1969. Eiko is recording Noe with the city, the cross, and the reeds in the background. The film is one long question that envelops all: can we be free? Or, perhaps, it is another question: can we be free and be in love?
Film critics love thinking about movies. They love to talk about the ideologies or the worldviews they represent. It is hard to know what to do with a film that wants to be free to do the same. The critical apparatus is suddenly useless – we can only think with the film and love it. Eros + Massacre follows a line of thought for almost four hours without once becoming simplistic, tiring, or predictable. It flips between forms, spaces, times, views. Hopelessly adulterous, it uses what it needs to think and dispenses with it once it gets in the way.
Like Osugi, the film wants to love freely. It wants to love Godard, Antonioni, Fellini, Kinoshita, Ozu, Bresson, Bergman. It does not want to be cinematically monogamous. It wants to keep going. As the film tells us: “Love dies if it has no freedom.”