I wasn’t prepared for this – but to be fair I don’t suppose it would be easy to prepare for the sort of experience that A Page of Madness is set to provide within how brief it may be. Teinosuke Kinugasa’s A Page of Madness is an insane film, but in such a sense that would much better be experienced for oneself rather than described. After having been lost for nearly forty-five years, Teinosuke Kinugasa’s surrealist experiment still remains one of the most baffling films to have ever been made, a film to define its time for it is simply something that we are unlikely to ever stumble across once again. Essential surrealist cinema? I would not be one to deny such a statement, but this is a sort of creativity that today might never see the same way.
We are told the story of a man who takes a job at a mental institution as a janitor as a means of rescuing his imprisoned wife. At first, this premise sounds rather simple but it is the mannerisms to which Kinugasa is experimenting with how to move it along that make A Page of Madness all the more baffling of an experience. Putting together all of this bizarre imagery from the entry into the insane asylum, it’s interesting to see how Kinusaga still manages to maintain a coherent flow all throughout for a story that would be rather easy to follow. Indeed it may be an easy one to follow, but it’s from the moment in which the bizarre imagery is coming into play that makes A Page of Madness the one-of-a-kind experience to which it is.
One of the first things that can be felt when watching A Page of Madness is how disorienting it can be as a result of the surreal imagery to which it throws at you. But never is it weird for the sake of weird, it is crucial in the sense that this imagery goes on to depict the loss of sanity that comes along, making it all essential in terms of how it studies mental breakdown. Over the course of his attempting to persuade his imprisoned wife to leave the insane asylum, the man himself becomes insane, and all the bizarre imagery helps in perfectly representing how he was only losing control of himself so slowly. Within due time, he becomes accepted by the many patients who occupy the asylum, adding more to the film’s portrait of delusion.
With all of the delusions coming into play, there’s an interesting allegory presented here. Given as A Page of Madness had been made in between World War I and World War II, there was a delusion amidst some citizens that they were safe in the confined space of their home. People all across the world had thought to themselves that the war would not happen again, but it was fueled by how frightened the people were at possibility. People had been frightened from how they had no knowledge of what was set to come for them, they place themselves inside of a “safe space” that happens to be all in their imagination. Kinugasa’s depiction of such a state of mentality becomes all the more clear when he begins to flash out all of the inmates going through their delusions, for he envisions these inmates as ordinary people. These are ordinary people without a clue for what is set in motion, unprepared for disaster that is set to come in due time.
Striking to all of the set pieces that are put into motion for A Page of Madness, I’m still amazed with how much did such a film manage to invent. Whether it be from the elaborate designs for the paranoid delusions or the real world sequences and the first-person perspective, what we are given is disorientation in the best sense of the word. It all adds up to Kinugasa’s narrative experimentation, in which one can read on the outside that the doctors keeping the inmates are antagonistic forces, but given what our protagonist has went through as he tries to convince his wife to leave with him, the paranoia takes over and blurs everything altogether. No one knew who was trustworthy or not, an accurate representation of the confusing state of politics at the time, or perhaps even something that still runs within our world at this very moment.
If I had been told that A Page of Madness was made even later than 1926, I would believe it – because I’m still trying to piece together how something nearly half as elaborate with what it is experimenting with had been made during such a period. Mass hysteria runs all throughout as a means of defining the best moments of A Page of Madness, because it truly is none other than one vastly insane experience from start to finish. But the allegories that are behind all of this make for something all the more interesting at hand, something that confuses as it does frighten. An essential piece of surrealist filmmaking.
Watch a clip right here.
Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa
Screenplay by Teinosuke Kinugasa, Yasunari Kawabata, Minoru Inuzuka
Produced by Teinosuke Kinugasa
Starring Masao Inoue, Ayako Iijima, Yoshie Nakagawa, Hiroshi Nemoto
Release Year: 1926
Running Time: 60 minutes