At the Brattle
Perhaps the only mistake which the makers of Golden Demon made was in the title, which suggests violence and Oriental supernaturalism like that in Ugestu and Gate of Hell. Lest anyone be driven away by visions of gibbering 16th century warriors and otherworldly music, it should be explained that the "golden demon" is money and the film is about love and pride in Japan of the 1890's. It contains the striking color photography of Michio Takahashi, with its scrupulous attention to mood and detail, a high level of emotional excitement sustained throughout an uncomplicated plot, and fine acting by the two principals.
By the turn of the century, Japan had acquired the trappings and some of the attitudes of the West. Baseball, beer, and business suits were popular in the upper classes, but attitudes toward women and money were traditional. Kan-ichi, a poorly-off University student, loves Miya, whose parents have arranged a marriage with wealthy Tomiyama. Miya is not submissive about giving up her lover, but her parents tell her that after marrying Tomiyama she will secretly be able to help Kan-ichi continue his schooling in Europe, acting as a "sister" to him. Her sacrifice, of course, is futile since Kan-ichi's male pride sees it simply as desertion.
Each goes off to his respective misery: Miya becomes the chattel of her husband and his mistress, and Kan-ichi a flunkey for "the notorious female loan-shark Akagashi." They are reunited only after Kan-ichi loses his money and Miya attempts suicide. The world, in this case, is well lost.
Golden Demon unfolds in a series of tableaux; transitions are sharp, symbolism through color contrasts more than obvious. To fill in some of the larger gaps, a narrator quotes (?) Japanese poetry as the camera sweeps over the landscape and the background music swells.
Jun Negami and Fujiko Yamanuto, who play the lovers, are aided by their director's sense of timing, which cuts off each of their encounters before the point where the anguish or tenderness would be no longer bearable. Miss Yamanuto's doll-like charm is quite irresistable in a setting of fans, orchards, and gentle snowfall.
Playing with Golden Demon are History of the Cinema and Tara the Stonecutter, both above-average cartoons. "Tara," based on a Japanese legend about a man who desired to be the most powerful thing on earth, suffers from an "Ah, so" third person narrator, but is very well drawn.