Watching Tezuka’s Barbara (Macoto Tezuka) and No Longer Human (Mika Ninagawa) in tandem brings about inevitable comparisons.
Both films center around a famous writer. Barbara’s Yosuke Mikura is nearly the fictitious mirror to Human’s Osamu Dazai – a real author. Both characters in these films struggle with substance abuse and a God complex. They both love excess, women, and wish to live out fantasies in order to pen wonderful stories. Mikura and Dazai are self destructive, and objectify women. Everything is about their craft, but without a proper muse, their talent comes to a standstill. One might question if they are even good writers. Nevertheless, they make for interesting protagonists. By coincidence, one of their female companions is portrayed by the same actress. Fumi Nikaido shows remarkable diversity in her acting skills, as she plays meek, naive and obsessive in Human, and outgoing, frivolous and free-spirited in Barbara.
A jazzy soundtrack and almost palpable late-night cigarette smoke fuel Macota Tezuka’s adaptation of his late father Osamu Tezuka’s adult-oriented manga. Tezuka’s Barbara is an abridged version of Senior Tezuka’s creation. As such, it doesn’t spend much time elaborating certain elements, such as a very random occult ceremony and a sexy scene with a female mannequin.
Taken at face value as a tale of obsessive love, we can overlook these plot holes. Junior Tezuka’s rendering of such elaborately outrageous story elements is quite efficient, otherwise. Christopher Doyle’s cinematography helps elevate Nikaido’s screen presence from drunk street urchin to muse.
The lines between fantasy and reality become more and more blurred, and arrive at a poignant but absurd climax.
Poignancy and absurdity are also present in No Longer Human. Knowing the events are based on a real person’s life make them all the more heartbreaking. Isolation, adultery, domestic boredom and a feeling of wanting to be free, are all themes the film explores. Though they are sometimes seen through Dazai’s point of view, the majority are expressed by the women in his life.
Mika Ninagawa’s signature style is instantly recognizable from the intro sequence. As with Diner, the lushness of her color schemes are everywhere. This lends to the skewed view of Dazai, lost somewhere between fact and fiction. The author was accused of using sensationalism to sell his books. To fuel his writing, he made plans of double suicides, impregnating mistresses, and otherwise acting recklessly just for a good story. As his life fell apart around him, his plots took flight. On the verge of tragedy, he put pen to paper. The same motif seen in Tezuka’s Barbara implies that a writer will still write, no matter the chaos around him. Until his last breath, there will always be one more word to scribble.
Tezuka’s Barbara – 5 PM, Aug 28th, 2020
No Longer Human – available On Demand until September 2nd, 2020