DEMON POND (L’ÉTANG DU DÉMON) by Masahiro Shinoda. A theatrical film immersing its filmstrip in Japanese traditions.

Poster of the film 1979/2021 © Shochiku Co., Ltd.

Dear Shaded Viewers,

L’étang du démon is directed by one of the pioneers of the Japanese New Wave, Masahiro Shinoda,  in 1979. The film immerses you into the world of what feels like a fairy tale. On Blu-Ray & DVD February 15th  presented in a restored version by Carlotta Films.

In 1913, traveling in the province of Echizen in the heart of Japan, Professor Yamasata meets the reflection of a young woman, Yuri, who tells him  that according to an old legend, a dragon lives at the bottom of the pond of this timeless village. Her husband, who turns out to be an old friend of Yamasata’s, has promised to ring the bell every day to prevent the release of the dragon, which would cause a deadly deluge. The film opens with a tracking shot of the pond and invites the viewer to dive into it, to dive into the story, and indeed immerses themselves  into a fantastic world. Adapted from the work of Kyōka Izumi, a successful writer of the twentieth century and a specialist of this genre, the film draws its inspirations of staging in the Kabuki theater, a traditional theatrical genre in Japan, focused on exaggerated acting, opulent scenery and the exaggerated makeup on the characters. It is not for nothing that the main character of the film, Princess Yuri, is played by Tamasaburō Bandō, one of the greatest contemporary actors of this genre. He is also what is called an onnagata, a male actor playing the role of a female character.

The pace is deliberately slow, the sets are painted canvas, the lighting supports the lights of sunrise and sunset as on a stage where you can clearly distinguish its source, the characters move their gaze as if the audience was in front of them … At the beginning this may give us the impression that we are not watching a movie but a play, like Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina (2012) which clearly shows us the settings,  we will eventually accept this mix which reinforces the unrealistic and dreamlike atmosphere of this village lost in the mountains. In this, it can remind us of the fairytale universe of Brigadoon an American film by Vicente Minnelli made in 1954, with Gene Kelly, also adapted to the cinema. Similarly, the trio of protagonists questions the beliefs of dream and reality. In Shinoda’s film, the professor that we could think rational turns out to be a believer in legends and in the existence of demons. And Akira, a man of letters, has left the city to maintain the legend so that it does not disappear. Yuri is surely the character who will make us realize that this film is not gender-neutral and that we are about to enter another world as soon as she appears, pure as out of a dream, near the stream. As for the music, an electronic leit motiv by Tomita Isao on synthesizer at first comes as a surprise but supports the disturbing and mystical side of this film imbued with Japanese traditions.

Presented as part of the Cannes Classics selection at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, the director has been selected three times in competition, for Chinmoku in 1972, Himiko in 1974 and Shakaru in 1995. L’étang du démon restored from the 35mm negative of Shochiku Studios, is a fantasy drama with a love story, and is surely Masahiro Shinoda’s masterpiece. Thanks to Carlotta Films, Demon Pond is released in France for the first time.

L’étang du démon by Masahiro Shinoda, on Blu-Ray & DVD February 15th, duration: 124 minutes.