The Demon is an odd film in that it starts pretty darn melodramatically and then gradually shifts tones until it becomes nearly the opposite: a stark two-hander.
Takeshita (Ken Ogata) is caught in a tough place when his mistress of seven years abruptly skips town leaving his three kids with him and his wife Oume (Shima Iwashita). Oume does not like the kids – they remind her of her husband’s infidelity, so she and Takeshita plot to get rid of them.
One of the reasons that The Demon feels melodramatic at first (the yelling and crying aside), is that I don’t really get to know any of the adult characters. I rarely spend time with them alone that isn’t spent in some form of an argument. It’s also difficult, at first, for me to believe Takeshita’s motivation. Does he love Oume so much that he’d sacrifice his children? Is it their relative poverty? Neither comes through strongly.
But both of these feelings of distaste go away by the time the film gets through about the midpoint. That’s because much of the second half of the film is spent with father and each individual child. These are generally heartwrenching scenes, gorgeously shot and acted, and where character comes to the forefront instead of fading behind a facade of angry dialogue.
Takeshita’s daughter Yoshiko (Miyuzi Yoshizawa) has some great scenes with her father. She’s young – maybe 3 – and adorable. A critical scene between father and daughter on a tower overlooking the city is one of the saddest I’ve watched in some time.
But one of the best scenes in here is between Takeshita and his eldest child, his son Riichi (Hiroki Iwase). Takeshita takes his son to a deserted cliff. I don’t have every single shot in this scene, but I have the bulk of them, and most of the really meaningful ones.
As a quick side note (and something I should have mentioned in my previous post about Scattered Clouds), it’s impossible to capture the rhythm of editing (among other things) through still images. Both Naruse’s film and Hideo Gosha’s here are impeccably cut.
Takeshita and Riichi walk down a long cliff together in wide-shot:
As his son gets ahead of him, Takeshita calls out, warningly:
A shot of Riichi disappearing from view-
-and then Takeshita runs after him, finding him still safe (this is one of the many nice ironies of this film – a father committed both to getting rid of and to saving his children, concurrently):
Gosha follows this with some nice spatial trickery. The camera starts on the rocks below (are we looking to see Riichi’s body fall into frame?) and then tilts up, finding us suddenly in an extreme wide-shot, watching these two as though were some other nature observers:
Gosha cuts closer. This is something he does a lot in this scene. It doesn’t feel like ping-ponging, moving quickly back and forth in shot size. Rather we go from precariously on the same cliff, to distant observer; from danger to safety.
He cuts closer still, and then to Takeshita’s close-up, and POV of the cliffs below:
A stunning wide-shot holds for several beats. Will Riichi fall? The question is eventually answered as Takeshita pulls him back and away to safety. This is the second time in the scene Riichi has almost died:
Two cutaways, to the setting sun, and then closer to a distant ship. The mood is somber, the tone melancholy, but pretty. Perhaps Riichi is now safe:
A cut to the bus leaving, and Gosha pans to find father and son now relaxing. They’re now completely alone. Those unseen foreign observers – gone. No more wides from distant cliffs:
Shot-reverse on father and son:
And then Takeshita makes a decision.
We cut to the most symmetrical shot of the scene. It feels ceremonial. Formal. Takeshita walks towards us, as though offering:
The shot behind him is achingly pretty. The last light of day leaves. (Is there an in-joke here: the sun is falling and the son is about to fall?):
Again to the cliffs below – a shot repeated often:
Yet another shot-reverse. Sleeping child and sweating father, both lit by the yellowish-red sun falling in the sky. We can feel the tension and hesitation. Something about the falling son maybe equates to the child’s eventual fall. Or the end of the day seems to signal Takeshita’s last chance. As heinous as it is, it’s calm and somehow sympathetic (at least the child is asleep and peaceful; later in the film I would wonder if Riichi was feigning sleep here):
Back to that shot behind Takeshita as he lets Riichi fall and stares at the sun, unwilling to look down.
The sun disappears. Riichi’s body has also disappeared and is nowhere to be found:
This is lyrical and pretty, one of the two best sequences in the film, and a real testament to not only shot selection and acting, but also to non-narrative cutaways (the sun) somehow matching or enhancing mood. The soft light of the setting sun is never harsh as one might expect a cinematic crime scene to look. Instead it reveals Takeshita’s confusion and his unwillingness to do the unthinkable. This doesn’t make us like Takeshita any more, but it does add to his psychological turmoil.