"When Usagi, a WWII veteran, returns to Tokyo everyone is surprised to learn that he survived. Usagi hopes for a revival of his prewar theatrical career but his efforts quickly hit a snag when another “Usagi” turns up." (2011 World Film Festival of Montreal schedule book, pg. 60)Warning: may contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot's elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further. Really!
I'm not sure what to make of this film. The first part of this weird movie seems to be a variation on the "Martin Guerre" story. After WW2 a man walks alone in the streets. His face is bandaged, he seems shell-shocked and never says a word (for almost the entire movie). A small theatre attract his attention, he walks in and silently sits on the stage from where he is quickly expulsed. However, he is recognized as the rakugo artist Usagi. Considering his state, people assumes he his amnesiac. He is welcomed back without much questions into his artist "family" and they help him coming back to the stage. He is also to be married to the theatre family head's daughter. But he seems now more talented as a mime than as a rakugo performer!
Of course, another man eventually walks into the theatre and this time he is the real Usagi. We learn that both men fought together in the war and when Usagi (the real one) was deadly wounded, he asked his friend to go announced his death to his theatre family and fiancé. Since he was himself wounded and not very talkative, people just assumed that he was Usagi. The man never really attempted deception. He just played along. It is however decided that, since the real Usagi was wounded in the throat and is therefore mute, he would pass his stage name to his friend but would nevertheless wed his fiancé. A big party is planned for the stage premiere of the new Usagi and the couple's wedding. On stage, Usagi takes a big machine gun out and shoot everybody. I guess that, in the end, they all laugh to death (the dream of any comedian, but is it real or is it figurative?).
The movie is sprinkled with weird scenes. At some point, Usagi is sitting on a dock by a quiet lake, looking at the moon (Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata playing in the background -- Usagi means rabbit in Japanese and is often associated with the moon) and then a strange man dressed in modern clothes materialise in a Star Trek-like teleporter and cross the scene saying “I'm a time traveler”. later, in the red-light district, he is with a huge geisha and they start digging a tunnel into the ground (maybe he is trying to free the geisha? Or looking for the machine gun he needs for his rakugo/mime skit? Who knows?).
I feel that the entire movie is built as the punch of a rakugo's story. There is no surprise there since the director is himself a comedian. And, actually, there is a rakugo story that is told throughout the movie by Usagi: A soldier is asked to identify his friend Bob, but he doesn't know he is dead. Or is he Bob himself? “Uh, Oh. I'm getting confused,” says one soldier at the end of the story. “What's wrong,” says the other. “I know I am the one that's dead. But, if I'm looking at me… Who in the world am I?” Well, I am equally confused. The movie started in a very interesting way, but the end is rather disappointing. It is not my favourite movie of this year's festival, but I admit it is quite original. It is certainly worth watching.
The director was at the festival (I saw him in the lobby of the hotel dressed in a white tuxedo), but he didn't show up when I went to see the movie.
Gekko no kamen (Moonlight mask): Japan, 2011, 102 min.; dir.: Itsuji Itao; Scr.: Itsuji Itao, Shoichiro Masumoto; Phot.: Masakazu Oka; Ed.: Ken Memita; Cast: Itsuji Itao, Tadanobu Asano, Satomi Ishihara. Screened as part of the “Regards sur les cinémas du monde” segment at the Montreal World Film Festival 2011, on August 21st, 19:00 in Cinéma Quartier Latin 10.