Sunday, 7 February 2010


Exploring the complicated relationships between the aesthete and the politician, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s penultimate film Rikyu is a respectful profile of one of Japan’s most revered masters of tea ceremonies, and chronicles his relationship with Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the contemporary daimyō who became remembered for uniting Japan’s politically diverse provinces. Having served the previous ruler with dogged diplomacy, Rikyu strives to focus on his role as tutor, but as he grows closer to Hideyoshi, his supposed political syncretism is pulled into question. When Hideyoshi asks for succour in his decision to occupy nearby China, Rikyu’s wavering is interpreted negatively by the daimyō’s other consultants, who plot to oust him from government.

Teshigahara, a master in the art of flower arrangement himself, approaches the subject with a delicacy which suggests where his sympathies lie, handling every scene as if it were a ceremony in itself. Legendary film composer and frequent Teshigahara collaborator Toru Takemitsu polishes sequences off with gentle flourishes of music, never stealing focus from the intimacy of the two lead characters. The film in some ways finds a modern sibling in Aleksandr Sokurov’s The Sun, which forms an uncritical portrait of Emperor Hirohito, or even Im Kwon-Taek’s Chihwaseon, which artfully explores the life of one Korea’s best-known painters. As with arthouse films in any country, Rikyu has an element of the alien that almost disallows outsiders access, but Teshigahara ensures that we do not see the film as just a cultural curio, and it serves as further evidence of his brilliance.

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