Yet then there's Kurosawa, who isn't working in any genre, really. Suspense, maybe? But that's such a vague a classification. Charisma is an interesting example, and one that's discussed a lot less than his better known (masterpiece?) Cure. The plot is either entirely inexplicable or completely mundane, depending on your point of view. Basically: a disgraced cop leaves Tokyo, heads to the middle of an unnamed forest, and ends up stranded. He meets three weird groups of people, whose actions all seem to revolve around a strange tree in the middle of a clearing. He ends up living in an abandoned sanitarium with a former mental patient who uses whatever means necessary to ensure the safety of the tree (which he calls "Charisma"). Oddness ensues.
Tom Mes, in his review, draws connections between Charisma and Suna no Onna. He doesn't go into great detail and neither will I... the parallels are there if you feel like drawing them. Yet while I was watching it I wasn't thinking of Teshigahara (or Kobo Abe for that matter), but was instead reminded of Haruki Murakami, that other brilliant Japanese author.
It's tough for me to say why, exactly. Granted, I'm a little biased--Murakami's been my favorite writer for some years now--but it's not just that. There are links between the two, stylistic and otherwise. Charisma's protagonist, Yabuike, is strangely detached, and overly accepting of whatever's presented before him. In an otherwise "real" world, he finds nothing odd about a seemingly enchanted tree, or any of the other bizarre elements of the story. Given no other choice, both he and the viewer have to deal with the dissolution of reality in the best way they know how. And this is another thing that brought Murakami to mind: the fragmentation of reality, especially within some isolated, obscure, enclosed setting. His writing is rife with buildings, rooms, forests, and (especially) wells, all of which exist in their own unique "reality." Whatever happens there isn't strange--it makes perfect sense according to the rules of that place. And there's always the chance that these places aren't "places" at all, but something far more subjective and abstract... closer to a state of being, you might say (though I don't think that's entirely accurate either).
And much like Murakami's writing, Kurosawa's lens presents this strange existence in a straightforward, unintrusive style. Wide shots, long takes, little to no camera movement--we get the necessary image, and no more. In fact, in keeping with a typical Japanese aesthetic, he manages to give us just a little less than we'd normally expect. The viewer is almost always kept outside the action, looking in. In another film we might consider this a voyeuristic gaze, but here it feels like something different. The image isn't obscured as much as it's framed by these enclosures.
I suppose I should clarify one thing: I'm not suggesting that Kurosawa is in any way influenced by Murakami directly (although I certainly can't be sure either way). It seems more likely that (at least with Charisma) Kurosawa is working within a very similar--but unrelated--aesthetic and thematic realm. I've actually noticed a unity in style among almost all Japanese directors who cut their teeth working in V-Cinema, churning out endless straight-to-video yakuza pictures. Takashi Miike, in particular... if any consistency whatsoever can be claimed across his heroic oeuvre, it's an adherence to this particular style of shooting. Long takes, wide shots, little camera movement. My personal belief is that what began as economy evolved into aesthetics, but I'll leave that discussion for another time.
Now that I think about it, I suppose the strongest connection I can draw between Charisma and Murakami's writing is a little vague, and entirely personal: they both leave me with a similar feeling, a certain undefinable taste in my mouth. One that I quite enjoy, obviously. It's not even that it's a such great film, necessarily. It just... appeals to me. I guess it might be useful to stop comparing them to each other and instead look back further to a body of work that likely spawned both Murakami and Kurosawa: namely, Kafka. But I'm tired, and this is probably already too long.
This post brought to you by several tasty bottles of Guinness, which I blame entirely for any lapses in spelling, grammar, or logic.