It is a somewhat common belief that as a culture we have become desensitized to violence and horrifying images. But then, how did a 91 year old silent movie be one of the scariest horror films I have ever witnessed? Teinosuke Kinugasa’s A Page of Madness is one memorable and avant-garde trip through the psyche of the insane.
What is it that makes this movie so unsettling? Is it the un-restored footage? Is it the creepy masks? (Pictured above) Is it the fact that the movie was lost for forty-five years? All of these may have something do with the effect that A Page of Madness had on me. The strange imagery must have been revolutionary at the time of filming because it still has the intended effect to make anyone’s skin crawl.
However, the plot remains the biggest enigma of them all. It is very difficult to follow as no intertitles are provided and during the original showing, there would have been narration. The film is, of course about an insane asylum; but without looking it up, it is hard to decode the motives of the characters. Music is also lacking from the print, which was also supposed to be performed live during showings. I found this to be a passable version. Providing so weird and intentionally irritating accompaniment to the picture.
A Page of Madness is a groundbreaking piece of cinema. A pioneer in the horror genre that clearly took inspiration from German expressionism and gave it a cultural spin for Japanese audiences. It provides a view of human psychology that was unmatched at the time and is essential to watch for anyone studying not just horror cinema but cinema in general.