Winner of a number of awards from the Japanese Academy, Kinema Junpo, Mainichi and Blue Ribbon, “W’s Tragedy” is based on Shizuko Natsuki’s “Murder at Mt Fuji” but essentially takes the film within a film (within a stage play actually in this case) in one of the most successful titles of Kadokawa’s pop experimentalism.
The original book by Natsuki tells the tale of a wealthy family that is torn apart when their patriarch is murdered and their heiress is accused of the crime. The story is adapted into a play performed by a troupe of actors in Osaka. Shizuka Mita, an ambitious young actress, hopes to play the lead role of Mako Watsuji, but it is ultimately given to another actress, Kaori. Disheartened, Shizuka catches the attention of Akio Morita, whom she meets by chance on the street and spends the night with. Despite her pursuit of fame, she also becomes involved with Jun Godai, a popular actor playing the role of investigator Ukyo Nakazato in the play. However, this does not deter Akio. After a tragedy strikes involving the female lead, Sho Hatori, Shizuka is given the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Movies about the workings of fame in both film and theater are not uncommon, but Shinichiro Sawai takes a unique and clever approach in his commentary. The story follows the actors as they begin to mirror the characters in Natsuki’s book, with similar events unfolding. As the movie progresses, the stage play becomes intertwined with the lives of the actors, creating a complex and captivating experience that is the highlight of the film.
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In addition, this approach also allows him to articulate the aforementioned comments with grace. The cutthroat world of show business is portrayed in its most dismal hues, as the rivalry among actors for the leading role drives them to engage in acts of sex, violence, and other intense actions. This leads some to completely lose their sanity, having compromised their integrity long before. Akio’s idealism, which ultimately takes him out of the industry, also follows this pattern. Additionally, the response of the cast when a scandal breaks reveals the lack of camaraderie within the troupe. The way the stars look down on their colleagues and the director’s mistreatment of even them are subtly but effectively showcased, painting a bleak picture of the industry.
Akio’s character stands out as the kindest and most decent among the group, as evidenced by his presence outside the theater. However, his relationship with Shizuka is portrayed somewhat awkwardly, possibly added for comedic relief. The ending also follows this lighthearted tone.
However, Hiroko Yakushimaru’s portrayal of Shizuka Mita stands out with her skillful delivery of dialogue and her character’s constant wavering in her relationship with Akio, making her the most charming aspect of the endearing performance. Masanori Sera’s portrayal of Akio is decent, but his character lacks depth and this is reflected in his performance. Yoshiko Mita’s portrayal of Sho Hatori is superb both on and off stage, adding to the overall theatricality of the story.
Seizo Sengen’s cinematography effectively captures the dramatic elements mentioned previously, while also emphasizing the contrast between the stifling atmosphere of the theater and the more serene setting outside. The scene in the hotel, specifically the incident that takes place there, stands out as a highlight. Kiyoaki Saito’s editing creates a sense of urgency that effectively conveys the tension of the theater arc, reaching its peak during the scene where roles are announced. However, the ending could have been slightly more cohesive without detracting significantly from the overall quality of the film.
“The Tragedy of W” is a highly intelligent film with excellent cinematography and acting. It effectively delivers its thought-provoking messages through a captivating approach that keeps the audience engaged from start to finish.