This Transient Life (Mujo), the debut feature of Akio Jissoji is a stunning and profound film about the conflict between Buddhism and Nihilism. Masao, the only son of a wealthy businessman refuses to go to university and eventually take over the family business. He is selfish and feckless. After returning from an unsatisfactory encounter with a prostitute in Kyoto, he and his sister re-enact childhood memories of playing with Noh masks. This leads to an extended sequence where Masao chases his sister, Yuri, comically around the house until she collapses exhaustedly. Masao then removes his mask and begins to kiss her not as a brother but as a lover, an act which culminates in a violent rape. This in turn turns into a dangerous affair which will have widespread consequences for those around them.
Having been discovered confronted by his friend the priest, Masao reveals he once saw some pictures of hell that truly frightened him. However on seeking out pictures of heaven he found them boring, did not react to them in any other way than indifference. Heaven ceased to matter to him, if there’s no heaven then there’s no hell and this life, passing as it will, is all. In this way conventional morality has lost all influence on him, he does solely as he pleases and cares little for whatever chaos may ensue. The priest is horrified, if everyone thought this way what a terrible place the world would become but Masao is et on his path of destruction and there’s really nothing to be done about it.
The direction and photography in this film are wonderful and it’s a real shame it isn’t better known for this reason alone. There are a lot of innovative and unusual shots here that are unlike anything else from it’s time period. The films score adds to this strange atmosphere with it’s mix of classical strings and traditional Buddhist sounds. Surreal and haunting This Transient Life is profound and provocative film that deserves to be far better know than it is.