How Wikipedia can offer two complete paragraphs describing the plot for A Page of Madness (1926), I’ll never know. I don’t usually like to call attention to the fact that I’ll occasionally glance at Wikipedia for background information or trivia. In this case, though, had I not read the plot summary, I would have absolutely no idea how to tell you what happens in the film.
Also, I normally take notes while I watch a film I’m going to review. After only a few minutes of A Page of Madness, though, I closed my note-taking app and put down my mobile device. It was clear there was going to be no straightforward story and if I were to glean anything from it, I would have to give it my undivided attention. I’m afraid it didn’t help.
What I was hoping for then was for it to elicit a mood or feeling, which is something a David Lynch film will do for me even when I don’t know what the hell is happening in it. No luck here, either. I can acknowledge that the main character, Servant (Masuo Inoue) is a very sad man. I didn’t really understand why, though, and was therefore unable to empathize with him.
Wikipedia tells me that Servant’s Wife (Yoshi Nakagawa), is an inmate at the asylum where Servant sweeps the floors. Servant’s Daughter (Ayako Iijima) arrives to see her mother, I assume, and is surprised to see her father working there. With no intertitles, how in the world would I know that she announces she’s getting married and Servant is worried about the mental illness in the family being hereditary?!?
Instead, I can only attempt to process what I actually see. Servant peers sadly into different cells to watch their various inhabitants. In one cell, a young woman dances. She may believe she’s elsewhere, dancing in front of a giant, spinning striped ball. An older woman is lying on the floor. She reaches out to Servant and tears a button from his clothing. In her open palm, the button transforms into a silver ball.
In the version I watched, recorded from TCM, there was no music, either, making it literally a silent movie. Although I sometimes want to turn down the volume with silent movies, a soundtrack here may have helped me subconsciously realize what I should be feeling. I didn’t hate A Page of Madness, but I sure as heck didn’t understand it. And I didn’t enjoy the experience of watching it.
Written by Yasunari Kawabata & Teinosuke Kinugasa & Minoru Inuzuka & Banko Sawada
Based on the short story by Yasunari Kawabata
Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa
Starring Masuo Inoue, Ayako Iijima, Yoshie Nakagawa
Released September 24, 1926 (Japan)
RT 78 min.
Home Video Flicker Alley (Blu-ray)