As with so many cult films of its sort, Shuji Terayama's Emperor Tomato Ketchup is these days more often viewed as little more than an aesthetic exercise -- a film that's shocking, outrageous, weird, excessive, and incomprehensibly "avant-garde" in both style and content. But over at Afterall, Thomas Dylan Eaton re-situates Terayama's film into the socio-political context of Japanese culture in 1970; not the least of which was the director's own animus for the reactionary politics of Yukio Mishima:
Japan emerged from the catastrophe of World War II as one of the most pragmatic and materialist societies in the world, and amidst this consensus Emperor Tomato Ketchup erupted deliriously, along with a string of acts of violent political contestation by leftist and nationalist factions -- hijackings, bank robberies and an attempted coup d'état-cumpublic suicide - that were upending Japan's post-War ideology of parliamentary democracy, domestic peace and economic expansion. The film depicts the anarchic scenario of children taking over, told through a series of burlesque theatrical tableaux and a collage of voiceover and found audio documents. The sheer sensationalism of the political exploits, much like the parody depicted in Terayama's film, brought politics close to a visceral form of popular dramatics - an analogy Terayama explored in the text 'Preface to a Theory of City Streets' (1976), in which he wrote: 'Theatres are neither buildings nor facilities. They are ideological "places" in which dramatic encounters are created. Any place can become a theatre, and any theatre is merely a part of the scenery of everyday life until a drama is created there.'