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5 Best Matsumoto Toshio Short Films

Matsumoto is best known for the film Bara no souretsu / Funeral Parade of Roses, a movie about Tokyo’s hidden gay subculture during the 1960s. His other notable film, Shura / Pandemonium is also highly regarded, and I’d consider it even better than Bara no souretsu. He was a prominent figure in 60s and 70s Japanese experimental cinema, directing over 30 shorts during this time, and is now a professor and dean at the Kyoto University of Art and Design. This is a list of his 5 best shorts.

Atman (1975)

Haha I bet you scrolled away from this pic didn't you

1. Atman
Year: 1975
Runtime: 11 mins.

A man in a Noh demon mask and costume is kneeling on a bed of rocks. The camera pans around him, zooms in, zooms out. The colors change, the images flash, still shots of him flow into each other.

The Good Stuff:
– The dude in a Noh mask is freaky
– There is a growing sense of anxiety and thrill even though nothing really happens

The Best Stuff:
– Every shot, from every angle, looks fantastic
– The sequence of still shots combined creates a wonderful effect


2. Haha-tachi / 母たち / Mothers
Year: 1967
Runtime: 40 mins.

Short segments about motherhood from 3 different cultures: the West, Asia, and Africa.

The Good Stuff:
– Simple structure of showing one culture after another is effective

The Best Stuff:
– Frank and unsentimental look at motherhood


Ishi no uta / 石の歌 / The Song of Stone (1963)

Rocks, rocks, and more rocks. Oh look, rocks!

3. Ishi no uta / 石の歌 / The Song of Stone
Year: 1963
Runtime: 25 mins.

A documentary about stone and the miners who depend on it for their subsistence.

The Good Stuff:
– Camera movements while picturing photographs is interesting
– Music reminiscent of Takemitsu’s score for Suna no onna

The Best Stuff:
– Beautiful pictures of rocks and use of photographs


Ki = Breathing (1980)

I told you it was freaky. Oh wait, pic comes before review oops!

4. Ki = Breathing
Year: 1980
Runtime: 30 mins.

A kakejiku (Japanese hanging scroll) hangs in darkness and the camera enters its picture of trees and mist. There is a strange, eerie forest with a strange woman. More forests, mountains, a beach… and more bizarre images.

The Good Stuff:
– Thrilling, chilling, eerie… but in a good way?
– More similar to Terayama Shuji’s work than Matsumoto’s own, standing out from the rest
– Calm and stunning images, but kinda freaky

The Best Stuff:
– Wonderful music by Takemitsu Toru as usual
– Great use of sound


5. Nishijin / 西陣 / The Weavers of Nishijin
Year: 1962
Runtime: 26 mins.

A documentary about traditional weavers of Nishijin.

The Good Stuff:
– Very poignant narration
– An interesting subject even though we don’t learn that much about them

The Best Stuff:
– Weaving may never look this beautiful, probably Matsumoto’s best looking short


Overall, his short films cover a diverse array of subjects each with their own unique visual style or concept. The above films are all worthy of seeing, even though you may not have any interest in experimental cinema (whatever the heck that is).

You can view them here.



November 2020