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The Masseurs and a Woman

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 17, 2015

I have a great interest in the East, and I am an inveterate Westerner. As such I am very sympathetic to this impressive film, which I nevertheless find to be both historically and culturally elusive. I don’t know much about masseurs, blind or otherwise, about resorts where massaged and massaging come together, nor about the many weighty things that all this suggests.

Should I even be writing about it, then? Well, if I do so carefully and humbly, I might. Noel Burch wrote a fine book about Japanese cinema called To the Distant Observer (1979). He’d spent a great deal of time watching and learning and studying about Japan and Japanese films. He’d even, eventually, gotten around to an extended visit to Japan. The result of all this is that, like Socrates, he had come to realize how little he knew.

We don’t acknowledge our shortcomings enough, when we discuss the things that we care about, upon which he’ve expended energy, and about which we still know so little. How refreshing when someone actually does so. It that’s all that the wisest of us can ever hope for, what then?

I should say that I don’t think I’m Socrates, or even Noel Burch. However, I did enjoy this film, even though I didn’t understand everything that was in it!

The Masseurs and a Woman may be elusive to me because of time, distance and my status as an outsider, but its indirectness and reticence are also part of an intentional strategy. Its structure and style echo the experience and the status of its marginalized main characters. It brings to mind David Mamet’s impressive film version of Terrence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy. In both cases everything takes place in the interstices, the in-betweens. So few films do that, even though so many people are that.