Ecstasy Of The Angels

Ecstasy Of The Angels (1972)
Image Entertainment
Cast: Ken Yoshiwaza, Yuki Arasa
Extras: Interview with director Koji Wakamatsu

Until recently, I was unfamiliar with the work of Japanese director Koji Wakamatsu. Having now viewed two of his films, I now understand why this director has a cult following and why he is seen as a controversial figure in his native land. Believe me, the films of Wakamatsu truly dispel the myth that all Japanese cinema concerns rubber-suited monsters or animated creatures. He chooses to show the underbelly of modern society and typically chooses to fill his film with violent and sexual imagery.

This style is certainly displayed in Wakamatsu’s 1972 feature, ’Ecstasy of Angels.’ The film concerns a group of radical anarchists, who at the outset of the movie, set out to steal weapons from a U.S. military base. (Notice the sign, which reads ’Weapon Wearhouse.’) The mission goes smoothly at first, but just as the group is about to escape, they are confronted by the military police and fired upon. This act throws the group into turmoil. The members suddenly feel that they can’t trust one another, fearing that someone has double-crossed them. The remainder of the film deals with the various group members attempting to decide, who to form alliances with, while continuing to commit terrorist acts, like blowing up buildings.

’Ecstasy of Angels’ is an intriguing film, as the group of radicals is presented very realistically. The film gets a bit confusing at times, as the characters use code names based on the days of the week or the names of the months, so it can be hard to tell who is who at times. Also, there is a great deal of gratuitous sex in the film. Just when the story is getting interesting, there will suddenly be a softcore sex scene. And the way that Wakamatsu stages these scenes, sucks any erotic energy from them, creating a sense of dread and unease in the viewer.

’Ecstasy of Angels’ was shot in black-and-white (although the DVD packaging identifies it as being in color), but there are some brief uses of color, which allow Waksmatsu to add an emotional punch to certain scenes.

The DVD of ’Ecstasy of Angels’ comes to us from Image Entertainment, as part of their ’American Cinematheque’ collection. The film has been letterboxed at 1.66:1 and is enhanced for 16×9 TVs. The digital transfer has rendered the black-and-white photography very crisp and clear, with little obvious noise. The image shows very little grain, although there are some minute defects seen from the source print. The brief color scenes look very good, showing a nice sharpness and contrast. The letterbox framing appears to be accurate, as there is no obvious less of visual information at top or bottom of the screen. Overall, the film looks very good, considering its age and budget.

The audio on ’Ecstasy of Angels’ is a Dolby Digital Mono, which provides adequate dialogue, but is a bit disappointing during the opening raid. The film features white English subtitles, which can be hard to read at times, especially during one of the opening scenes, where they fall on a white sheet. The only extra included on the DVD is an interesting 50-minute interview with Koji Wakamatsu. While this interview is certainly intriguing, fans may be disappointed to note that it is the exact same interview which appears on the ’Go, Go Second Time Virgin’ DVD. However, I’m sure that fans of this type of Asian cinema will just be glad to have ’Ecstasy of Angels’ on DVD.