NYAFF 2017 Review: Suffering of Ninko (Japan 2016)

More an erotic fable than a proper narrative, Suffering of Ninko puts a Japanese spin on the popular mythological concepts of the succubus and the incubus.  Ninko is a Buddhist monk, fixated on his own asceticism.  Unfortunately, his very presence drives women (and some men) into an absolute frenzy and he finds himself pursued by lustful devotees despite his increasingly frantic efforts to withdraw from the world.  After teetering on the edge of sanity, he eventually meets his counterpart in a female mountain spirit, who possesses the same powers of attraction and uses them to destroy men.

Suffering of Ninko tells a simple story, but in anything but a straightforward manner.  Director Niwatsukino Norihiro embraces traditional Japanese art forms, using limited animation to turn the film into living tableaux of sumi-e ink paintings and Buddhist iconography.  In other sequences, Norihiro appropriates some of the most famous ukiyo-e woodblock prints of the Edo era in order to frame his characters on their journeys.  And the mountain woman maintains her otherworldliness with the help of a Noh mask.

It’s strong, weird stuff, and, like another curiosity in this year’s festival, Kfc, it’s aided by a short run time.  And who knew this would be the year of Ravel’s Bolero, as the same music that gave rise to Legion’s best sequence earlier this year is repurposed for a stunning montage of Ninko in flight from amorous admirers.

2 1/2 out of 4 stars (Good).  Suffering of Ninko is playing as part of the New York Asian Film Festival on July 9.

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