I cancelled Netflix a few months ago, so I guess I’m going to have cross my fingers and hope that this is eventually available through Redbox:
A shot-by-shot remake of a Japanese film from the ’60s isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when talking about math. Yet this is exactly what UC Berkeley math professor Edward Frenkel has done, in collaboration with director Reine Graves, with his short film “Rites of Love and Math.” The original Japanese film, “The Rite of Love and Death,” by Yukio Mishima, is a bloody, earnestly serious work. Near the end of World War II, a lieutenant who has taken part in a failed coup d’etat returns home to make love to his wife one last time. The sex scene, oddly, is anything but passionate; the lovers’ movements feel stilted and staged, as if they are part of a ritualistic choreography. The film ends with the lieutenant committing seppuku, and his wife watching impassively as blood pumps out of the large gash in his abdomen.
Frenkel’s film hardly deviates from this structure, save in one important regard: the lieutenant is now a Mathematician (played by Frenkel himself) who, like some wizard, has possession of a magical math formula that bad guys want. So he responds by going home, fucking his wife and killing himself. To be fair, “Rites of Love and Math” looks gorgeous, and the spare sets are a pleasure to watch, but it’s difficult to narrow in on the tone. “Rites” can be humorous, but the production and acting are so painstakingly precise that its ritualistic qualities are nearly impossible to distinguish from the original.
What are you supposed to make of an extended scene, in which the Mathematician gives his wife a fervent tattoo job that culminates — complete with alarming screams — in a climax of Mathematical wonders? Especially when the climax results in a tattooed math formula scrawled across the wife’s body that I, as someone who was never particularly good at math, can’t at all understand.
After all that…consider this an open thread.