Very hard to watch, makes your stomach turn.
The film is full of flashbacks, and one of the early ones was of Kyuzo and all the village dressing up for his departure from the village into the military.
Most of the film takes place after Kyuzo is a veteran of the war between China and Japan around the time of World War II. He lost both legs and both arms in combat, his head ss about 40% burned, and he is deaf. His speech is adversely affected by the lack of hearing.
His wife Shigeko is horrified with this from the start. She tries to strangle him, but does not have the strength. The villagers honor Kyuzo and his achievements, such as they were, in China. They encourage Shigeko strongly to take care of the hero, the War God.
Shigeko learns to deal with his eating, waste, bathing, and sexual functions. She takes care of him, which is an large daily effort, an enormous effort over an interval of years. She also works in the rice fields with the other villagers during the day.
He tries to learn to write/draw with his mouth and pencil, starting with 'I want to do it.'
She parades him around the village dress in uniform and medals. Sometimes she leaves him in the cart to watch her work in the rice fields.
About half way through the film, she really gets into being the put-upon wife, and insists on his performing his responsibilities as well. She gets lots of attention for this, and he gets a taste of all the work (done by others) that he generates. Also, she becomes very conscious of the fact that he can no longer beat her. After some time in this steady state, Kyuzo starts having bad memories of what he did in China. Plus his obligations as War God never seem to go away.
By 1945, the war started to come to Japanese soil. The radio in Japan reports something entirely different. Shigeko starts getting inwardly discouraged with the horrible things that have happened. Kyuzo has more flashbacks of his bad deeds in China.
Toward the end of the war, she needs satisfaction, but he has trouble even being aroused, since he's too obsessed with the bad memories. She slings back in his face the horrible things he said to her before he left for war. At one point, just seeing the flame in their evening lantern brings back the memories of rotten things he did, and how he lost his limbs. This is when she sings a song about a caterpillar, which is what her husband reminds her of.
Cinematography: 7/10 Archival footage was in out of focus sepia; in other words, it sucked rocks.
Sound: 8/10 OK, but not great.
Acting: 9/10 Fine.
Screenplay: 8/10 The story hangs together well. More cohesion about the flashbacks would have been nice.
To its credit, "Caterpillar" is not just an empty provocation, as it is very much anti-war, and not just in the ironic way it uses music. The first time we see Kyuzo is when he is raping a Chinese woman which makes him a war criminal more than anything else. That alone questions what the entire Japanese war effort was all about. Or maybe karma can just be incredibly nasty. In any case, all of which is established very early on which leaves the movie, as repetitive as it is and as shoddy as the production is, little room to go anywhere, except to explore the evolving power structure of the couple which has its moments.
The production values were straight out of late 60s early 70s low budget American television: the hard contrast videotape appearing visuals; the harsh, hollow audio, sounding as if recorded in a big empty studio; clumsy superimposed images; the dated piano and cello underscore, and even the narrative structure reminded be of the Sunday morning dramas of faith which I watched occasionally in the early 70s. The production sensibilities landed so solidly in the style of low budget contemporary television drama of the early 70s that I simply could not convince myself that the movie took place at any other time despite the sets, costumes, and subject matter.
The movie itself expressed and belabored its themes with the same subtlety as those Sunday morning television parables as well. There's potential in this story and I hope it receives a better treatment sometime.
We get it. Move on already.