Kinoshita’s portrayal of wartime internal exile: “Shônen-ki” (1951)

Kinoshita Keisuke shot two movies between “Carmen Goes Home” (1951) and its sequel “Carmen’s Pure Love” (1952). The historically more important one, is “Shônen-ki,” called in English “Boyhood” (by Janus-Criterion-Hulu”, “A Record of Youth,” and just “Youth.” (The other was the incoherent “Fireworks Over the Sea.”)

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I found  the patriotic music difficult to bear in Konoshita’s  1951 “Boyhood (Shônen-ki), even if its intent was ironic (about which I’m not entirely sure, though I think it was, though I think it was; against that is the rarity of Kinoshita being on the side of a father rather than a son).

I wanted to identify with the liberal scholar father (Ryû Chichû), but Kinoshita portrayed him as self-centered, which is also the critical view of the more fascist of his son Ichirô (Ishihama Akira, a decade before dying agonizingly in Shinoda’s “Hara-kiri”).

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Ichirô was 16 when the war ended, restive in the countryside, to which he had resisted going when the rest of the family evacuated Tokyo, but he eventually rejoined them there after Japan’s surrender. Ichirô remains dubious about his father’s patriotism, though his father tries to explain that, not knowing at what moment he/they may be killed by US bombs, he wants to spend all his waking time reading.

 

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“Carmen Falls in Love” (1952)

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The Carmen of “Carmen Falls in Love” /”Carmen’s Innocent Love” is a more recognizable self-sacrificing Takamine Hideko than the vulgar stripper of “Carmen Goes Home.” The sequel was shot in color that broke down, so can only be seen in black-and-white. The stripper Carmen’s pretensions to being an artist continue. She performs (dances and strips) in a pantomime of the Carmen story, with the familiar Bizet music played by a four-piece band.

She volunteers to pose nude for a surrealist sculptor, Sudo Hajime, with whom she falls in love. With infatuation comes inhibition, and she is embarrassed to pose nude for her beloved and two of his artist friends, and also ducks stripping at the club where she performs when he, his fiancée, Chirdori, and her mother come to see her perform.

There are two babies, one belonging to Carmen’s friend and former co-worker, Akime (Kobayashi Toshiko), who already showed herself more soft-headed about men in the first movie. The father of Akime’s baby turned communist and abandoned them. The other baby was borne by Satake, who comes across as a greedy shrew who has been abandoned by Shudo also has abandoned a son and its mother, who comes across as a greedy shrew, but not as greedy as his slutty fiancée (both Shudo and her mother call her “slut”), Chidori.

Chidori’s very ugly mother, Satake Kumako, the widow of a lieutenant general, is running for the Diet (congress) in the first democratic election on a platform of rearmament and tax cuts (a proto-US-Republican of the 21st century). She confuses the two babies, and thinks that Carmen is the mother of Sudo’s baby (though Akime’s baby, whom Carmen is carrying is a girl and Sudo’s is a boy). The candidate tries to buy off Carmen, who agrees to give up Sudo without payment (which does nothing at all to quell the demands from the woman who is raising his son).

Both the artist and the slut are marrying to get a property worth 3-4 million yen that is controlled by the widow Satake. There is no explanation of why marriage is necessary. I suppose that it is a condition of inheritance set by the late lieutenant general.

The artist’s (family’s) maid, played by Ozu veteran Higashiyama Chieko, lost her family in one of the atomic bomb attacks and is constantly fretting that every loud noise is another one being dropped on Tokyo. (Did Japanese ca. 1952 find this funny? I don’t)

Various plotlines converge at an election rally for Satake Kumako, at which Sudo has agreed to speak. He is heckled by the communist father of Akime’s baby. An outraged Carmen denounces him and is called up onstage by the candidate—and besides defending the beloved she gave up expresses her abhorrence of any more war.

The tilted (“Dutch angle”) photography is not used to any obvious purpose and strikes me as an annoying gimmick in the movie. More annoying is the failure to follow through on any of the many storylines. “The end of part two” (as the closing titles put it) shows that a third outing was anticipated, but was not made.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

The first Japanese color movie: “Carmen Comes Home” (1951)

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I didn’t know that Takamine Hideko (whom I consider the Japanese Olivia de Haviland)  could do more than suffer delicately, but she was quite entertaining as a pure-hearted Tokyo stripper returned home to her native village in the first Japanese movie shot in color, Kinoshita’s 1951 “Carmen Comes Home” (Karumen kokyo ni kaeru). I wouldn’t call it “sentimental,” but it is life-affirming and her censorious father (Sakamoto Takeshi) and the school principal (Ryû Chishû) eventually take “wild naked dancing” in stride and fine good use for the money Carmen left for her father.

And Maruju, “the transportation magnate,” makes enough money from the performance by the visiting pair of stripper’s (Kin/“Carmen” and her friend Akemi, played by Kobayashi Toshiko) that he feels benevolent and ends an injustice he had committed. With a recurring hymn to Mount Asama (in Shinshu) and shots of it, the scandalous homecoming movie drags at times, especially when Ryû sings, and the roles are types are not developed characters. The rationalizations of showing naked flesh as “art” are gently pilloried. What seems most funny to me is that Lily Carmen believes she is an “artist” and her stripping “art; moreover even the most skeptical of the villagers (her father and the gradeschool principal) don’t entirely reject the conception.

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I’m not sure whether Kinoshita thought the big-city strippers innocent, though the warm farewells of the locals as their train takes them back suggests acceptance of them, which, after all their gnashing of teeth, the principal and Kin’s father also do. The latter was ashamed, but no one shows/feels guilt about naked displays (or anything else).

Though first shooting two other films, Kinoshita filmed a sequel set in Tokyo the next year (1952).

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Kinoshita’s “Zen-Ma” (aka “The Good Fairy”, 1951)

 

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“The Good Fairy” is a peculiar title(/translation for “Zen-Ma”) for Kinoshita Keisuke’s 1951 movie that begins with journalists and ends with marrying a fresh corpse in the mountains of northern Honshu. I thought it was going to be a critique (or a satire) of journalists’ scandal-amplifying, as in Kurosawa’s (1950 “Scandal,” but the scandal is not reported, though reporter Mikuni Rentarô (the name of the character and of the actor, in the first of many roles) does find out what the corrupt official Kitaura Tsuyoshi has to conceal (Sena Koreya).

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It starts with Kitaura’s wife Itsuko (Awashima Chikage) leaving him. Mikuni tracks her down with the aid of Itsuko’s sister Mikako (Katsuragi Yôko) with whom he falls in love en route to interviewing Itsuko, who refuses to explain her leaving her husband or to tell of his gross misconduct, even after his attorney presents an unreasonable set of demands.

Ten years earlier, Mikuni’s boss (Susumu Tatsuoka) was secretly in love with Itsuko before she married up, and the torch has not been extinguished, though he has been living with Suzue (Kobayashi Toshiko [Cruel Story of Youth]), whom he does not treat with any consideration, though she is lotal to him. This mistreatment eventually alienates the pure-hearted Mikuni from his admiration for his boss/mentor/prospective brother-in-law.

As usual in Kinoshita movies, there is a single parent, though unusually it is the father of Itsuko and Mikako, portrayed by a gentle Ryû Chisû (quite different from the martinet father he played in “Army” for Kinoshita).

The characters, especially Mikuni, shift emotions on something like a dime. I think he is the “good fairy,” though he is referred to as “Evil” for his intolerant purism (and the character in the title is closer to “demon” than to “good fairy”). I find him insufferable, though Kinoshita had a penchant for portraying such pure-of-heart young male characters.

Mikako is also pure of heart, but far more empathetic to the emotional pains of her elders.

There are some shots of moving trains that I especially like, also something of a Kinoshita hallmark.

I’m not sure if Japanese divorce laws were so stacked against wives as it seems in the movie, or whether some of the outrageousness is attributable to Itsuko failing to retain legal counsel of her own and believing what his tells her.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

Minor Kinoshita soap opera: “Wedding Ring” (1950)

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The title of Kinoshita’s 1950 very predictable soap opera “Konyaku yubiwa” was translated into English as “Engagement Ring,” but the ring often shown in closeup is a diamond wedding ring, and the current Criterion/Hulu title “Wedding Ring” is far more accurate a title.

At the start, the very conscientious young physician (his vocation is established immediately, since the bus conductor is his patient) Ema (Mifune Toshirô) who rushes onto an SRO bus is literally thrown into the lap of an older woman riding on the bus. Mrs. Kuki (Tanaka Kinuyo). They both have given names (Takeshi and Noriki, respectively) but always address each other as Mr. Emi and Mrs. Kuki.

It turns out (what a coincidence) that Emi is on his way to the seaside town of Ajiro to treat Mrs. Kuki’s husband, Michio (Uno Yûkichi). The couple was married shortly before the husband went off to war and he returned with tuberculosis, so they have not had conjugal relations except very briefly when they were first married.

How could she not be attracted to the robustly healthy young Mifune (ten years her junior), having a husband in name only? She couldn’t and he is attracted to her as well (though it seems to me that he had the freedom to encounter many other and more attractive women).

Though not immune to jealousy, Michio recognizes that his wife is unfulfilled sexually. He likes his doctor and that doctor is not only conscientious in his treatment of his patient but very correct in curbing his desire for the yearningly available wife.

Mrs. Yuki watched Emi go swimming in the absurd swimsuits extending above the navel of the day (later, Emi strips down to his underwear and reveals his navel…). There are frequent shots in early Kinoshita movies of people from the knee down walking, and Emi’s footwear is observed closely by Mrs. Kuki and by the camera.

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There are many artful compositions concocted by Kinoshita and his brother-in-law and usual cinematographer, Kusuda Hiroshi, while, as was often the case, Kinoshita’s brother, Chûji, was guilty of musical overkill (in the Max Steiner tradition). The flopping around resisting temptation, but ultimately doing the right thing is very, very predictable, as if the Hollywood Production Code was regulating Japanese movie (under the US military occupation at the time, it unofficially was).

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

 

 

Kinoshita’s nouveau-riche family comedy “A Broken Drum” (1949)

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There is some LOL stuff in the 1949 Kinoshita sitcom, “A Broken Drum” (Yabure-daiko), about a paper tiger/ogre (Bandô Tsumasaburô) scheming to raise money to save his construction company. One of his tactics is to marry his daughter Nobuko (Higashiyama Chieko) off for a two-million-yen brideprice. She chooses to model for a painter to whom her father was rude on a train and who has cupid-like parents. Among Nobuko’s siblings are one who wants to become an actor, one who wants to become a physician, and one who writes songs (the director’s brother Chûji, who wrote the music for most Kinoshita movies), including one about a father who is like a broken drum.

The eldest son rebels at being his father’s lieutenant and starts a company of his own, making music boxes. He leaves, followed by his mother, four of his siblings, and a servant. The father refuses to acknowledge that any of these desertions of his sinking ship bothers him, though he is hurt.

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I don’t like the songs (as is the case for many Kinoshita movies, which seem to include groups singing together more than in movies by other Japanese directors), and they play a prominent part with young people singing herein.

The bass line of a family business in financial straits  was reprised in  “Fireworks over the Sea”  in 1951. The madcap family prefigures the one in what I consider Kinoshita’s best comedy, the 1960 “Spring Dreams.” “A Broken Dum” is somewhat unusual in the Kinoshita oeuvre in having both parents alive, though not unique in having the father being an unpleasant and very intolerant person. (The extent to which this was conscious rejection of the patriarchy that got Japan’s imperial project overextended is not clear to me, but is at least a strong possibility following upon “Army”  and “Morning for the Osone Family.”  Father did not know best, and is repeatedly held up to ridicule, although he relaxes a bit of his rigidity to make for a happy ending here.)

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Kinoshita’s “Yotsuda, the Phantom” (1949)

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Kinoshita’s 1949 adaptation (one of very many) of a famous (in Japan) 1825 Kabuki play (by Tsuruya Nanboku), “Yotsuya kaidan,” is available (on Hulu) as “The Yotsuda Phantom” It came out in two parts of 84 and 72 minutes, with the last seven or so minutes of part one repeated (rather than part one being summarized) at the start of part two. Part One is almost as hard on the viewer as it is on the suffering, loyal, and luckless Oiwa (Tanaka Kinuyo).

The film begins with its biggest set piece, a prison breakout in Edo (Tokyo). The only escaped prisoners not captured and then beheaded were Kohei (Sada Keiji), through dumb luck and Gonbei Naosuke (Takizawa Osamu [Fires on the Plain]). The latter had snitched on the plan to the authorities, and is sought by a gang whose leader was among those betrayed. Naosuke might be the Japanese byword for “betrayal”; he makes Iago seem like a loyal friend!

Kohei was besotted by a teahouse waitress, Oiwa, and stole from the till, hoping to be able to afford her (to buy her release from indenturing?). His infatuation was not reciprocated, and while he was in prison she married Iemon Tamiya (Uehara Ken), who had lost his position as a samurai when the storehouse of his master was robbed. I don’t know how he was able to get Oiwa released from the teahouse, since his disgrace occurred seven years before the story…

Iemon seems to drink up more than Oiwa’s umbrella-making earns. She is more than devoted to him, though he does not treat her well even—or especially—after she has a miscarriage (just before the start of the movie).

Naosuke manages to arrange a match for Iemon with the daughter of a rich merchant. Though the town seems small, the father somehow is not aware that Iemon is already married. Naosuke plots to make Iemon single. He wants to show Iemin Oiwa entertaining Kohei, so that Iemon will either slay the lovers or divorce his wife, but Oiwa virtuously repels him. Then Naosuke supplied Iemon with poison, which Iemon is reluctant to use. It is not exactly honorable for a samurai to poison his devoted wife to be free to marry someone with money (and a father who can get him a job).

Oiwa’s death is hideous and Iemon slays Kohei for good measure. Naosuke helps him dump the corpses in a canal (not exactly a raging river that would carry the corpses far…). Though financially set, Iemon is haunted by guilt. Japan is supposed to be the prototype shame culture, but Iemon replaced the shame of being a masterless samurai (ronin) with guilt for having slain a virtuous and loving wife.

The ghosts do not take revenge as onryô do in some other Japanese ghost movies. Iemon imagines Oiwa, and when Oiwa’s sister, the hardier, Osode (also Tanaka Kinuyo)goes to see him wearing the kimono her sister was wearing when Iemon killed her, he flips out.

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In part two, Naosuke proceeds with his plans to enrich himself through his hold on Iemon, commits some new crimes, and confesses to (well brags of?) some older ones before he went to prison. There is a closing conflagration.

Kinoshita’s brother-in-law, Kusuda Hiroshi, provided serviceable if not especially memorable studio-bound cinematography.

I haven’t written yet about “Kwaidan,” but have written about two other superior 1950s Japanese ghost story movies: Shindo’s “Onibaba” and “Kuroneko”/The Black Cat.”

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray