Kinoshita’s “Port of Flowers” (1943!)

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The first film directed by Kinoshita Keisuke, the 1943 “Port of Flowers” (Hana saku minato, also called “Blossoming Port”) already began to assemble his repertory company with prominent roles as village elders played by Higashiyama Cheiko and Ryû Chishû, Kinoshita’s brother-in-law, Kusuda Hiroshi providing unobtrusive but very good cinematography, and a story (this one not written by Kinoshita, as most of his later films were) vulnerable to charges of sentimentality.

It begins with the headman of an island seemingly south of Kyushû (the Ryukus, though it was filmed at the southern Kyushû small port of Amakusa) receiving two identical telegrams announcing the arrival of a son of a man who earlier attempted to build ships there. He summons the most prominent local citizens (it doesn’t seem a formal council), which introduces the viewer to them, The way the first to arrive (Ozawa Eitaro, who would appear in many more Kinoshita-directed films) elicited information to confirm about the relationship of various prominent villagers and his father made me suspect he was an imposter. When a second one (Uehara Ken, who would also appear in the next three Kinoshita films) shows up, the first manages to sell the claim that they are brothers, though they don’t look related or sound the same (different accents) and both signed their telegrams with the same name (Kenji).

The two small-time con-men are astounded at how much money they reap from the villagers who venerate their father they claim. The second, seemingly younger one (in fact both actors were born in 1909) has qualms about ripping off such nice and hospitable people (Kinoshita does not portray them as grasping or greedy) from the start and quickly becomes attached to a local beauty.

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Though Japan has been at war in China for some time, announcement of the successful attack on Pearl Harbor (8 December 1941 Japan time, on the other side of the international dateline from Hawai’i) stirs the populace to shouts of “Banzai!” and to increased fervor in building the first ship. It is made of wood and I can’t see it as having any military use, but the locals consider building it part of the war effort.

One of them, Hayashida (Tonô Eijirô,who would appear in three more Kinoshita films and then in a number of Kobayashi ones, plus ones directed by Ozu and Kurosawa), worries that their — though he is primarily concerned with his own — investment is at risk, since their ship might be sunk by American submarines. Nobadama (Ryû) is outraged at Hayashida’s lack of patriotism. Even the con men are stirred to deliver on their phony project (an instance of becoming what they at first pretend to be—ship-builders in this case).

Though the Americans are referred to once (after they sink a local fishing boat) as “devils,” the movie is not at all jingoistic. Everyone in it is a little absurd, especially in their conceptions of contributing to the war effort. All are patriotic, however, and even Hayashida eventually decides that money isn’t everything. Though there is nothing (at least in the finished film; some cuts were almost certainly made so that the end seems abrupt) to alarm censors (in contrast to the questioning of sacrificing the lives of young men in the next year’s “Army”), to me it seems almost subversive for such a comedy to have been made in Japan in 1943. The con men dissuaded from their con are somewhat predictable, but believably swayed from their plans by the villagers’ trust and welcome and by the escalation of the war in December of 1941.

“Port of Flowers” was an auspicious debut of Kinoshita, who already resembled a Japanese Frank Capra with gentle, upbeat comedy. A fairly good print of the movie is available in the Criterion Eclipse (#41) box set of Kinoshita’s first five movies, “Kinoshita and World War II.”

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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