Kinshota’s “Apostasy” (Hakai, 1948)

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I am a bit puzzled by the English title, “Apostasy,” for Kinoshita’s 1948 “Hakai.” The Japanese title might be translated as “Taboo Breaking” and is more about affiliation than about disaffiliation. Based on a well-known-in-Japan naturalist 1906 novel by Shimazaki Tôson, the story of an outcast (Burakumin/ pejorative Eta) teacher, Segawa (Ikebi Ryô, who, with shorter hair, would later star in Ozu’s “Ealry Spring” and Shinoda’s Pale Flower”) passing and then being rumored to be passing and finally defiantly claiming his stigmatized identity the movie is sometimes overwrought and at others, particularly writing a letter to his roommate and steadfast supporter Tsuchiya (Uno Jûkichi) drags.

The composition of shots, which are admirable and sometimes striking (especially the ones shot down on the actors) was Kinoshita’s with his brother-in-law, Kusuda Hiroshi, executing Kinoshita’s intentions.

One of the reforms of the Meiji Restoration (from 1871) was abolishing caste distinction, though prejudice and discrimination against the Burakumin did not end in the nineteenth century (the film story is set in 1902), or with the US occupation, which proclaimed equality and universal human rights even while maintaining caste-like status for black US soldiers.

Discrimination persisted at least into the mid-1970s when I was a research assistant at the University of Arizona to sociology professor Roger Yoshino, who was working toward the 1977 book with Murakoshi Sueo, The Invisible Visible Minority: Japan’s Burakumin. Since then, there has been concerted political action by those pejoratively called “former eta,” though there have been organizations since 1922.

Segawa and Tsuchiya both admire an openly Burakumin philosopher, Inoko Rentar (Takwaza Osamu), who is coming to town to lecture on equality, supported by his non-Burakumin wife. These elders provide the template for Oshisho (Katsuragi , who is of samurai lineage, to break the taboo to wed Segawa, even as he is being driven out of the school (where his students adore him) and out of town (heading for Tokyo at the end, to take over Inoko’s organization there).

The movie critiques not only the stigmatization of Burakumin but, more generally, the pernicious use of gossip by bullies, dovetailing with Kurosawa’s (1950) “Scandal.”

Ichikawa Kon also adopted Hakai in 1962 and there was an earlier (silent) version made in 1913.

 

(Also in 1948, Kinoshita directed “Portrait” from a script by Kurosawa. I wrote about that here.)

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

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