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

 

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