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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“Phoenix” (Fushichô, 1947)

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Although running only 82 minutes, the three-hankie weepie (josei eiga) “Phoenix” (Fushichô, 1947) seems even more padded than it is overwrought. There are three songs, one sung by children accompanied by the evacuated Sayoko (then-38-year-old Tanaka Kinuyo, who would eventually play the 70-year-old eager to be carried out and exposed to die in “The Ballad of Narayama” eleven years later), two by the lover of her life, and very briefly her husband, Shinichi (Sada Keiji in his first movie). Most of the movie is Sayoko remembering the brief happiness of their honeymoon while he was on leave before returning to the war to die or his father’s opposition to a marriage not arranged by himself (Kosuji Isamu with a Tojo mustache).

I couldn’t tell when Sayoko went into the army. The present-day with Sayoko the honored widow has a fourth birthday party for her son with Shinichi, so he was probably conceived in 1943, born in 1944. The Tokyo in the flashbacks to the time of Shinichi going off the first time do not seem to show the dire straits of the city, and both families seem well off both during and immediately after the war. (The heavy B-29 firebombing was in 1944-45, continuing on the night before surrender documents were scheduled by be signed.)

Watching Tanaka suffer, I reflected that some of the sentimentality rightly identified in many Kinoshita Keisuke films comes from the music his brother Chûji supplied (here supplemented by Chopin and some folk songs).

Some more comes from the idealistic and ultra-supportive brothers of both lovers, the tubercular Hiroshi (Kawasaki Tamotsu) Sayoko’s, and the earnest Yûji (Yamanouchi Akira) Shinichi’s.

The movie is very talky and the visual setups are nearly as static as those in Ozu films, though the shots are well-composed. And I have to say that I find the 1947 Tanaka Kinuyo herein rather homely.

Kinoshita’s first postwar movie, “Morning for the Osone Family” (1946

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Kinoshita’s 5th film, the one-set 1946 “Morning for the Osone Family” (Ôsone-ke no ashita) looks like US-sponsored propaganda against Japanese militarism, not that I question Kinoshita’s abhorrence for the warmakers (implicit in “Army” made in 1944, before the end of the war).

It begins on Christmas Eve 1943 with a group in a comfortable house singing “Silent Night.” The night may be silent, but a lot is going on: the daughter (Miura Mitsuko), Yuko’s fiancé, Minari (Masuda Junji), and one of three sons, Taiji (Tokudaiji Shin),who only wants to paint, about to be inducted into the army, and another, Ichirô (Nagao Toshinosuke), being arrested for sedition for a piece he published on the roots of the war.

The dead father was clearly a liberal quite unlike his surviving brother, the colonel (Ozawa Eitarô), who moves in after his house is bombed out and treats it as his own while browbeating his sister-in-law, the too-complaisant Fusako (Sugimura Haruko), who is coerced into allowing her youngest (17-year-old) son, Takashi (Ôsaka Shirô), to volunteer for the Japanese airforce, urged on by his uncle.

Dsitraught by the surrender, the colonel moves quickly to commandeer food and other supplies from military stores for his own use, to hide his assets, and to launch the “I was just following orders” defense before any official charges of war crimes are made (though Fusako blames him, with very good reason, for the loss of her youngest and most innocent son). I have to say that Ozawa Eitarô makes a very convincing hypocritical, jingoistic villain, and that it is difficult not to root for the Ôsones in the house he has commandeered, that is, Fusako and Yuko, to stand up to his bullying.

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Though the movie is housebound, the panning camera and editing keep it from seeming visually static. It was unobtrusively shot by Kinoshita’s brother-in-law, Kasuda Hiroshi though Kinoshita’s brother, Chûji, was not yet supplying music (Asai Takaaki provided such music other than “Silent Night” as there was). There is a lot of singing in Kinoshita films, not just the earliest ones included in the Criterion Eclipse “Kinoshita and World War II” set of the first five Kinoshita Keisuke directed.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Kinoshita’s (1943) “The Living Majoroku”

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“Ikite iru Magoroku” (The Living Majoroku, 1943), the second film directed by Kinoshita Keisuke is rather opaque to 21st-century American viewers. I don’t know if it seemed as schizoid to Japanese viewers as the tide was turning in the Pacific War (WWII). On the one hand, it advocates dispensing with superstitions, in this instance stemming directly form a military engagement three and a half centuries earlier that gave a field to the Onagis (for service in a battle on the side of Tokugawa Ieyasu with a curse on anyone digging into it (with, say, a hoe). And there are feudal obstacles to the marriage of a pair who work on the local bus (driver and conductor). On the other hand, it honors the cult of old swords—and a new one to cut down Americans in the war raging to the south. Militarist myths about the divine Japanese spirit were not treated as superstitions.

The fulcrum of the struggle to cultivate the Onagi field that has been covered with weeds (the same pampa grass that covered it back in the day of the now legendary battle) is Yoshihiro (Hara Yasumi), who is convinced that he is dying of the curse on Onagi males (form his grandfather’s affront to the sacred battlefield) and that letting the field be turned to food production will kill him. A visiting physician (Hosokawa Toshio), who is there seeking the heirloom sword (the titular Magoroku) the family has, tests the young Onagi’s lungs and realizes that they are unusually strong, that the failing lungs have no somatic basis. (“Nervous breakdown” is the translation provided by the subtitles.)

There are some strikingly beautiful outdoor scenes, reminiscent of Murnau. I didn’t notice any shots from above, but there are quite a lot of closeups (in rapid succession before the heretofore neurasthenic head of the Onagi family pronounces his decisions).

The valorization of clinging to the past and of taking action to help the nation in its struggle seems schizoid to me. At least there is nothing I see in the way of an explanation of what distinguishing should be preserved from past (feudal) lifeways, what jettisoned.

BTW, the pressure to increase production on the virgin soil comes from local fervor rather than down from the militaristic government. I wondered why Yoshihiro had not been drafted by 1942.

“The Living Majoroku” is available on the Criterion Eclipse (barebones) boxed set “Kinoshita and World War II.”

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Kinoshita Keisuke’s 1944 film “Rikugun” (Army)

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Whether someone views Kinoshita Keisuke’s 1944 film “Rikugun” (Army) as prowar or antiwar depends on whether s/he sees the father (Ryû Chishû) or mother (Tanaka Kinuyo) of Private Shintaro as primary. Shintaro (Hoshino Kazumasa as an adult) himself does not seem to be the protagonist Much of the film looks at both parents trying to toughen the cowardly crybaby up so he can sacrifice his life for the Emperor. (In Japanese WWII movie, the goal never seems to be imperial conquest but always to die with glory for the Emperor.)

His father, a captain, was sick far behind the lines during the Russo-Japanese War, much to his shame. Back on Kyushu, he nonetheless flaunts his status as a veteran with war buddies and stands out for his jingoism about Japanese invincibility even within a sea of flag-waving patriots. For instance, he is outraged at the suggestion of even a possibility that Japan might have been conquered if the kamikaze wind had not destroyed the fleet of Kublai Khan. Japanese spirit always and everywhere trumps mere armament in his view (one that must have been difficult to maintain in 1944).

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What made 1944 Japanese zealots denounce the movie as perniciously anti-war is the lengthy final montage in which the mother, who initially had decided not to see Shintaro off at the train station, because she knew she would cry, runs through the cheering crowd lining the street down which his unit is marching to find him, and then continues to struggle to stay even with him. Shintaro smiles at her and does not return his eyes forward. Not a word is uttered against the war or the duty to die for the Emperor (not the Empire/expansion of the Empire), though a father, Sakuragi (Tôno Eijirô), who is volunteering his abilities in service to a third war (Sino-, Russo-, and at the end of the movie another Sino- one) is shown to be anxious about his son, Shintaro’s friend who shipped out earlier, and is deployed near Shanghai.

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Although censors and military sponsors were dubious about this final montage, apparently it was followed by another even more wrenching scene of the mother running down the tracks after the departing tracks (also without any spoken lines) that was censored. The suspicions about Kinoshita’s enthusiasm for the expansion of the empire were amply confirmed in his first postwar movie, “Morning for the Osones,” which included a jingoistic officer using patriotism to enrich himself. No one seems to have suspected that Ryû’s ultra-rigid character might have also been a caricature of militarism. After all, the Japanese military’s official values of Loyalty, Manners, Valor, Honor, Frugality are reiterated.

Both movies are included in the Criterion Eclipse “Wartime Kinoshita” boxed set.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Kinoshita’s “Jubiliation Street” (1944)

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I don’t think that Kinoshita’s1944 , “Jubilation Street” (1944) is nearly as good as his 1943 first one (Port of Blossoms). Both portray rather tight-knit communities, though “Jubilation Street” is a Tokyo neighborhood rather than a fishing village. The inhabitants are being involuntarily relocated—not to get them away from the ruthless firebombing of Tokyo, which had not begun yet, but for the government (a euphemism for “military”) to use the land for its own, undisclosed (either to the characters or to the viewers) purposes.

Uehara Ken plays the ingenu again in love with Moto Mitsuko, as in “Port of Blossoms” and “The Great Magoruku.” This time he played a very pure-hearted test pilot, Shindo. The mother of his beloved objects to the marriage Shindo’s mother attempts to arrange because his job is too dangerous and because his father ran off ten years earlier. (Anyone who has seen more than a few movies knows that the father will show up over the course of the movie, though not what will ensue from that return).

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The owner of the local bathhouse is reluctant to leave, while a printer is quite ready to move, though sorry to leave behind the printing press that supported his family for two generations. Etc.

The movie is very talky, was shot on a single set (though there is a Japanese movie downpour (not as much of a gale as the one in “Port of Blossoms”), lacks any of the satire of “Port of Shadows” (and later Kinoshita comedies) and, as usual for Kinoshita movies except the first one, which featured boats, trains are shown. There is some of the shooting from above that would recur in later Kinoshita movies (not quite a “God’s eye” view, but above the characters, quite unlike the setup at eye level of a kneeling adult of Ozu movies).

There is a final patriotic exhortation, but the movie until then is rather melancholic about the disruptions of the community caused by the war that Japan began (first in China, then elsewhere, including the attack on Pearl Harbor). I’m surprised not only that it passed the censors at a time of all-out military mobilization around the time Japan stopped winning and started losing the war.

Whereas, I think that “Port of Flowers” remains entertaining 73 years on, I think that “Jubilation Street” is mainly of historical interest—the history of Japan at war firstly, but also the trajectory of Kinoshita’s work. There is not a music credit and I don’t think that the director’s brother Chûji had begun scoring Keisuke’s movies yet, but, as in later movies Chûji did score, I think that much of the sentimentality in “Jubilation Street” derives from the music.

(Kinoshita Keisuke wrote the screenplays for most of his movies, but not “Port of Flowers” or “Jubilation Street.”)

 

A somewhat damaged print of the movie with more damaged sound is available in the Criterion Eclipse (#41) box set of Kinoshita’s first five movies, “Kinoshita and World War II.”

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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