“Onna” (1946) and “Ojôsan kanpai“ (1949)

I missed three Kinoshita Keisu films from the late 1940s and am posting on them out of the chronological order I have been attempting to impose (the other  the 1946  “The Girl I Loved“).

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I thought that the narrative of Kinoshita’s “Onna” (Woman, 1948) was threadbare, but it was visually very impressive. Most of the 84-minute run-time juxtaposes closeups of a chorus-line dancer, Toshiko (Mito Mitsuko) who has been dragged off to Manazura with a man, Tadashi (Ozawa Eitarô) she distrusts (with very good reasons, including that he has just been involved in a robbery followed by stabbing a policeman). In the last quarter of the film, there is first a chase (not involving Tadashi) then a conflagration, which sends most of the townspeople rushing to the scene. This part is shot like an early Soviet sound film with lots of cuts (montage) and fairly bombastic music.

In addition to multiple shots of trains and train stations and views down to the sea, there are singing children and opening and closing numbers of dancing girls, including Toshiko. Mito is rather ordinary and conventional; Tadashi sullen and bitter about his life having been ruined by the warkmakers misleading him and the whole patriotic population.

heresto3-1600x900-c-default.jpg“Ojôsan kanpai“ (1949, the title indexes a toast and the English titles include “Here’s to the Girls” and (a more apt one) “Here’s to the Young Lady”) was not written by Kinoshita (it was written by Shindô Kaneto, future director of “The Naked Island” and “Onibaba”). It seems rather Capraesque to me, with a 34-year-old man of the people, auto shop owner Keizo (played by the then-37-year-old Sano Shuji) smitten by and courting twenty-six-year-old Keizo (played by the then-29-year-old Hara Setsuko, who played daughters of Ryû Chishû in many an Ozu film), who comes from a noble family, though her father is in prison as the fall-guy for a fraud.

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Keizo is very aware of his lack of education and cultural capital. Yasuko is a very refined if timid (never been kissed) and keenly feeling the need to save the family mansion for her mother and grandparents (and sisters, and the two children of her elder sister). She is also keenly aware that her interest in the lowborn but now affluent Keizo will appear mercenary to him. (It’s not only that she is on-sale to the highest bidder, but to the only bidder.) He desperately wants her to love him, not just to be grateful to him for financial salvation of her family. According to her, she expended all her love on a fiancé who died in Manchuria.

Though lovestruck himself, Keizo adamantly blocks his younger brother Gorô (Sada Keiji) from marrying his inamorata. Murase Sachiko provides solace (psychological and liquid) in a friendly neighborhood bar.

There is no flashy cinematography by Konishita’s brother-in-law Kusuda Hiroshi’s work, though there is nothing to fault with it. The surviving print Criterion supplied Hulu is damaged, but watchable)

Apparently, the portrayal of breaking the class barrier was a big deal in Japan ca. 1949. The US Occupation was pushing democracy (only abroad, then, as now), whether Kinoshita was aiming to please the rulers (who are certainly invisible within the movie).

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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