Kinoshita’s 1957 comedy of greed and passive aggression: “Fûzen no tomoshibi”

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I thought that Kinoshita’s 1957 “Fûzen no tomoshibi” (titled in English Danger Stalks Near/ Hanging by a Thread/ A Candle in the Wind) was going to be a sort of Japanese “The Ladykillers,” but the (pictured) three thieves watching a house they plan to rob is pretty much a MacGuffin. The traffic in and out of the house is very considerable, in part because the husband, who works in a shoe store for 7000 yen a month has just won a 50,000-yen camera.

His wife has to deal with his very difficult, miserly mother (Tamura Akiko [the mother in Kinoshita’s 1951 “Boyhood”]) and a young son who is sick, as his grandmother claims to be when it suits her purposes. Plus a servant who is fired for leaving an iron on a tatami mat while she is off reading in the bathroom, a sinister classmate (Nanbara Kôji) of the husband, who drops by and flatters the grandmother, a greedy sister, and various tradesmen (bill collectors, mailman, two messengers from local stores).

There is a lot of buildup, and a tumultuous, satisfying climax. The payoffs are funny, though the sitcom difficulties along the way are not especially funny. In the eye of ther storms, Takmine Hideko was frustrated, but not suffering at a soap opera level, more like a less affluent housewife in the Donna Stone (Reed)/June Cleaver mode, if frumpier (with unflattering glasses), having to deal with (OK and participate in!) lots of passive aggression, greed, scheming, and seething resentments.

There’s an unusual amount of long shots, frequently providing, the view of the three juvenile delinquents waiting for the house to be less filled with people so they can rob it.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

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