Hierarchy and romance at Yawata Ironworks

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Kinoshita’s 1958 “Kono ten no niji” (The Eternal Rainbow) is a very peculiar amalgam. The first fifteen minutes and intermittent splices thereafter are a documentary with a narrator in awe of the scale of the Yawata (now Nippon Steel) ironworks and associated facilities for its workers in Yahara on the north cost of the island of Kyushu. The total institution of the factory (never the company that owns and runs it after the initial mention) comes across as less utopian in the fictional part of the movie, which involves two fathers who have worked there more than 30 years and floundering youth. The senior generation is very concerned about retirement that will involve losing their housing (and, I think, access to the company supermarket and various recreational facilities). The Kageyamas (Ryû Chisû and Tanaka Kinuyo) owns a house somewhere else, but view the coming change with trepidation.

They are supplementing his salary with rent from a young and single tenant, Suda (Kawazu Yûsuke in his first role), who is not content with his physically demanding job, though he keeps being told he was selected in preference to hundreds of other applicants who wished they had been chosen in his stead. Suda —to the surprise of those who know him from later Ôshima films—is an innocent idealist.

He is particularly aggrieved that the family of office-worker Chie (Kuga Yoshike, who had appeared in Kinoshita’s “Garden of Women”, “Farewell to Deam” and “The Rose on his Arm,” and in Kurosawa’s “The Idiot”) turns down the marriage proposal (carried by Suda’s landlord) of Suda’s friend, the even more pure of heart Sagawa (Takahashi Teiji, who also played the dutiful son for Kinoshita in “The Ballad of Narayama” the same year with Tanaka playing the 70-year-oldmother eager to be sacrificed) without providing a reason. Chie tells Suda it is none of his business and her mother tells him that having lived with a factory worker for 30-some years, she does not want her daughter to marry one. Both mother and daughter seek the more advantageous match with Mr. Machimura (Timura Takihiro, future star of Ôshima’s “Empire of Passion”), an engineer rising in the hierarchy and about to be sent off by the company to be involved in starting a factory in Brazil.

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I am mystified that Machimura is lodging with a married couple. The wife is in love with Machimura, though her workaholic husband does not notice until gossip reaches him (through Suda). Chie concludes that Machimura has been toying with her affections, and Suda convinces her to meet with Sagawa after telling him why her mother rebuffed Sagawa’s marriage proposal.

Kinoshita did not make it easy to figure out the relationships in the movie with abrupt cuts between the humans and the factory facilities (including a resort by the reservoir that supplies the factory, a concert hall, and an outdoor stage separated by a moat from the audience). Eventually though, I knew who was who. There was also a desperately unhappy and unemployed Kageyama son, Monru (Kosaka Kazuya) lacking in filial piety or manners, indulged by his parents.

Though Kinoshita drew attention to industrial pollution of a river and the sea to which it carried effluvium in “Fireworks Over the Sea,” the smoke that billows from multiple smokestacks and filters down to blanket them in smog troubles none of the characters in “The Eternal Rainbow. Sagawa and Suda somehow see seven different colors in the smoke. Though Suda saw a rainbow the first time he saw the factory, he and his friend admire the view from a hilltop of the smoke. Resigned to never securing a bride (because he cannot obtain the one he wants), Sagawa shows no signs of disaffection for his work. Suda is less a part of a work team and actively wonders “Is this all there is?” Both young men accept Chie selling herself to the highest bidder and cast off their resentment of her rejection (or the rejection by her mother) of Sagawa’s proposal. And she is modest about what she deserves in the way of happiness from an economically (and socially) advantageous marriage.

Well-acted, interestingly shot, with overly emphatic music, “The Eternal Rainbow” is in some ways a typical Kinoshita melodrama. And despite the overly admiring narration of the factory documentary intercut with the melodrama, the tour of the complex interested me. It helped that there are lots of locomotives (Suda’s job involves riding on the front of one and switching tracks).

BTW, this complex was the primary target for the second atomic bomb (“Big Boy”). The smoke from the previous day’s fire-bombing obscured it, and the bomb was instead dropped on the Christian neighborhood (Urakami) of Nagasaki, shown in the 1983 Kinoshita film “Children of Nagasaki.”

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

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