My Favorite Kinoshita Film: “Spring Dreams” (1960)

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Kinoshita’s “Spring Dreams” (Haru no yume, 1960) brings to mind Renoir’s 1932 “Boudo Saved from Drowning” and its update/remake “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1986). It is not a homeless tramp who lands in the living room of a nouveau riche family, but a sweet-potato vendor played by the go-to father of Ozu movies, the very busy actor Ryû Chishû. He has an apartment and various other residents of the building show up hoping to inherit his secreted assets.

The family physician (Sano Shûji) insists on not moving the vendor for at least a week after suffering a stroke. The household is a screwball comedy of family and employees. The eldest (Higashiyama Chieko [Hakuchi]), the 70-year-old mother of the deceased wife of the current company owner [the ineffectual, pompous Ozawa Eitarô (The Crucified Lovers)] lays down the law (required social decorum) though recalling when she was forced to marry into the industrialist family rather than follow her heart.

One of her granddaughters, Tamiko (Tan’ami Yatsuko) is promiscuous, so family positioning depends on a socioeconomically “good match” of the other one, Mariko (Okada Mariko), though she has chosen a love of her own (a painter who is being bribed with a Paris sojourn to get him off the scene). There are two lovestruck secretaries who appear to others as “old maids.” Kuga Yushiko is the more prominent of the two.

Even more absurd than his father is the befuddled student played by Kawazu Yûsuke (just before the swagger of “Cruel Story of Youth, etc.) His character, Mamoru looks very nerdy in glasses and tight short shorts pulled up as high as they can go. Mamoru has been despairing (a caricature of existentialist angst) until joining the workers striking against his father’s company. (There are also some yakusas brought in to protect the family home, though they start a fire in the garage that threatens it.)

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Though the pace is not as fast as Preston Sturges screwball comedies, but some laughs are set up along the way, along with something of a satire of affluent Japanese caught between old and new ways (less gentle than in Ozu movies in which Higashiyama appeared along with Ryû). The formidable grandmother turns marshmallow thinking about the distant past, but relents on her grandchildren. Several romances bloom, and the father remains a ridiculous figure. Kinoshita’s brother-in-law Kusuda Hiroshi provided his usual deft cinematography, almost entirely indoors and without the odd camera angles of “Carmen Falls in Love” (an earlier Knoshita rom-com).

(I have seen all 42 Kinoshita movies Hulu streams, though I am posting on them more or less in order of their making, so “favorite” is from all of them, not just those he made through 1960. I do seem to prefer his comedies to his melodramas: “A Broken Drum,” “Carmen Comes Home,” and “Danger Stalks Near” are other favorites.)

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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