The English titles for Kinoshita’s 1979 movie about a movement to mandate compensation for victims of murder, “Oh My Son!” and “My Son, My Son!,” derive from the subtitle, “Musuko yo.” The title, “Shodo satsujin,” means “Illumination of Murder.” ( Another title used, “Impulse Murder,” might do, too.) The movie shows a number of senseless murders (that is, murders in which the victim wanted to kill someone and did not know the victims), but is primarily about the parents (first the father, later joined by the mother (Takamine Hideko in her last role), especially the father’s eyesight fails) visiting other victims across Japan to demand the government provide for victims.
Kawase Shuzo (Wakayama Tomisaburô) was preparing his son (and only child) Takeshi (the winsome Tanaka Ken [Boko]) to take over the welding shop he owned before Takeshi happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (in 1966) and was knifed by a homicidal stranger (a heretofore petty criminal who had been in a juvenile detention facility until recently and who was in a fury because he had been rejected by a yakusa gang).
The father is prostrated by grief. Takeshi pled for revenge with his last breaths, and, brandishing a knife, Shuzo lunges at Takeshi’s killer in the corridor outside the courtroom where the nineteen-year-old will get a five-to-ten-year sentence).
Finally rising from the despond that kept him in bed during the funeral, Shuzo sells his shop and starts collecting stories of other families who have suffered the loss of a loved one, frequently the income-earner for a family, but also some daughters. These journeys provide opportunities to show the insides and outsides of trains, a Kinoshita leitmotif.
Though Kinoshita supposedly gave up trying to use cinema to change society during the early 1950s, “Shodo satsujin” is definitely a social problem movie, showing and hoping to lead to rectifying injustice.
Wakayama received all the major Japanese acting awards. As his wife, Takamine Hideko (who went back to the early 1950s in Kinoshita movies, most famously in “24 Eyes”) has a quieter role supporting her husband.
Though the running time of 131 minutes seems a bit long, I didn’t identify anything I’d cut. The movie shows that trying to get the government to take on an additional responsibility is a long and frustrating slog (following on the outrage at the short prison sentence for Takeshi’s muderer). As often in Kinoshita (and Naruse) movies, the choice of music grated on me. Takeshi played “Home on the Range” on his harmonica early on, and various rather saccharine arrangements recur and recur and recur. (In regard to other Kinoshita movies recycling instrumental arrangements by his brother Chûji of songs very familiar to western audiences, some have argued that these are also familiar to Japanese ears. In my view, if that is true, then their repetition is aural clichés for Japanese as for western viewers of the films.)
©2016, Stephen O. Murray