Kinoshita’s penultimate movie, “Shin yorokobimo kanashimimo ikutoshitsuki” (Big Joys, Small Sorrows, 1986) seems more like a swan song than his last one, “Father” (1988), though I doubt Kinoshita realized that was going to be the last movie he directed (he lived another decade). It is a very scenic movie, with a Coast Guard lighthouse keeper Yoshiaki (Katô Gô [Samurai Rebellion]) and his loving but complaining wife (Ôhara Reiko) moving from one strikingly located lighthouse to another, stretching from Kyushu in the south to Hokkaido in the north.
At the first location, Kyogamisaki, in 1973, when they are goint to leave the station in two days and have mostly packed, his father (Konishi Kunio) visits them. Though she is irritated by the disruption, the daughter-in-law is eventually charmed by the lonely old man who loathes his wife (his second one; his first having died when his son was two and he was about to be drafted) whom he always calls “the old woman.”
He ages over the course of the movie, as his three grandchildren grow up, the elder son (Nakai Kiichi) following his father to the Maritime Service University in Kyoto (the Annapolis of the Japanese Coast Guard) and finding a more demure bride.
Other than inevitable aging, there are no sorrows of any size, and the joys do not seem grandiose, though the scenery often is. Kinoshita Chûji provided another sentimentalizing soundtrack, Okazaki Kôzô (Goyôkin, Inochi bô ni furô) color photography reminiscent of many a movie set along the Mediterranean (Billy Wilder’s underrated late “Avanti,” for instance). I didn’t think the 130 minutes dragged, though no one would describe it as “fast-paced.”
Though most of the travel is by boat or bus, there is a train shown early, and early and late songs glorifying home(place). Caring for an aging parent makes “Big Joys” something of the antithesis of “The Ballad of Narayama,” except that the oldsters in both welcome death and are loved by the son who is the protagonist of each movie. It is more directly related to the 1957 “Yorokobi mo kanashimi mo ikutoshitsuki “ (Times of Joy and Sorrow) that I have not seen and that Audie Bock derided as “gushingly sentimental.” It starred Sada Keiji as a lighthouse keeper and Takmine Hideko as his sickly wife (it ran 160 minutes encompassing only two generations). I think that the family here is the most loving of those in any Kinoshita movie.