Kobayashi’s yearning youth “Somewhere under the wide sky” (1954)

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The title of Kobayashi Masaki’s 1954 movie “Somewhere under the wide sky” (“Kono hiroi sora no dokoka ni”, also rendered “Somewhere beneath the broad sky”) is something the younger brother, Noboru (Ishihama Akira), tells his impoverished and now tubercular classmate, Mitsui. Noboru continues with “there is someone who will love me.” It is sort of odd that he does not have a girlfriend, since the same actor (born at the start of 1935) was in love already in two earlier Kobayashi movies (My Sons’ Youth, and Sincerity/A Sincere Heart). Although Noboru is somewhat spoiled by his mother and his older half-brother, Ryoichi (Sada Keiji) who is the head of the family and proprietor of the Morita Liquor Store in Kawasaki (across the Tawa River from Tokyo), his sunny disposition mostly cheers those around him and is accompanied by genuine empathy. Noboru is an advocate for helping others and for his somewhat frivolous sister-in-law, Hiroko (Kuga Yoshiko), against his censorious mother (Aroko Kumeko) and crippled (in an aerial bombing during WWII) older (half-?)sister Yasuko (Kinoshita regular Takamine Hideko).

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Yasuko is hyper-conscious of her limp and that, at the advanced age of 28, she should have married out by now (she has a suitor almost as optimistic and even more solicitous in the countryside, Shun-don (Ôki Minoru), whom she avoids… until she doesn’t). Despite the stepmother’s and sister-in-law’s outrage and suspicion about a Hiroko entertaining a visitor, an ex-suitor from her home town, Ryoichi takes that in stride. He married for love (rather than having a properly marriage-broker-arranged marriage) and has tolerance for the foibles of everyone, while working hard to support the family.

The social criticism, which would become biting in later Kobayashi movies, had not emerged yet (or he’d been forced to back off by the studio’s refusal to release “The Thick-Walled Room”), despite some focus on class differences, in particular the lesser life chances of those who have not inherited a family business and don’t have the support of a loving family. Ryoichi and Noburo are so amiable and empathetic that the movie is like a whole season of a 1950s family series (The Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver) compressed into an hour and a half (without a father, though Ryoichi pretty much functions as one). There aren’t a lot of laughs—the movie is more family drama than comedy—, but the movie is a pleasant spectacle of a family overcoming problems in postwar (rubble-cleared) Tokyo. It is well-acted and the viewer can bask under the virginal Noburo’s dazzling smiles. It was shot by Morita Toshiyasu, who would have more scenery to work with in Kobayashi’s “Izumi” (1956), which also starred Sada Keiji and has not-too-annoying music by Kinoshita Chûji, whom Kobayashi would continue to use. “Under” was scripted by the wife of cinematographer Kuuda Hiroshi (and sister to the composer and to the director Kinoshitas) Kusuda Yoshiko, the first of eleven screenwriting credits for her.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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