Ôshima Nagisa’s first movie, “A Town of Love and Hope” (Ai to kibô no machi, 1959, also known in English as “A Street of Love and Hope” and “The Boy Who Sold His Pigeon”) did not break with conventions of a Shochiku/Kinoshita in particular 24 Eyes) melodrama about a caring teacher, Miss Akiyama (Chino Kaukuo) and her diligent student, a boy, Masao (the thick-eyebrowed Fujikawa Hiroshi) trying to help his sick single mother (Mochizuki Yûko) support the family, which includes a younger sister, Yasue (Ito Michio).
There’s no eroticism and other than a desultory alley fist (and umbrella) fight, no violence against humans. There are a highly contrived pair of romances that are far from being consummated:Yoko (Tominaga Yuki), an affluent school girl takes a shine to Masao and her older brother, Yugji (Watanabe Fumio) takes on to Miss Akiyama, who is trying to get the company, Koyuo Electrics, at which Yuji and his father are executives, to hire Masao, even though Masao’s mother desperately wants him to continue on to high school.
That Masao sells pigeons that are quite likely to escape and return to their hovel, so they can be sold again makes the adults (other than his mother, who urged it) think him an immoral person. Recognition of the economic desperation that drove him to the unsavory practice does not blunt the contempt from those who can afford to be more scrupulous. (Ôshima does not show Maso’s social betters engaging in corrupt practices, which are far from unknown to Japanese corporations, as represented, to take one instance, in Kurosawa’s “The Bad Sleep Well”). The movie only runs 62 minutes, though it seemed longer to me, even with many cuts. No unusual camera angles or lighting struck me. And I did not think there was a shortage of closeups indicating distance from the stoic Masao or his anguished mother and sister. The cinematographer was Kinoshita’s brother-in-law and usual cinematographer, Kusuda Hiroshi, which certainly contributed to the standard Shochiku look, even if there was no sentimental bridging class differences for either hesitant romance.
The only scene that suggested what was to come from Ôshima was Masao making kindling near the end of the movie, prefiguring the first scene in Ôshima’s last movie, “Gohatto” (Taboo, 1999). I suppose the dead rat and other dead animals that Yasue also look forward to future cinematic outrages. Between Ôshima’s first and second film (the Japanese New Wave-launching “Cruel Story of Youth“, linearity broke down, and his male protagonists became crueler and suffered less nobly.
©2016, Stephen O. Murray