Ishihama Akira was back (from “My Sons’ Youth“) as a well-behaved son in Kobayashi Masaki’s second movie, the tearjerker “Magorko” (“Sincerity” or “The Sincere Heart,” 1953) scripted by Kinoshita Keisuke. I’d say that the latter also lent his brother, but in addition to a family group singing “Silent Night” and someone dubbing Ishihama singing “Jingle Bells” (both in English), the score seemed to me to consist entirely of arranging music written by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Ishihama played Hiro, a rugby playing boy cramming for his college entrance exam, under heavy pressure from his executive father to pass, and being tutored by an engineer (Takahashi Tiji) engaged to marry his older sister, Midori Hiroshi is captivated by Fumiko (Nozie Hitomi in her screen debut), a healthy looking girl who moves in across the street in a room facing north, so that the plant in her windowsill gets no sunlight. She looks about as much like someone dying of tuberculosis as Greta Garbo did in “Camille” or Nicole Kidman did in “Moulin Rouge” (though Fumiko does not have a big production number in which she sings before expiring.
Hiro gets his father (Fujio Suga) to pledge to give him money that he intends to use for medical treatment for Fumiko with whom he has never exchanged a single word. He wants to help and his father, not unreasonably, wants to know who it is his son wants to pay for.
Fumiko’s uncle apparently impoverished the family, and Fumiko’s sister attempts to hide from him, though he shows up when she is out, which propels Fumiko to flee out in the snow, where she collapses in front of Hiroshi’s rugby coach (while Hiroshi is on the way to deliver a Christmas present to).
The story is very contrived and very sentimental rather than critical about the differences in life chances of the rich (Hiroshi) and the poor (Fumiko). Morita Toshiyasu (who would also shoot three more movies for Kobayashi) photographed Ishihama in ways that made him look positively radiant, not merely very handsome (Kinoshita Keisuke is the one reputed to be gay, but I have not seen any male character shot so adoringly in any of the many films he directed himself).
©2016, Stephen O. Murray
Kobayashi Masaki (1916-96) was a protégé of Kinoshita Keisuke, who lent some sentimentality that Kobayashi would shed before making his masterpieces, and also lent Kobayashi his brother, Kinoshita Chûji, to supply the music for Kobayashi’s first feature, the 45-minute “Musuko no seishun” (1952) available on Hulu as its US title “Youth of the Son.” (“Spring” in the Japanese title/metaphor is rendered “Youth” in both). The British title, “My Sons’ Youth,” is clearly better, since there are two boys, the 18-year-old Haruhiko (Ishihama Akira, who had been the boy of Kinoshita’s “Boyhood the year before, and would later die so agonizingly in Kobayashi’s “Harakiri”) and the 16-year-old Akahiko. Haruhiko is pleasant, handsome, and shy; Akahiko a bit sullen and a bit of a ruffian.
After Haruhiko’s birthday party (which looks to me suitable for a ten-year-old, with singing “Happy Birthday” (in English) for about five minutes, he goes on a date to a kabuki performance in Tokyo (with Kosono Yôko, who sheds her girlish look to go as a woman in heels with a permanent). Akahiko and his friend, the thuggish son of a rich man (the ubiquitous Ryû Chisû, playing a father not very much like those he played in Ozu movie after Ozu movie) beat up some visitors from Tokyo and retain the watch of one of them as a souvenir of their triumph. That gets them jailed. After Akahiko’s father gets the boys sprung from jail, Akahiko is penitent, but eager enough to wrestle with his older brother, seemingly not having had enough fighting for one night.
The episodic family movie is like a 1950s family sitcom—“Father Knows Best” or “The Donna Reed Show,” though they came along later and could not have influenced Kobayashi. Work with Kinoshita, not least collaborating on writing the screenplay for “A Broken Drum” for Kinoshita to direct and working on Kinoshita’s Carmen movies, clearly did lead to this derivative, pleasant work.
Although there is not a rural-urban conflict, there is the offscreen clash of boys from the metropole (Tokyo) and hinterland town boys eager to prove their toughness.
(the youth of the director)
©2016, Stephen O. Murray
Discussion of Japanese literature and movies (in translation and subtitled, respectively).