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