Tag Archives: romance

Frank Capra Goes Back to Washington

To make a typical triumph of down-home commonsense, breaking from the corrupt smarty-pants of these United States, producer-director Frank Capra drained most of the wit and all the substance of the 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “State of the Union” by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (Life with Father, The Sound of Music). The play thinly veiled the story of the 1940 Republican presidential nominee, Wendell Willkie, and his extramarital relations with Irita Van Doren. Willkie had been president of the Commonwealth & Southern Corporation.

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The businessman being turned into a Republican presidential candidate is an aircraft magnate Grant Matthews (Spencer Tracy), who has been keeping company with the heir of a newspaper empire, Kay Thorndyke (played by the then 21-year-old Angela Lansbury who did not look her age, and, indeed already showed the determination to make a president that she would play in the far superior 1962 “The Manchurian Candidate”).

In the 1940s as now, a presidential candidate has to display (or at least counterfeit) “family values” by parading wife and kids. The estranged wife Mary (Katharine Hepburn) thinks her husband would be a good president and realizes that being First Lady would make the liaison between her husband and his power-hungry mistress difficult, so goes along for the campaign ride being orchestrated by oily operator Jim Conover (Adolphe Menjou), who assigns a not very cynical newspaperman, Spike McManus (Van Johnson in the Jean Arthur role) to manage the campaign and keep the candidate from too plain of speaking to either his fellow big capitalists or to labor (hoodwinked by union officials).

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The name above the title guarantees that the people’s choice will in the last reel see that he has been duped and denounce those who have been putting him in the race, just like James Stewart’s Mr. Smith in Washington in 1939. Of course, this will inspire the populace to pay attention, stop listening to fear-mongerers and join hands to transcend conflict (“Kumbaya” was not yet known to Americans) and lead the world to peace, prosperity, and a genuinely United Nations (American exceptionalism was not then Republican dogma, see Harold Stassen, who was a 1948 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and Willkie’s best-seller One World).

The quaintest of many quaint aspects of the very talky and uncinematic “State of the Union” is the reminder that once upon a time the party of Theodore Roosevelt was opposed to monopolies and for world government in a guise other than US hegemony. The only Democrat in the movie is a heavy-drinking Southerner (Maidel Turner, the only carryover from the Broadway cast) who is the wife of a judge (who must have been appointed decades earlier…). But the pseudo-populism has the fascistic resonances that have not disappeared (I will forebear naming contemporary names, and stick to the cult of the leader in Capra’s jingoistic and manipulative worldview.)

The actor who comes through best in the movie is Van Johnson, not usually a favorite of mine. Spencer Tracy can manage the speeches and the deference to la Hepburn, but cannot make the part remotely believable. Hepburn fares better, and Menjou was certainly believable as an oily deal-maker. Lansbury was not bad, though, again, her part was underwritten/miswritten.

The editing is not just lax but astonishingly sloppy. And the DVD is barebones.

 

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

 

A romance with a happy ending from Mishima Yukio

Mishima Yukio (pen-name of Hiraoka Kimitake, 1925-70) was a rising, if somewhat notorious (for the homoeroticism of Confessions of a Mask and Forbidden Colors) Japanese novelist when he managed to journey to “the West” (east of Japan, the US, Brazil, France, Greece) in 1951-52. In Greece, he decided that his writing had been unrelievedly dark and set out to write a sunnier book, Japanizing Longus’s second century (CE) Hellenistic novel Daphnis and Chloe, which, though set on an island much smaller than Honshu (or, for that matter, the other three largest islands of the Japanese archipelago), concerned shepherds. The Sound of Waves/Shiosai, however, is set on (a fictionally renamed) Kamijima, a small island on the Ise coast.

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In Mishima’s novel young would-be lovers faced the sea, not any pastures. His Chloe, Hatsue, is an abaloneY diver, as is the mother of his Daphnis, Shinji, who is a fisherman. In Longus’s novel, the romantic leads are both foundlings; Shinji is raised by his mother who was widowed by US strafing of the boat in which her husband was fishing. Her father, Terukichi Miyata, had given Hatsue to adoption (ot pearl fishers) on another island, but recalls her when his son dies. He announces that he will adopt whomever marries Hatsue (marrying in and taking the wife’s patronym is a venerable way to maintain lineages in Japan, Taiwan, and southeastern China).

As in Longus, there are failed rapes, malicious false rumors, and Shinji has a dalliance with another woman, Chiyoko, the daughter of the lighthouse-keeper. Chiyoko is a student at the University of Tokyo and encourages Kawamoto Yasuo to rape Hatsue to make Shinji renounce his interest in Hatsue and focus on Chiyoko.

Rather inexplicably, Terukichi, hires both Shinji and Yasuo to work on one of his ships. (Terukuchi gets a letter from Chiyoko explaining what really happened, that Yasuo rather than Chinji had attempted to rape Hatsue later.) Chinji saves the ship in a storm, while Yasuo floundered. After that test, Tekuchi gives Chinji permission to marry Hatsue, and they live happily ever after.

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In Dawn to the West, Donald Keene explains that “apart from his general desire to depict the brighter side of human life, he wanted to prove that he could make the most hackneyed of stories come alive through his skill as a stylist. The enormous popularity of The Sound of Waves was a great surprise and even a disappointment” (being more acclaimed that work Mishima considered greater accomplishments, such as Kinkauji, Kyôkos House, and his final Sea of Fertility tetralogy; Robert Nathan’s biography of Mishima reports Mishima calling it a “joke on the public”). But, Keene continues, “The most important contribution made to Mishima’s artistic development by The Sound of Waves was that it demonstrated that classical literature, whether of Japan or the West, could serve as an effective substitute for personal experience,” including his modern versions of Nô plays.

There is a plot and action scenes (the storm at sea) and I find hornets averting Hatsue’s rape by Yasuo rather funny, though Mishima’s fiction is deficient in comedy. The novel has some of the insipidness I often find in the work of Mishima’s master and advocate, Kawabata along with the lyricism. I certainly like it more than I like The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (as much as I like that title, which I long thought was “fell into” rather than “fell from”) or Patriotism.

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The novel was filmed almost immediately (in 1954) by Taniguchi Senkichi with a then-notorious nude scene, and a four more times, not counting a 2003 anime version.

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

Imamura’s engaging traveling theater troupe rom-com “Stolen Desire”

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Nagato Hiroyuki was  likeable in Imamura Shohei ’s second (some sources, including Audie Bock’s Japanese Film Directors) say first)  movie, “Stolen Desire” (Nusumareta yokujô, 1958) in which he played the lead, Shinichi, a college graduate and nominal director of a troupe of actors (he draws the curtain back and forth and can’t get anyone to rehearse what he wants to do). He not only gets laid, but instead of chasing after a young woman (as in “Endless Desire” before, “Pigs and Battleships” after it) has one catching up and joining him (Chigusa, the (married) older sister of the one he slept with the night before, Chidori).

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Not at all a noir, it is sunny for an Imamura film, even with typical Japanese movie heavy rain. The cinematography Takamura Kuratarô’ [Suzuki’s “Tattooed Life”]) was good, if quite different from that of Himeda Shinsaku. There are panoramas of Osaka and of the countryside, as well as extended stage performances (burlesque and quasi-kabuki). There are some Ozu-level shots, but more long shots and more closeups.

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There are some humans behaving like pigs, local youths who kidnap and actress after peeping at the bathing actresses, but no femme fatale. The unemployed youths remind me of Fellini’s “I Vitelloni,” while the struggling troupe is something like (but not tragic) “La Strada.” The frustrated director is much younger and more sexually inexperienced than Mastroianni in “8 ½.”

The studio slapped on the racy title; Imamura’s had been “Tent Theater”). Though Imamura became one of the prototypical figures of the Japanese “New Wave,” this was conventionally shot f a “youth movie.”

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

Kobayashi’s second movie, “Magorko” (1953)

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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.

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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

 

Hierarchy and romance at Yawata Ironworks

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Kinoshita’s 1958 “Kono ten no niji” (The Eternal Rainbow) is a very peculiar amalgam. The first fifteen minutes and intermittent splices thereafter are a documentary with a narrator in awe of the scale of the Yawata (now Nippon Steel) ironworks and associated facilities for its workers in Yahara on the north cost of the island of Kyushu. The total institution of the factory (never the company that owns and runs it after the initial mention) comes across as less utopian in the fictional part of the movie, which involves two fathers who have worked there more than 30 years and floundering youth. The senior generation is very concerned about retirement that will involve losing their housing (and, I think, access to the company supermarket and various recreational facilities). The Kageyamas (Ryû Chisû and Tanaka Kinuyo) owns a house somewhere else, but view the coming change with trepidation.

They are supplementing his salary with rent from a young and single tenant, Suda (Kawazu Yûsuke in his first role), who is not content with his physically demanding job, though he keeps being told he was selected in preference to hundreds of other applicants who wished they had been chosen in his stead. Suda —to the surprise of those who know him from later Ôshima films—is an innocent idealist.

He is particularly aggrieved that the family of office-worker Chie (Kuga Yoshike, who had appeared in Kinoshita’s “Garden of Women”, “Farewell to Deam” and “The Rose on his Arm,” and in Kurosawa’s “The Idiot”) turns down the marriage proposal (carried by Suda’s landlord) of Suda’s friend, the even more pure of heart Sagawa (Takahashi Teiji, who also played the dutiful son for Kinoshita in “The Ballad of Narayama” the same year with Tanaka playing the 70-year-oldmother eager to be sacrificed) without providing a reason. Chie tells Suda it is none of his business and her mother tells him that having lived with a factory worker for 30-some years, she does not want her daughter to marry one. Both mother and daughter seek the more advantageous match with Mr. Machimura (Timura Takihiro, future star of Ôshima’s “Empire of Passion”), an engineer rising in the hierarchy and about to be sent off by the company to be involved in starting a factory in Brazil.

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I am mystified that Machimura is lodging with a married couple. The wife is in love with Machimura, though her workaholic husband does not notice until gossip reaches him (through Suda). Chie concludes that Machimura has been toying with her affections, and Suda convinces her to meet with Sagawa after telling him why her mother rebuffed Sagawa’s marriage proposal.

Kinoshita did not make it easy to figure out the relationships in the movie with abrupt cuts between the humans and the factory facilities (including a resort by the reservoir that supplies the factory, a concert hall, and an outdoor stage separated by a moat from the audience). Eventually though, I knew who was who. There was also a desperately unhappy and unemployed Kageyama son, Monru (Kosaka Kazuya) lacking in filial piety or manners, indulged by his parents.

Though Kinoshita drew attention to industrial pollution of a river and the sea to which it carried effluvium in “Fireworks Over the Sea,” the smoke that billows from multiple smokestacks and filters down to blanket them in smog troubles none of the characters in “The Eternal Rainbow. Sagawa and Suda somehow see seven different colors in the smoke. Though Suda saw a rainbow the first time he saw the factory, he and his friend admire the view from a hilltop of the smoke. Resigned to never securing a bride (because he cannot obtain the one he wants), Sagawa shows no signs of disaffection for his work. Suda is less a part of a work team and actively wonders “Is this all there is?” Both young men accept Chie selling herself to the highest bidder and cast off their resentment of her rejection (or the rejection by her mother) of Sagawa’s proposal. And she is modest about what she deserves in the way of happiness from an economically (and socially) advantageous marriage.

Well-acted, interestingly shot, with overly emphatic music, “The Eternal Rainbow” is in some ways a typical Kinoshita melodrama. And despite the overly admiring narration of the factory documentary intercut with the melodrama, the tour of the complex interested me. It helped that there are lots of locomotives (Suda’s job involves riding on the front of one and switching tracks).

BTW, this complex was the primary target for the second atomic bomb (“Big Boy”). The smoke from the previous day’s fire-bombing obscured it, and the bomb was instead dropped on the Christian neighborhood (Urakami) of Nagasaki, shown in the 1983 Kinoshita film “Children of Nagasaki.”

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

Kinoshita’s “The Girl I Loved”(1946)

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The Girl I Loved” (Waga koi seshi otome, 1946) is arguably the first Kinoshita Keisuke as auteur film: the first he both wrote and directed, the first with a soundtrack by his brother Chûji, and one with lots of singing (plus a lengthy solo violin performance of Schubert’s “Ava Maria”). It was very beautifully shot by Kinoshita’s brother-in-law, Kusuda Hiroshi.

Lovely to look at, but with a very hackneyed storyline: ye older A loves B who loves C; A recognizes that and never tells B he loves her. A is Jingo (the very handsome Hara Yasumi who would play the lead role un Naruse’s “Angry Street”), B is Yoshiko (pretty Igawa Kuniko, who would appear in eight subsequent Kinoshita films) who was left on the doorstep of Jingo’s mother (the redoubtable Higashiyama Chieko) en route to killing herself., C is the crippled veteran who was then evacuated to the countryside, Mr. Noda (Soneda Junji [no other film credits]).

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s would be predicted by the Westermarck explanation for the incest taboo (children raised together during their first years of life are sexually repelled by rather than attracted to each other), Yoshiko loves Jingo as a brother. He was 5+ when she was deposited at the entrance to the farmhouse, so grew up with Yoshiko only from later childhood.

Jingo’s younger brother, Jiro, realizes Jingo loves Yoshiko and feels sorry for him, but Jingo insists on accepting the choice of spouse Yoshiko has made (without even considering him in the running) and sacrifices his own love for her happiness.

Many of the beautiful compositions, especially the contemplation of clouds and the closeups, in the film brought Eistenstein’s “Que Viva México” to my mind, though the martyr is singular and is not trampled by the horses (the ranch has many horses). But he is photographed at least somewhat fetishistically. The harshness of life in Japan a year after its defeat (with atomic bombs dropped on two civilian targets) is nowhere in evidence, though both Kingo and Noda were in the military on the losing side. Noda is physically maimed, but neither evidences any PTSD. Both revel in the beauty of the countryside (to which Jingo is native, and which is relatively new to Noda).

As often in Kinoshita movies, the slavering of sentimental music on the soundtrack amplifies the sentimentality of the movie as a whole.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

“Carmen Falls in Love” (1952)

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The Carmen of “Carmen Falls in Love” /”Carmen’s Innocent Love” is a more recognizable self-sacrificing Takamine Hideko than the vulgar stripper of “Carmen Goes Home.” The sequel was shot in color that broke down, so can only be seen in black-and-white. The stripper Carmen’s pretensions to being an artist continue. She performs (dances and strips) in a pantomime of the Carmen story, with the familiar Bizet music played by a four-piece band.

She volunteers to pose nude for a surrealist sculptor, Sudo Hajime, with whom she falls in love. With infatuation comes inhibition, and she is embarrassed to pose nude for her beloved and two of his artist friends, and also ducks stripping at the club where she performs when he, his fiancée, Chirdori, and her mother come to see her perform.

There are two babies, one belonging to Carmen’s friend and former co-worker, Akime (Kobayashi Toshiko), who already showed herself more soft-headed about men in the first movie. The father of Akime’s baby turned communist and abandoned them. The other baby was borne by Satake, who comes across as a greedy shrew who has been abandoned by Shudo also has abandoned a son and its mother, who comes across as a greedy shrew, but not as greedy as his slutty fiancée (both Shudo and her mother call her “slut”), Chidori.

Chidori’s very ugly mother, Satake Kumako, the widow of a lieutenant general, is running for the Diet (congress) in the first democratic election on a platform of rearmament and tax cuts (a proto-US-Republican of the 21st century). She confuses the two babies, and thinks that Carmen is the mother of Sudo’s baby (though Akime’s baby, whom Carmen is carrying is a girl and Sudo’s is a boy). The candidate tries to buy off Carmen, who agrees to give up Sudo without payment (which does nothing at all to quell the demands from the woman who is raising his son).

Both the artist and the slut are marrying to get a property worth 3-4 million yen that is controlled by the widow Satake. There is no explanation of why marriage is necessary. I suppose that it is a condition of inheritance set by the late lieutenant general.

The artist’s (family’s) maid, played by Ozu veteran Higashiyama Chieko, lost her family in one of the atomic bomb attacks and is constantly fretting that every loud noise is another one being dropped on Tokyo. (Did Japanese ca. 1952 find this funny? I don’t)

Various plotlines converge at an election rally for Satake Kumako, at which Sudo has agreed to speak. He is heckled by the communist father of Akime’s baby. An outraged Carmen denounces him and is called up onstage by the candidate—and besides defending the beloved she gave up expresses her abhorrence of any more war.

The tilted (“Dutch angle”) photography is not used to any obvious purpose and strikes me as an annoying gimmick in the movie. More annoying is the failure to follow through on any of the many storylines. “The end of part two” (as the closing titles put it) shows that a third outing was anticipated, but was not made.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray