Tag Archives: Takamine

Forced to marry her rapist: Kinoshita’s 1961 “Immortal Love”

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“Immortal Love” (Eien no hito, which means something more like perpetual ownership of a person, 1961; though not a translation of the title, “Bitter Spirit” is the apt British title) is for me the best Kinoshita Keisuke film (although I prefer his comedies to his grim tragedies), partly because I am such a great admirer of Nakadai Tatsuya, who plays a despicable returned, crippled veteran (from the annexation of Manchuria, to the area of Mount Aso on Kyushu in 1932) who wants Sadako (Takamine Hideko), daughter of one of Hebei’s father’s tenant, Sojiro (Katô Yoshi). He knows that she is in love with Takashi (Sada Keiji), the son of another tenant farmer who has not returned from the war and rapes her. That and economic pressure from his father on her father forces her to marry him… but not to love the son conceived from the rape that deflowered her. (She attempted to commit suicide before she could have known she was pregnant, but was fished out by Takashi’s brother.4926518_l4.jpg

Nakadai

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 Takamine

Though physically (if not emotionally) faithful to the husband she hates and not acting on it, she continues to love Takashi who went off and married a woman, Tomoko (Otowa Nabuko), with whom he fathered a son. Wife and son come to the village, and Tomoko is warmer to Heibei than Sadako is, though it seems Heibei rapes Tomoko, too.

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The firstborn of Sadako and Heibei kills himself at the age of 17, when he learns that he was the product of rape. The second becomes a communist, involved in the movement to prevent the 1960 renewal of the security pact between the US and Japan. And their daughter elopes with Takashi’s son, with the connivance of Sadako, who knows Heibei would never consent to it.

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The melodrama extends to 1961 with a sort of détente ending. It didn’t seem sentimental to me: too many ruined lives for a happy ending, which Kinoshita did not really supply.

The flamenco with ballad score by the brother of the writer-director, Kinoshita Chûji is unusual, but annoyed me less than some other music in Kinoshita Keisuke films (or the Bolero-like music in “Rashomon”). Kinoshita’s regular cinematographer (and brother-in-law), Kusuda Hiroshi, did outstanding work, including some foggy scenes and panoramas of fields and the volcano. There are many striking tracking shots. And despite the ballads at the junctures between the five chapters, the movie moved right along, albeit with lots of nastiness from Nakadai and lots of rolling with the punched from Takamine.

And there are multiple shots of trains (also bus interiors), always a plus for me. The film was nominated for the best foreign-language feature Oscar (losing to Bergman’s “Through a Glass Darkly”.

Takamine’s character broke the heart of Nakadai’s in Naruse’s “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” (1960), too, mostly not noticing he was in love with her, but rejecting him when he makes a move (which does not continue on to rape). I thought she looked too old at the start and too young at the end of “Immortal,” whereas the two male leads aged.

The movie was the only Kinoshita film to be nominated for a best foreign-language film Oscar (“24 Eyes” and “The Rose on His Arm” had received Golden Globe nominations in that category earlier. Japan did not win that award until 2009, for “Okuribito” (Departures). 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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Kinoshita’s 1957 comedy of greed and passive aggression: “Fûzen no tomoshibi”

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I thought that Kinoshita’s 1957 “Fûzen no tomoshibi” (titled in English Danger Stalks Near/ Hanging by a Thread/ A Candle in the Wind) was going to be a sort of Japanese “The Ladykillers,” but the (pictured) three thieves watching a house they plan to rob is pretty much a MacGuffin. The traffic in and out of the house is very considerable, in part because the husband, who works in a shoe store for 7000 yen a month has just won a 50,000-yen camera.

His wife has to deal with his very difficult, miserly mother (Tamura Akiko [the mother in Kinoshita’s 1951 “Boyhood”]) and a young son who is sick, as his grandmother claims to be when it suits her purposes. Plus a servant who is fired for leaving an iron on a tatami mat while she is off reading in the bathroom, a sinister classmate (Nanbara Kôji) of the husband, who drops by and flatters the grandmother, a greedy sister, and various tradesmen (bill collectors, mailman, two messengers from local stores).

There is a lot of buildup, and a tumultuous, satisfying climax. The payoffs are funny, though the sitcom difficulties along the way are not especially funny. In the eye of ther storms, Takmine Hideko was frustrated, but not suffering at a soap opera level, more like a less affluent housewife in the Donna Stone (Reed)/June Cleaver mode, if frumpier (with unflattering glasses), having to deal with (OK and participate in!) lots of passive aggression, greed, scheming, and seething resentments.

There’s an unusual amount of long shots, frequently providing, the view of the three juvenile delinquents waiting for the house to be less filled with people so they can rob it.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

“Distant Clouds”/”Tattered Wings” (1955)

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Another outing with the mid-1950s Kinoshita/Shochiko Studio repertory company. The Japanese title of the 1955 weepie, “Tôi kumo” means “Distant Clouds,” but the American edition takes its title from Gide’s Strait Is the Gate, “Tattered Wings.”

It is another story of love persisting and that not being enough to lead to happiness. The redoubtable Takamine Hideko, in this outing named Fumyuko, again suffers for social conventions. Before the war, she loved Keizô (Tamura Takahiro), who loved her, but because her family needed money, she married into the Terada family, owners of a distillery in Takayama. Her husband routinely cheated on her and criticized her relentlessly. He left her (pregnant?) with a daughter when he went off to war, not to return.

Her dutiful brother-in-law, Shunsuke (Sada Keiji again subordinating personal feeling, particularly jealousy, trying to do the right thing by everyone) is set to propose marriage. Keizô passes through before taking up a position in Hokkaido (from which he will not be able to return for any visits for at least two years? I only report what he said). He is pained to hear of her husband’s infidelity and brutality. He hoped that if he gave her up, she would be happy—and that having not been happy without him, she can yet be happy with him, that they can make a new start.

Though the two do nothing other than talk to each other, salacious gossip about an affair booms, and Fuuyko’s sister (who has loved Keizô as long as KeizIo has loved Fuyuko) undertakes filling in Shunsuke with the scandal (knowing that he loves her sister). Will she stay with the only Terada child (that is, her daughter) or finally go off with Keizô?

There is another illicit romance involving Ryô (Ishihama Akira) and the daughter of the blacksmith to whom he has been apprenticed. And film of local festival. The movie begins by following a train through the countryside (presumably the one bearing Keizô to Takayama) back and ends in the train station (with Keizô on board a train that will take him to Tokyo, form where he will head off to Hokkaido).

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As Usual, Takamine and Sada behave properly and hide their emotions from public view, though these are clear enough to viewers of the movie.

In Gide’s novella, the writer’s surrogate, Jerome, does not notice that while he focuses on one very-proper(/puritanical) young woman, her sister is the one who really loves him. Keizô is rereading the book, which Fuyuko lent him before her marriage to the Terada scion.

The persistence of desire even after bowing to the loss of a beloved to marriage is definitely a Kinoshita leitmotif. And, as usual, I am more appreciative of the cinematography of Kusuda Hiroshi than of the music of Kinoshita Chûji, though is is less intrusive in this movie than in some others.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

Kinoshita’s “most beloved”movie: “24 Eyes” (1954)

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Knowing that “24 Eyes” (Nijushi no hitomi, 1954) is Kinoshita Keisuke’s “most beloved film” and that it runs 156 minutes made me wary. The pace is leisurely, at least through the first two-thirds of the film, though the movie covers eighteen years that were very tumultuous for Japan (1928-46) even on the second largest island in the Inland Sea, Shodoshima. It opens with the new teacher in a two-teacher village grade school, Miss Oishi (Takamine Hideko), shocking the locals by wearing western dress and arriving on a shiny new bicycle, causing the tongues of censorious beer-sizzling mothers to wag.

After she breaks a leg in a prank by her male first-grade students (and they are taught by the clueless veteran teacher played by Ryû Chishû) both the students and their parents come to appreciate her. The students rejoin her when they start fifth grade in town, where the teacher lives. In the paranoid militarist (/fascist) Japan of the 1930s, she is suspected of being “a Red,” and after being reprimanded by the principal (looking out for her, since he was a friend of her dead father) for telling her boys that she would prefer them to be living farmers or fishermen to being heroically dead soldiers, she is labeled a “coward,” and decides to quit teaching (to run a candy store).

In 1942, after an eight year gap in which she has borne two sons and an infant daughter, her students and her (pleasure cruise captain) husband are drafted—to her dismay that is barely disguised in public and is overt at home, where she is unhappy about her two sons marching around singing military songs.

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Surviving students (including a blind veteran of the war) gather to celebrate her return to the village school in 1946. That gathering seems an apt place to hear “Auld Lang Syne,” but Kinoshita Chûji (the director’s brother and usual soundtrack-provider) uses various instrumentations of that hackneyed song seven times in the last hour and a half of the movie, plus “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” three times, and “Annie Laurie” earlier on (I think twice).* I think there is also an hour of the children singing (including the national anthem, a song about a chirping plover, and a song of thanks to teachers at two graduations). I don’t think there is any music original to the movie, just arrangements (often treacly ones) of various Japanese and western standards. (I have already commented in earlier postings that the music his brother provided is largely responsible for the sentimentality charged to Kinoshita movies.)

Though the cloying music annoys me, I’ll readily stipulate that the director’s brother-in-law, who had been his cinematographer from the beginning of his directorial career, did outstanding work, whether closeups of the actors (including twelve pairs of siblings 5-7 years apart in age) or long shots of processions and the terrain of Shodoshima. The Criterion edition print is good (and generally well subtitled), if it’s blacks are just a bit washed out.

The movie was shot, mostly sequentially, on location over the course of a whole year, though the wheat seems high most of the time, and there are cherry blossoms both at the beginning and at the end of school years. Both are photogenic, so I wouldn’t complain too much about their incongruity.

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The movie was/is loved in Japan for showing rural solidarity and characteristics of Japanese other than those exposed by the victors’ war crimes trials following the war. Kinoshita showed mothers’ aversion to sending their sons off to die as early as his 1944 film financed by the Army Ministry, “Army,” and unloaded at the militarists who brought disaster to the homeland in “Morning for the Osone Family,” as well as showing the mutual suspicion of people relocated from Tokyo and rural folk in “Boyhood,” so was far form being an apologist for the Japanese war makers and their inculcating the sentiment of the marching off song, “We won’t return alive unless we’ve won” and the general cult of dying for the emperor (in which “unless we’ve won” seems an afterthought to looking forward to the glory of death).

(Though the war has a major impact in depopulating the island and spreading grief, the area is too remote to be bombed and there is no direct representation of warmaking.)

The Criterion edition DVD has a nearly 20-minute-long interview with clips of film historian Sato Tadao that clued me to the sibling casting and that Kinoshita had wanted to film a different novel by Tsuboi Sakae than the 1952 24 Eyes. His assertion that Kinoshita’s trip to Paris turned him into a more socially aware film-maker, however, is nonsense. Indeed, other than “24 Eyes” and “Immortal Love,” I’d say that Kinoshita’s later movies were less social criticism, and that his most pointed social criticism was in the 1946 “Morning for the Osone Family” and the 1948 “Apostasy.” Hulu streams both the trailer and the Sato interview, btw.

 

  • In the booklet essay for the DVD Audie Block defended the musical choices: ‘If the themes of “Annie Laurie,” “Auld Lang Syne,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” played on guitar, flute, violin, and harp, seem un-Japanese, it is our ears that are a little off. It’s necessary to detach ourselves from the cultural associations we impose on music. The Western tunes and Western instrumentation are just as ordinary to the Japanese ear as the old Japanese folk songs the twelve children sing with their teacher. The easy transitions the composer, Kinoshita’s brother Chuji, makes between East and West are no more unusual than the use of Ravel and Beethoven in Akira Kurosawa’s film music.’ I do not accept this, since the associations of “Auld Lang Syne” are clearly intended, and I’m not sure that “Take it to the Lord in prayer” is not intended to link to “Lord Buddha.” Moreover, the resemblance of the music of Kurosawa’s “Rashômon” has been severely criticized in the west since the movie made it to international attention.

 

@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

 

The first Japanese color movie: “Carmen Comes Home” (1951)

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I didn’t know that Takamine Hideko (whom I consider the Japanese Olivia de Haviland)  could do more than suffer delicately, but she was quite entertaining as a pure-hearted Tokyo stripper returned home to her native village in the first Japanese movie shot in color, Kinoshita’s 1951 “Carmen Comes Home” (Karumen kokyo ni kaeru). I wouldn’t call it “sentimental,” but it is life-affirming and her censorious father (Sakamoto Takeshi) and the school principal (Ryû Chishû) eventually take “wild naked dancing” in stride and fine good use for the money Carmen left for her father.

And Maruju, “the transportation magnate,” makes enough money from the performance by the visiting pair of stripper’s (Kin/“Carmen” and her friend Akemi, played by Kobayashi Toshiko) that he feels benevolent and ends an injustice he had committed. With a recurring hymn to Mount Asama (in Shinshu) and shots of it, the scandalous homecoming movie drags at times, especially when Ryû sings, and the roles are types are not developed characters. The rationalizations of showing naked flesh as “art” are gently pilloried. What seems most funny to me is that Lily Carmen believes she is an “artist” and her stripping “art; moreover even the most skeptical of the villagers (her father and the gradeschool principal) don’t entirely reject the conception.

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I’m not sure whether Kinoshita thought the big-city strippers innocent, though the warm farewells of the locals as their train takes them back suggests acceptance of them, which, after all their gnashing of teeth, the principal and Kin’s father also do. The latter was ashamed, but no one shows/feels guilt about naked displays (or anything else).

Though first shooting two other films, Kinoshita filmed a sequel set in Tokyo the next year (1952).

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray