Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Analysis of "There Was A Father", 00:12:00 - 00:17:59

There Was A Father, Scene 797

After the conversation about his resigning teachership with Hirata, Horikawa moves to his hometown with his son. This six minutes concerns the beginning of their life-long sojourn.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Analysis of "There Was A Father", 00:06:00 - 00:11:59

Throughout this six minutes, large part of dark areas are provided by human figures (students and teachers) since they wear dark uniforms or suits, while the brighter areas are from background.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Analysis of "There Was A Father", 00:00:00 - 00:05:59

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Only six minutes of the film.
But this first six minutes are already filled with wealth of ideas and images.
First, the condition of the print. It is quite apparent that the grayscale of the images are "narrowed". In another words, the dynamic range has been lost. Black has faded, while white lost its luster. I believe that the surviving material is positive 16mm reduction print. I don't know if the loss of image quality occurred when this reduction/duplication process was performed, or it has degraded over the course of time.

The modern image processing technologies can manipulate images quite easily. In fact, there are some people who are working with old films, giving the image grayscale stretch, adjusting it until they can get "decent details", and calling it "digital restoration". While I am not totally against this approach, I am not ready to accept it as definitive. Digitizing analogue materials, especially deteriorated materials, is quite an intricate matter.

In any case, rather than appropriating details by manipulating the grayscale, I would study the images as they are, as carefully as possible.

A bit of historical background. It will help us to understand some of the aspects in this film.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Analysis of "There Was A Father", prologue


It was more than 20 years ago. Back then, the chances to encounter Ozu's works were relatively limited. The VHS catalogs or theatrical screenings usually consisted of works from 50's and 60's, the later masterpieces. So when I found "There Was A Father" was scheduled on late-night TV, I was quite excited. It was probably around '86 or '87.

It made quite an impression on me. The print was in a miserable condition, but through scratches, specs, damages, flickering and shaky frames, the ethereal world lost to us emerged. Since then, I was quite captivated by the film.

It was not that I liked the story. In fact, I found its reactionary moral preaching rather heavy-handed and was not at all convinced by the father-son relationship portrayed. Direction was superb, as you might expect from Ozu, but there was something more than that. I was not able to grip what fascinated me. From time to time, I contemplated about it, my fascination about this film.

If I attempt to describe what I saw, I would say it was this strange darkness dissolved in the air beyond the lens. What I was not able to grasp was if it was really a dark film in terms of its images, or its theme filtered my perception of the images.

I was not able to place this "darkness" in the broader scope of cinematic art. It was one of those strange experiences you cannot explain very well. I had seen many noirs, especially John Alton's works, and love them deeply. I love German Expressionist films and their works in Hollywood. But I felt this film had a different kind of darkness. It's not dark guys doing dark deeds in dark alleys. It's not dark twisted figures contemplating dark thoughts in dark twisted sets. I felt inexplicable tragedy in its theme. This film was supposed to portrait the "family value" as the war-time Japanese government saw fit, while Ozu must had worked thoroughly to make it as universal as possible. But somehow, the mysterious dark fog was hovering over, I thought. Some images of the films were reiterated in my memory and deformed into black haze.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Exhausted Soldier

The Fighting Soldier (1939), A Chinese watching his house burnt down

Propaganda films are, in principle, very clear about what message it should convey. One of the most notable example, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL is very efficient in transmitting its message. Images are designed to portray Nazi regime to be the liberator of German race, the symbol of national rebirth. Absurd, sure, but in 1934 Germany, an average citizen never knew the horrors to come. TRIUMPH is a very unique material. It is a rather dull document of the Nazi party political rally, propaganda to every frame.

In Japan during WWII, any media, newspaper, literature, art, theater, film was heavily censored and monitored. The wartime government exploited news reports, news reels and other documentaries to express its agenda, to emphasize its moral ground, and to exaggerate its achievements. Several government functions and military ministries produced many so-called "culture films". These documentaries were coupled with entertainment films so that general audience, who visited the theater for another Ken Uehara movie, would get government messages. In 1937, Ministry of Army decided to document the China war zone and under this political support, the director Fumio Kamei and cinematographer Kiyoshi Miki followed the troops to the Battle of Wuhan. The result was THE FIGHTING SOLDIER (TATAKAU HEITAI). This is one of the strangest propaganda films in the history of cinema. The Army wanted to make a good war propaganda, instead they got this 'anti-war' film. The film was banned and its negative was destroyed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Run, Yasubei, Run

Here is another Masahiro Makino film clip. The clip is the last climax of CHIKEMURI TAKADANOBABA (1937). This was one of the two blockbusters of 1937 New Year Season, and amazingly, both of them were directed by Makino.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Incomplete Mediocrity

Aizen Katsura (1938)

The year was 1938.

For film lovers, it is the year of BRINGING UP BABY, ALEXANDER NEVSKY and THE LADY VANISHES. At the same time, it was anticipating the great year of 1939. In Japan, however, it was the year with few notable works. Sadao Yamanaka was drafted to military the previous year and died in China in September of 1938. Yasujiro Ozu was also drafted. Mikio Naruse and Kenji Mizoguchi were struggling with minor works.

But Japanese movie-going public at the time saw the most phenomenal film of the prewar era this year. In terms of popularity, no prewar Japanese film would beat this film. Directed by Hiromasa Nomura, starred Kinuyo Tanaka and Ken Uehara, it was the box-office record at the time, and the sequels were hurriedly prepared. The film was AIZEN KATSURA.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ryo Ikebe (1918 - 2010)

Ryo Ikebe, a popular Japanese actor from forties through seventies, passed away last week. He was 92.

Internationally, he is probably best known for the lead character in Ozu's EARLY SPRING (1956). In Japan, he was considered to be a very versatile actor, from melodrama (AOI SANMYAKU (1949)) to Yakuza movies (SHOWA ZANKYO DEN (1965)). Also, he acted as a conscience in Japanese film actor circles. However, in later years, he gradually shifted his activities from acting to writing. He published dozens of books, mostly essays and his experience during the war.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Then And Now, Again

In Ozu's "There Was A Father", the pivotal moment early in the film was the school trip to Hakone. Below is the Ashinoko, the Lake in Hakone area. Hakone has been one of the most popular resorts in Japan, being close to Tokyo metropolis. This is 1942, almost 70 years ago.
Ashinoko and Mt. Fuji, "There Was A Father (1942)"

This is Ashinoko now.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Kochiyama Soshun

Kochiyama Soshun, Setsuko Hara

When I finished watching it, I didn't want to see it again. It gradually descended into depressing finale, killing off every lovable character one by one. The survivor is the reckless kid who started all. No, it's not fun.

Then, after a day or two, it started to crawl back on me. That scene. The duel between Kochiyama and Kaneko. They were determined to have it. Kochiyama, a local gambler and a bookie, and Kaneko, a Yojimbo for the local gang leader, were destined to have it. But when they are on the verge of bursting into action, for the reason nobody knows, Onami (Setsuko Hara, only 15 years old) shows up. The (anti)climax of this duel is the best of all cinematic duels.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What are they eating ?

In "Tokyo no korasu (1931)", the little daughter gets sick from eating "Mizumanju". This is Mizumanju/Kuzumanju.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Then and Now, and In Between (Part 4)

This is the conclusion of 4-part series.

How to Delete the Past
Textbook used in a Japanese elementary school after WWII
The war devastation made people realize that Japan had not been as modernized as they had thought. It became embarrassingly clear that Japan had had no chance of winning the war. Compared to their sorry state of material shortage, food shortage and poor industrialization, United States had everything they wanted and more (at least they thought so). Japan had a lot to catch up. Accelerate industrialization and modernization. Forget about anything old. 
In July 1945, most of Japanese seriously believed they should fight against incoming Americans with bamboo spears, even it meant suicide of the whole nation. After August 1945, it was apparent to anyone's eye that tremendous degree of psychological, social and economical metamorphosis was required. Then, Japan became a nation of "amnesiacs". They have to delete the past. The change was possible only through total annihilation of the past. In schools, large parts of texts in textbooks were painted black. Not only it was to show that anything had been taught was wrong, but had to be erased. Reference to sacrifice, emperor,or any other code of ethics of war-time era were no longer mentioned in classrooms.

Such a drastic change would require new plannings, visions and dreams. However, in many cases, such as Tokyo urban planning as we have seen in the previous part, the sense of immediate survival just killed dreams and visions, inevitably leading to a chaos. Chaotic city landscape was only the representation of this chaotic collective psyche.

In "Tokyo Story", Ozu carefully selected his exterior scenes to show us artifacts from prewar era while brutal contamination of the city was in progress elsewhere. Since the city completely lost its unity in space, one had to look for unity in time. "Absence of Tokyo" was a carefully crafted view. If the city has lost its identity, was there anything to show ?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Then and Now, and In Between (Part 3)

(This is part 3 of 4-parts series. Part 1, Part 2)
Tokyo aerial view, 1945 (via Wikipedia)
Bombing of Tokyo

Through 1944 to 1945, Tokyo was bombed more than 100 times. Especially, the bombing on March 10, 1945 was the most devastating. Incendiary bombs burned the whole city to the ground. Fukagawa, Ozu's birthplace has been bombed most heavily and destroyed completely.
After the war, shabby looking shacks gave immediate shelters to those who survived the bombing or came back from the war zones. These shacks became the symbols of Tokyo rebuilding. 
Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, the  Occupation Forces in Japan, reassigned the buildings and streets to meet their efficiency. On the other hand, they were quite indifferent toward the rebuilding of Japanese cities, especially Tokyo. Hideaki Ishikawa, the Head of Urban Planning Office of Tokyo, proposed a quite ambitious plan for Tokyo rebuilding. His proposals included several 100-m wide main streets intersecting metropolitan areas, large areas of parks and greens and rearrangement of residential areas and commercial areas. But this proposal was ignored by SCAP and Seiichiro Yasui, the Mayor of Tokyo at the time. SCAP contemptuously called it "the plan of the victor", and Yasui was determined to discard the plan. The plan demanded the immense budget and Yasui said "What Tokyo needs now is not the grandiose plan but the place for people to live". His assessment was probably right at the time, considering the fact that the whole city was covered with shacks made of scraps and debris by 1947.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Then and Now, and In Between (Part 2)

Fukagawa Waste Incinerator (1929) (1)

Earthquake and Transformation

On September 1, 1923, one of the largest earthquake in modern history of Japan hit the Kanto area. The death toll was more than 100,000, and the city was devastated by collapse, landslide and most of all, fire. The whole city was destroyed.
Ozu has just started as a camera stuff in Shochiku, when the earthquake devastated the area. During the studio shutdown, he and his family had to rebuild their life again from scratch.
This devastation initiated change in the city. Even before the earthquake, there were scholars and policy makers who insisted Tokyo need the redesign, new urban planning. And they saw this total annulment of the previous progress as an opportunity. Wider streets, new bridges over Sumida river, safe and modern school buildings and rearrangement of government functions. These transformations were discussed and planned along with the research on disaster-proof architecture. They concluded that reinforced concrete structures were the most durable and safe (2).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

There Was A Father, Gosfilmofond Print

There Was A Father [Chichi Ariki] (1942)
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

September 1, 2010
Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Film Center
1. News Reel; Yomiuri News, No. 164 (1940)
2. News Reel; Japan News, No. 177 (1943)
3. Fighting Tuberculosis (1951)
4. There Was A Father (1942), Gosfilmofond Print, Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

Apart from 3, this screening was very disorienting. In 2, there is a footage of aircraft carrier Hornet attacked by Japanese, followed by send-off rally of young soldiers. And "There was a Father". It was like sitting in the movie theater in 1943 Japan.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Then and Now, and In Between (Part 1)

Tokyo Story (1953)
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

Absence of Tokyo

Between now and then, transformation is staggering.

Yasujiro Ozu made 5 "Tokyo" films. "Tokyo Chorus", "Woman of Tokyo", "An Inn in Tokyo", "Tokyo Story" and "Tokyo Twilight". In addition to these films, his films make frequent reference to Tokyo. "I Was Born But ..." is the story of a "salary man" in the Tokyo suburb, "The Only Son" is another story of disillusion in metropolis, and "Ohayo" tells the parallel stories of men, women and children of Tokyo, to name the few.
However, his recurring reference to this ever-growing megacity provides the limited view of "Tokyo". Most of the time, only impression you get is the blur of the city. In some cases, it is flat-out refusal to show any scenery, as in the taxi trip in "The Only Son". 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Jazz Operetta in Edo

The year was 1939. The entry into the grim era.

But for the New Year Film Fest, Nikkatsu released "Oshidori Utagassen", one of the most delightful Japanese musicals ever. It was directed by Masahiro Makino in about 10 days. In fact the star of the film Chiezo Kataoka was ill at the time, so his screen time is minimum (shooting was only 2 hours long, it was said), and the rest of the film was filled with the most delightful examples of cinema making ....

I wrote "one of the most delightful Japanese musicals ever". It's a musical you would never have dreamed of. Jazz Operetta set in 17th century Edo. The young lord breezily walking the streets with his subordinates, singing "I am a young load ..." See it for yourself.  

It may remind you of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Author's Court (1946)", but that one involves time travel. This film is a straight Jazz musical set in the feudal era, no gimmicks. 

Every now and then, another Japanese film director is "discovered" by western audiences.
First it was Yasujiro Ozu, then Mikio Naruse, Hiroshi Shimizu, Sadao Yamanaka and so on. Apparently, Masahiro Makino has not been discovered by West, yet. But he was the Japanese cinema.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Then and Now, Tokyo in "I Was Born But ..."

One of the pleasures of looking at the old films is to admire the scenery of the past. When you look at the Keaton shorts, you are looking at the Los Angeles in making. When you see Italian Neo-realist films, you see Rome, Milan and other Italian cities before MacDonald invasion.

While watching "I Was Born But ... (1932)" by Yasujiro Ozu, I was asking myself, "Which railway is this, these obnoxious ever-present trams ?"  The film was shot at Kamata Studio, so this must be either Mekama-Line or Ikegami-Line. One of the key locations in the film, the railroad crossing, where the father and sons have little conversation every morning, was also mystery. How does it look like today ? So I did some research.

According to the cinematographer Atsuta, the railroad you see in the film was Ikegami-Line. Ikegami-Line began its service in 1922, and its main customer was the visitors to the nearby temple. But there was another railway nearby, Mekama-Line, which was to service the same customers. These two railroad companies were in fierce competition. According to Atsuta, the company operating the Ikegami-Line asked Shochiku to do some advertising by showing its new trams as much as possible in the films. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

An Executive, A Chauffeuse, A Novelist and A Girl like Me

Hanshojo (1938)
Directed by Keisuke Sasaki
Cinematography by Hiroyuki Nagaoka

"Hanshojo (1938)" is a typical Shochiku-style woman's film in the late thirties. The film is rarely seen today, and is not listed in imdb. Keisuke Sasaki, the director of the film, dedicated his whole career to Shochiku. He made 57 films, mostly woman's films Shochiku was noted for. The casts of the film are regulars of the Shochiku programmers. The original novel was written by Seijiro Kojima, who loved the complicated plots for his tear-jerkers. The plot of "Hanshojo" may be far-fetched, but it really doesn't matter. Women suffer. Men suffer. But in the end, women suffer more.

Soukichi (Shin Saburi), an executive of the movie trading company, was successful and very rich, but his wife was hospitalized in psychiatric ward after she torched the house. He hired Misuzu (Kuniko Miyake) as a chauffeuse and a babysitter for Soukichi's little girl. Eventually, Soukichi was impressed by Misuzu's foreign language skills and hires her as a staff. Privately, Misuzu was attracted to Shuntaro (Daijiro Natsume) a young writer her mother didn't approve of.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Calligraphy and Propaganda

Chishu Ryu said "Ozu-san didn't make any heroic movie during the war".

This is true. He did not make any combat films, heroic military action films nor pseudo-historical drama to support totalitarian political agenda. But it does not mean he was making films in vacuum.

"I was born, but ... (1932)" may seem the last place for anyone to find any war propaganda, but, remember, it was filmed in 1932, the year of Shanghai Incident.

During the scene in the classroom, you can see a rather large frame of Japanese calligraphy on the wall. It says "Bakudan Sanyu-shi", or "Three Human Bombs".  "Human Bombs" ? Yes, this is the most heroic tale of three Japanese soldiers during 30's. It happened on February 22, 1932 near Shanghai. Three soldiers, with the bombs strapped to their bodies, dashed into the enemy line, sacrificed themselves so that troops could charge into the enemy stronghold. They called these three brave soldiers "Bakudan Sanyushi" or "Three Human Bombs".

This story fascinated Japanese media and entertainment industry at the time, and fierce media circus ensued. Many studios produced extremely raw quickies about the incident (like "Churetsu nikudan sanyushi [release date: 3/6/1932, Tokatsu Eiga-sha]", "Nikudan Sanyushi [release date: 3/3/1932, Shinko Kinema, the print survives in MOMAT archive]", "Nikudan Sanyushi [release date: unknown, Akazawa Eiga]", "Nikudan Sanyushi [release date: 3/17/1932, Fukui Eiga]") within a few weeks. Japanese public loved them and craved for more. Newspapers ran special reports on the soldier's families and the songs about three heroes were recorded.

So this frame of Japanese Calligraphy about the patriotic soldiers is not out of the place in this particular time in history.  The film was released on June 3, 1932. It was less than four months after the incident. You don't need a long time duration to cook up a war hero.

The most disturbing thing is, the story was largely a fabrication. Three soldiers died, but not so heroically. It was a tragic accident. But Japanese wartime government, with help of entertainment industries, effectively exploited the whole thing to manipulate public psyche. And as you can guess easily, the story became the forerunner of Kamikaze.

I do not think Ozu put that calligraphy frame up there as a war propaganda. But it shows the background of the film, the mood of the time. And these kids in the classroom were probably seven or eight years old at the time. They would have become 19 or 20 years old in 1944, the year Japanese military organized the Kamikaze unit. Kamikaze pilots mostly were between 17 and 24 years old. Soldiers died in Saipan, Guam, Imphal and other battles were also in that age group. Then, this calligraphy frame quietly looking down on all these adorable kids makes us realize the insidious nature of human violence.

Copyrighted materials, if any, on this web page are included as "fair use". These are used for the purpose of research, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Another bus trip

Criterion released Hiroshi Shimizu's prewar works, including "Mr. Thank You (有がとうさん)". This is very exciting, since Hiroshi Shimizu, contemporary of Yasujiro Ozu, is not well-known even in Japan and this release will inspire many people to watch his films and enjoy his humor and relaxed atmosphere. "Mr. Thank You" is probably the most accessible to modern viewers, being a road movie in the countryside of prewar Japan. There is another movie on the bus by Shimizu in 1941, called "Akatsuki no gassho (暁の合唱)". It is not a road movie like "Mr. Thank You" made five years earlier, but it tried to capture its moments.

Tomoko (Michiyo Kogure) pursues to become a female bus driver in a rural area of Akita prefecture instead of going to the college. She experiences many aspects of the job, such as a bus guide, and the life, including an accident while learning driving a car, flirtation with a man next door, confrontation with "another" woman and so on. The film was released in the wake of the war in Pacific, but there is absolutely no reference to it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Error of objective fact

Over at Roger Ebert's blog, he contemplates about the film criticism and Rotten Tomatoes. It is very interesting reading and makes you think about how you appreciate films, as always.
Especially, I find two passages very interesting. Mr. Ebert writes: "I've taught both ("Citizen Kane" and "The Rules of the Game") shot-by-shot and had many students who confessed they didn't feel the greatness. " Even though I admire both films, I can understand many people, even those who are conscious about visual aspect of the film art, find them boring. Is it because passing of time made their "greatness" mundane ? Or is it just so distant, many people find few things in common with the stories told, characters involved ? Or is it simply because they are in B&W ?
Another quote: "When you said 'The Valachi Papers' was better than 'The Godfather,' that was an error of objective fact." Ummm, this one is hard. I don't find anything wrong with the statement, but somehow I feel uneasy. Maybe because I am a scientist by training, the very word "objective fact" clicks. How objective ? Can you describe quantitatively ? What is the metric ? and so on.

Then again, what is the metric of "greatness" in film art ?

Copyrighted materials, if any, on this web page are included as "fair use". These are used for the purpose of research, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Monday, July 19, 2010

There was a war...

"There was a Father (1942)" (父ありき, Chichi Ariki)
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

One of the recent releases from Criterion Collection is "The Only Son/There Was a Father: Two Films by Yasujiro Ozu", two of the Ozu films rarely seen by western audiences. "There was a Father" was released during the Pacific War, and whenever this film is discussed, its aspect as a war time propaganda is always a topic. There is a very good essay on the film by Tony Ryans, which discusses the ambiguity of the message in the film.

It may seem strange by today's standards, but this film was a propaganda. Office of Intelligence awarded this film as "People's Cinema", the highest award given to cinema in Japan at the time. Another film awarded the same year was "General, Staff and Soldier (1942)" (将軍と参謀と兵, Shogun to Sambo to Hei). Tsumasaburo Bando starred in this film as the General commanding the fierce battle in China (Strangely, this film is not listed in imdb).

Judging from the reviews about this DVD (here and many others), the print Criterion used is the 16mm reduction print (National Film Center print) made after the war. Audio quality of this notorious print is horrible, and it is said that there was a spec of dust stuck on the machine during the reduction process. For a long time, NFC print was the only available print of this film, but another print surfaced after collapse of Soviet Union. After the war, Soviet Army confiscated many cultural artifacts in Manchuria, and brought them back to Moscow. As a result, Gosfilmofond (I don't read Russian, but this seems to be its web site) had a large collection of Japanese pre-war and war-time films, which were rediscovered during 90s. One of the films discovered was "There was a Father". It is a 35mm print, 15 minutes shorter than the NFC print, with the better audio track. It also contains the footage not available on NFC print, since Occupation Army in Japan made the cuts. (In his book, Ryu mentions his singing scene being cut.)

There will be a screening of this Gosfilmofond print at MOMAT National Film Center (Tokyo) in August.

Copyrighted materials, if any, on this web page are included as "fair use". These are used for the purpose of research, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Let's see ....

This is the first entry.

Films, mainly classic films are the topic of this blog.

And you have millions of blogs on movies already. Why do you need another ?

If some of the stories may interest you, then that will be enough for now, don't you think ?
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