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.



His father is Shozo Makino, the pioneer of Japanese films. Masahiro started as a child actor under his father's direction. His first directorial debut was when he was 18 years old. Two years later, three films he directed were in top 10 list of that year, "Roningai (Samurai Town)" voted as the best. But the life is not that easy. When he was 24, his production company went bankrupt. He was hired by Nikkatsu but eventually fired, and started to work as an audio engineer for Mizoguchi and others. He restarted his directorial career in 1935. Since then, he rolled out program pictures one after another. He directed staggering 261 feature films.

By the way, the actor in the clip above, his name is Dick Mine. Yes, "dick" as in American slang. It was said his was the largest in Japanese cinema industry at the time. During the war, he had to use his real name (Kouichi Mine) by the government order. Not because it was obscene. Because it was English, "Enemy Language".

You are not still interested in this film? Takashi Shimura ("Seven Samurai", "Ikiru" and many others) delightfully sings a song about a teacup. And he is pretty good. If you think Shimura's singing in "Ikiru" is the one makes you cry, think again. This one also brings you to tears. Of different kind.


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