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". 

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