setsuled: (Skull Tree)


It's hard to see precisely where the battle lines are drawn in the conflict between the head and the heart in Mikio Naruse's 1956 film Sudden Rain (驟雨). Setsuko Hara and Shuji Sano star as a young married couple whose unexamined issues are exacerbated by a sudden series of financial woes, portrayed with Naruse's characteristic delicate, inexorable cruelty. This beautiful picture addresses the emerging influence of feminist social change, ably touches on fundamental human anxieties, and has the wisdom to avoid tidy resolution.



Everything seems fine as the film begins--Fumiko (Hara) and Ryotaro (Sano) have a small, obviously inexpensive home and have typical arguments in the morning about whether they should go out more and about Fumiko cutting recipes out of the newspaper they can't afford for her to make. Kyoko Kagawa plays Fumiko's sister, Ayako, and she pays the couple a visit. She's distraught over her husband's behaviour and she needs Fumiko to confide in.



Fumiko is amused by the complaints that seem like high crimes to Ayako. Her husband yawned at a dinner with guests, he flirted with a waitress right in front of her--Fumiko explains that this is simply what men are like and that being married means becoming acquainted with the faults of one's spouse. When Ryotaro comes home, though, helpfully trying to explain the situation that may have caused Ayako's husband to stay out all night, Fumiko gradually becomes angry herself at her husband's dismissive attitude regarding the faults of another man.



There is a literal sudden rain shortly after but the film's title seems more to refer to three problems that strain Fumiko and Ryotaro's already strained finances--a thief picks Fumiko's pocket at the market, stealing her wallet; Ryotaro's boss announces the company he works for is going under; and a stray dog the couple had been feeding has been stealing and destroying property throughout the neighbourhood. People have begun to demand restitution from Fumiko and Ryotaro.



In a more predictable film, the dog would eventually bring Fumiko her lost wallet or something but Naruse never gives his characters that kind of easy out. The dog is an especially effective part of the film. Even as their problems mount, the couple still can't resist feeding the dog and its hard not to see his innocent but destructive hunger as reflecting the same impulse that keeps the couple together despite their problems.



Fumiko calls Ryotaro old fashioned and feudal, not just because he won't let her work to bring in extra money but also because he presumes that he can go back to his home village at any time and earn a living as a farmer. He threatens to do that several times, each time saying how Fumiko would need to stay in the city because country life wouldn't suit her, a slightly cowardly way of floating the idea of separation. Two opportunities present themselves for Fumiko to get work--first as an errand woman for a newspaper, then as a waitress in a restaurant Ryotaro's co-workers propose opening. The argument between the couple over the issue is particularly insightful for the ways arguments tend to go over such ideological issues--Ryotaro says he doesn't want to be supported by a woman and seems to see any kind of work as degrading for her while Fumiko seems insulted by the very idea that one of them is supporting the other by bringing in money, seeing it instead as a matter of maintaining their existence. The disagreement between the two is exacerbated by each being offended by the other's conceptual presumptions.



But no ideas either one has seems to influence their behaviour, illustrated neatly by a really funny final scene which at the same time does nothing to dispel any of the sources of anxiety.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


Great crimes, tragedies, and suffering occur alongside the silly, mundane, and lovely. This can be difficult to illustrate in a film but Sadao Yamanaka accomplished it in his great 1936 film Kochiyama Soshun, one of the director's only three surviving films. The influence he exerted on Japan's better known great filmmakers can be seen in how Kochiyama Soshun starts out feeling like an Ozu film and ends feeling like Kurosawa.

Kochiyama Soshun was a real person, a well known figure in Japan from the early 19th century, Yamanaka's film is based on a kabuki play about his life. Played by Chojuro Kawarasaki, he comes across as a laid back, virtuous, and incredibly clever thief. We meet him playing shogi, a Japanese variant of chess, with a man who swindles people on the street by having them stake money on games. But Kochiyama outswindles the swindler, winning 50 ryo. Chess proves once again the universal shorthand for showing a character to be clever. Taking the money back to the gambling den he calls home with his wife, we see him telling her to grant every request for a loan that comes in, one of the ways we start meeting the diverse characters in what turns out to be a mostly ensemble film.

The standout is sixteen year old Setsuko Hara in one of her first films. She plays Onami, a sweet sake seller who's loved by everyone. She already conveys that uncanny, unaffected innocence and affectionate nature which made her one of the most popular actresses in Japan for decades. Her voice is a little higher pitched and she seems to speak a little more through her nose than she does later, maybe a sign of less confidence as a performer, but she's pretty adorable.

Onami's concerned about her younger brother, whom she seems to be acting as mother for. He spends his time at Kochiyama's gambling den and then he gets himself into real trouble when he runs off with a prostitute owned by the local yakuza boss. Onami, who we see is so shy she doesn't even want to enter the gambling den to look for her brother, suddenly finds herself faced with the idea she might need to sell herself to the yakuza as restitution.

A ronin named Kaneko (Kanemon Nakamura) has started working for the same gang though his sense of personal honour keeps him from feeling ashamed of disobeying an order, as when he goes to punish Kochiyama for winning the shogi scam but instead ends up becoming Kochiyama's drinking buddy.

Meanwhile, the film also gives us the story of an older samurai whose knife Hiro stole and then sold to an auctioneer. The film takes its time to follow a couple other guys competitively bidding on the item and then having them run into the samurai, who buys it back from the winner, though he seems convinced that it's fake. It's not perfectly clear he really thinks it's fake--it might be a bargaining tactic. This thread does end up becoming relevant in the end when several seemingly unrelated stories come together for an amazing and brutal fight sequence.

I'd been trying to track this movie down for years until a few nights ago when I found, as happens surprisingly often, the whole thing's been uploaded to YouTube. Check it out before some asshole decides he can claim to YouTube he somehow owns the copyright to this public domain 1936 film.



Twitter Sonnet #1012

The heart's in crossing lines of grey and gold.
Too fast the sandwich burns on greasy pans.
A tired stop removes the wheels of old.
The burning vales of Mars have many fans.
A car bereft of Flintstone feet was dead.
The circuit shadows drift around the room.
In longer gloves, a glory lies in bed.
Along the trails of rubber bats was doom.
Collections grew of variants to chess.
A hundred feathers tripped together first.
An idle bowl contains no worser cess.
Let drowsy monks and gamblers slake their thirst.
The brow became a hat when lines were pulled.
It's always hot when time and space are wooled.

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