This is the third installment of The Kinoshita Project, a chronological retrospective look at the Keisuke Kinoshita films now available on Hulu Plus.
“Two clouds, ready to touch but then parted again. Separated but not fading in the blue spring sky.”
-Poem, recited in Jubilation Street, source unknown to author
After watching The Living Magoroku and The Army, it should come as no surprise that Keisuke Kinoshita’s WWII films are not concerned with the battlefield but with the plight of the average Japanese citizen. Jubilation Street, the third film in this trilogy of propaganda films is probably the most affecting treatment of the civilian left behind. Here Kinoshita lets the speechifying become an implied matter for the most part; instead he focuses on the fates of a small group of citizens who are about to be evacuated from their neighborhood for unspecified war purposes. Young and old, these are people who have entrenched themselves through business, family, and romantic love to this street. To leave the neighborhood would be to cut off a primary source of identity. And the only thing to replace it with is with national identity. In Jubilation Street, personal interests, as they were in Magoroku and The Army, are subjugated to the needs of an entire nation. And as it turns out, the nationalistic bent is the least interesting thing about Jubilation Street, a movie that examines lives in transition with great sensitivity and emotional honesty.
Though there are a few main relationships that the film focuses on, it can be difficult to separate them from one another, because the characters of Jubilation Street function as a community, with each relationship being determined by another relationship, and so on and so fourth. If there’s one central character around which all others revolve, though, it is Shingo, a young man who has dedicated his life to being a test pilot for the Japanese Air Force. Shingo lives alone with his mother – his father left has been MIA for the past ten years – and finds himself consoled in his profession, which gets him off the ground, away from the Earth and his troubles. As the town prepares to evacuate, Shingo readies to propose to his neighborhood girlfriend, Takako. Her parents, though, feel that Shingo is not appropriate for her, chiefly because his profession is dangerous, but also because they know that the evacuation will force their family, Takako included, to the countryside, away from Shingo.
Were it not for the evacuation, we imagine that Takako’s parents might soon come around to accepting Shingo’s dedication to his country as a positive factor, viewing him as an honorable match for their daughter. But the evacuation is happening, and it compresses every relationship that it touches. While Shingo counsels patience, citing his waiting mother as an example, Takako’s family wants to arrange a marriage for her, so that she can be wed to someone more reliable.
Other families suffer, too. The owner of a bathhouse refuses to evacuate because he has no interest in starting another life. His son-in-law argues that to continue the bathhouse business would be fruitless without any customers. Still others brace for the move with surprising ease, recognizing that the move is necessary for the war effort, despite the fact that they have also built the neighborhood up for years; these citizens, typically the younger, are so ready to go that they won’t even bother to dust. What is, after all, the point in caring for something that has suddenly become so fleeting?
This is not, as the title suggests, a street of jubilation. There is nothing to jubilate over here. This is a street of profound mourning and loss, and the only reason that anyone would have cause for jubilation is that all the mourning and loss will go towards the advancement of a nation.
But forget about the war for a moment. Pretend that the evacuation is the result of a new factory or highway coming through the neighborhood; something more arbitrary. Think of the war as a McGuffin for just a little while, and Jubilation Street ceases to be a propaganda film. Its themes – family tension, displacement, romance foiled by family strife, old age – are as universal and as common as you can get. In fact, the first hour or so feels as though it were playing out in a vacuum, with its characters facing some unknown, swiftly approaching evil. We get the sense, at times, that despite the occasional bursts of nationalistic ideals, this community (with the exception of Shingo, the test pilot) views the war in the abstract. It’s too far off to be real.
SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER. If you have any interest in seeing Jubilation Street, navigate away from this page immediately.
This abstraction of war is broken in what is easily Kinoshita’s most impressive moment up to this point in his career.
Near the end of Jubilation Street, we learn that Shingo has died on a mission. Takako discovers this bit of news just after defying her mother’s wish for an arranged marriage and splitting her family apart. As the rest of the community talks amongst themselves, Takako stands plastered to the side of a building. Kinoshita dollies in on her, and slowly the noises of war – gunfire, planes, etc. – take over the soundtrack. Now Takako has nowhere to hide. The war, which is being fought somewhere else far away, is now here, bearing down on top of her as though she were in the middle of her own battlefield. With Shingo’s death, there is no mental space left to see the war as an abstraction. It is real, it is here, and it is coming to destroy.
The moment is so powerful that it’s easy to mistake Jubilation Street for an anti-war film, if just for a moment. I have seen WWII propaganda films from the US, Germany, and Japan. Jubilation Street, with just this shot, is by far the most fascinating one I’ve ever seen.
This concludes the third edition of The Kinoshita Project. Up next: The Girl I Loved.