The Kinoshita Project: Boyhood (1951)

The Kinoshita Project is a Chronological exploration of all the Keisuke Kinoshita movies available on Hulu Plus from Criterion. 

Hindsight is always 20/20, or so the old saying goes. We like to apply this truism to our personal lives liberally. We reason that if we’d only done this or that, then our lives would have been different in such and such way; usually we imagine that life would’ve been better. And when we apply this to our personal lives, we usually curse ourselves for our lack of vision. We regret our foolishness and wallow in our guilt. Once we get over our guilt, we call this becoming wiser, learning from mistakes, and so on.

If we do this as individuals, then surly a nation could do it as well, right? Continue reading

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The Kinoshita Project: Fireworks Over the Sea (1951)

The Kinoshita Project is a chronological look at all the Keisuke Kinoshita movies available on Hulu Plus from Criterion. 

The Kinoshita Project, when it’s all over, should cover about 30 films; that is, of course, unless Criterion adds more titles going forward. Up to now we’ve seen relative consistency in Kinoshita’s directorial abilities. He’s got the skills to make even the dullest of war propaganda films play compellingly for 90 minutes, which is no small feat. And even in his lesser post-war efforts, Kinoshita’s films have benefited from good performances and solid storytelling.

And so it is with some disappointment that I must report that Fireworks Over the Sea marks the first genuine, from beginning to end, dud for The Kinoshita Project. The problem, as I see it, is in the script. No amount of slick directing, grand cinematography, or fancy editing could save this horrendous tangle of inconsequential characters and convoluted situations. The film, clocking in at just past the two hour mark has all the narrative density of a soap opera and none of the sex. Kinoshita picks characters up and puts them back down like an ADHD child in a toy store. And by the time the movie is over, none of these characters have even begun to matter to us; we’ve seen them only in slight flashes, always accompanied by some ready cliché about romance, sacrifice, and blah blah blah. Great actors – Chishu Ryu, for instance – are just thrown to waste here and, quite honestly, it’s depressing.   Continue reading

The Kinoshita Project: The Good Fairy (1951)

The Kinoshita Project is a chronological look at all the Keisuke Kinoshita films available from the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus. 

Up until now, we should have learned at least one thing about Keisuke Kinoshita: he loves the pure of heart. His heroes are typically young and idealistic to the point of naiveté. The fact that Kinoshita rarely privileges anyone beyond their 20s becomes extremely acute in The Good Fairy, which, even if it doesn’t carry the poetic heights of The Girl I Loved or the comic brilliance of The Portrait, might be the most mature expression of his vision so far. The honor and self-sacrifice of its hero is so thorough that it crosses over the line, moving from melodrama and into horror. What he does and the alliances he chooses are anathema to the understanding of most people, myself included. What he does is both right and sick. His actions, in the ordinary world, would be classified as insane. Continue reading

The Kinoshita Project: Broken Drum (1949)

The Kinoshita Project is chronological exploration of the of Keisuke Kinoshita films now available on Hulu Plus through the Criterion Collection. 

A familiar physical gesture hangs over every frame of Broken Drum; It is the gesture of a man with his right arm raised up at a 45 degree angle over his subjects. He is the dictator and all others are there to do his bidding. In the wake of World War II, there is only one figure that this gesture can point back to.

Kinoshita doesn’t just critique Hitler in Broken Drum; he satirizes him with the ruthless glee of a disgruntled employee sounding off on his recently dead boss. That doesn’t mean that this version of Hitler isn’t pitifully funny, though. Gunpei Tsuda, the owner of a once profitable construction company, always addresses his inferiors with arm outstretched. It’s a shaky arm, though, because he is old, and he has a difficult time keeping it up in the air with any sense of authority. Tsuda’s autocratic gesture has the effect of an impotent appendage; turning from a symbol of power into a sign of lame paternalism. And though everyone who stands under the outstretched arm must give their due respect, behind the old man’s back they will slander, mock, and deride him. The respect given is only formal, not coming from the heart at all. The only thing that Tsuda wants in life – and the Hitleresque gesture is a sure sign – is to control his subjects; in this case his children. And he is the abject comic center of a beautifully played ensemble piece. Continue reading

The Kinoshita Project: The Yotsuya Ghost Story (1949)

The Kinoshita Project is a chronological look at the films of Keisuke Kinoshita that have been made available on Hulu Plus from Criterion. This entry covers The Yotsuya Ghost Story, Parts 1 & 2. 

Despite its status as a national myth/legend, referring to this Keisuke Kinoshita drama as a “ghost story” is at least a little deceptive. Perhaps other versions (and there have been at least 30 Yotsuya films) emphasize the supernatural more, but Kinoshita’s two hour and forty minute epic (split into two, easy to swallow parts), greatly altered from the 1825 kabuki play it’s based on, has more to do with the psychological than it does the supernatural. There are ghosts, yes, but they appear not as spirits from the netherworld, but as apparitions born of a guilty conscience. And the fear they invoke is far more powerful for this reason. Continue reading

The Kinoshita Project: The Portrait (1948)

The Kinoshita Project is a continuing series, looking at the Keisuke Kinoshita films made available on Hulu Plus from Criterion. 

If ever there were an appropriate movie to apply the term “dramedy” to, Keisuke Kinoshita’s The Portrait would be the one. Here is a film that weaves between comic weightlessness and heavy drama with almost unnoticeable ease. And when Kinoshita isn’t busy throwing jokes our way or pummeling us with dramatic tension, he manages to impress upon us, in his own inimitable way, the beauty of innocence. Yes, this appears to be Kinoshita in is prime element, unable to be confused with the work of any other director that I know of.

But despite the singular quality of the film, it turns out that The Portrait was written by none other than Akira Kurosawa. If it weren’t for the credits, you’d never know, because The Portrait bears almost no resemblance to Kurosawa’s frenetic brand of cinema. It does, however, bear the marks of his overt, sometimes overbearing humanism. Audie Bock, in her book Japanese Film Directors, suggests that Kinoshita had commissioned the script so as to challenge himself in new directions. In the end, The Portrait is all Kinoshita, but it also manages to provide an interesting aside to Kurosawa’s illustrious career.  Continue reading

The Kinoshita Project: Apostasy (1948)

The Kinoshita Project is a continuing exploration of the Keisuke Kinoshita movies made available on Hulu plus through Criterion. In chronological order, we’ve reached 1948!

“Freedom and equality. Respect for human rights.

These three elements are guaranteed to be protected by the new constitution.

However, the ghost of the feudal period still continues to linger. The caste system looms large in people’s minds. Clear social rankings were in place in the feudal society. Of highest rank were the samurai, followed by the farmers, then the tradesmen and villagers or “outcasts” at the bottom. Society was controlled by submission and oppression. The caste system was abolished in the Menji era, bringing equality to all people. However, conventional perceptions and mere ignorance were still in existence. Contempt, prejudice, and oppression continued to exist among the people.” Continue reading