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

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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: Phoenix (1947)

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

The movie begins with a credit sequence on fire. We are then offered a brief portrait of Sayoko, a woman holding court in her dead husband’s home; she loans a little money, takes care of her child, and assists everyone in whatever capacity they need. Her world is busy, but not thankless. Everyone around her appreciates what she does except her father-in-law, who becomes agitated and accusatory when his grandson accidentally breaks a window. But even grandfather calms down and shows a little compassion for Sayoko and her son. For as much as we can admire her, Sayoko has way too much on her plate. Continue reading

The Kinoshita Project: Jubilation Street (1944)

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. Continue reading

The Kinoshita Project: The Army (1944)

The Kinoshita Project is a chronological exploration of all the Keisuke Kinoshita movies offered through the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus.

With a title as bold and singular as The Army, you would expect Keisuke Kinoshita’s third feature* – a film actually sponsored by the Army Ministry of Japan – to be a real barnburner, full of action, bravery, and flag-waving patriotism. The opening shots of army columns, cannons, and battle would lead you to believe that your expectations are about to be fully met. And then, in the strangest way, they are not met at all. In fact, the entire movie is a recapitulation of our own unmet expectations, as the film’s central characters’ desires for front line battle service go unmet. After the first couple of minuets, neither filmgoer or movie character will be privileged to even one gunshot or fight. This is not The Patriot. Continue reading

The Kinoshita Project: The Living Magoroku (1943)

This is the first installment of The Kinoshita Project, a retrospective guide through the Keisuke Kinoshita films now available from the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus. 

Keisuke Kinoshita’s first film, made in 1943, is a made-for-hire World War II propaganda piece. This becomes apparent within the first few minutes of the film, but, like Kurosawa’s The Most Beautiful, the movie is not necessarily boxed in by its nationalistic and militaristic trappings. In the midst of the film’s call for Japanese solidarity and pragmatic sacrifice to the cause of killing “American weaklings”, The Living Magoroku is a deft exploration of superstition, the need to remember a national  history, and a lesson in telling the difference between a good sword and bad sword. It’s not always internally consistent, but at a brisk and sometimes overly complex 87 minutes, The Living Magoroku manages to be more than the sum of its parts. Continue reading

The Kinoshita Project

Keisuke Kinoshita was a Japanese director whose career spanned nearly fifty years. Beginning in 1943 and ending in 1988, Kinoshita worked alongside Japanese masters like Kurosawa and Mizoguchi; he mentored Masaki Kobayashi; and he managed to last long enough to see the Japanese New Wave explode as the likes Nagisa Oshima and Shohei Imamura took over the national film scene. Though Kinoshita is highly regarded in his home country, in the West he is an unheralded figure of the Japanese cinema, with only one of his movies (The Twenty-Four Eyes) available on DVD in the US courtesy of the Criterion Collection. Continue reading