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Kono ten no niji (The Eternal Rainbow)

Posted by martinteller on October 26, 2012

Suda (Yûsuke Kawazu) is a young steel worker at a giant plant.  He boards with Naoji Kageyama (Chishu Ryu), an elderly co-worker and Kageyama’s wife Fumi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and son Minoru (Kazuya Kosaka).  Minoru is something of a failure, he hasn’t been able to hold down a job and he’s bitter.  Kageyama sometimes acts as a matchmaker, and tries to arrange a marriage between Suda’s mill worker friend Sagawa (Teiji Takahashi) and the desirable young office worker Chie (Yoshike Kuga).  But Chie — with the prodding of her opportunistic mother — has her sights set on Mr. Machimura (Takihiro Timura), a promising engineer.  But Machimura is flighty, and coping with a landlady who’s in love with him, a woman lonely because her husband works late at the plant.

I knew nothing about this film going in.  I added it to my watchlist because I was interested in seeing more by Keinosuke Kinoshita, but I can find nothing written about it anywhere.  I hope I got the plot synopsis right… it’s an awfully hard movie to follow, establishing a flurry of interconnected characters in a brief time.  It was probably about 45-50 minutes before I started recognizing and remembering who everyone was (no, that’s not a “they all look alike” comment, it really is hard to follow (also some of them DO look alike)).

It’s also an odd film.  The first 10 minutes are spent explaining the workings of the plant, all the different processes and facilities.  Throughout the film, every now and then the narrator will chime in to describe one of the plant’s various amenities… a gymnasium, a concert hall, a full supermarket, a reservoir that doubles as a vacation spot, an outdoor amphitheater for the annual Water Festival.  It’s a city unto itself, with over 30,000 employees/citizens and its own economy.  It feels like a promotional video.

But it’s got a layer of irony behind the facade.  Many shots show the factories belching huge plumes of smoke into the atmosphere… seven different colors, providing one meaning of the titular rainbow.  The other meaning is given by Sagawa, who dreams of rainbows, a longing for something beautiful and hopeful.  In contrast to the narrator’s almost fawning descriptions of the self-contained society, the characters are all troubled by hopelessness, a feeling that they are wasting, have wasted, or are going to waste their lives.  The younger folks in particular (especially Suda and Minoru) are struggling to find meaning in their lives, wondering if they should reject life in the polluted shadow of the steel mill, but without any better ideas.  Chie struggles with her marital choice: the doting and kind but lower-class Sagawa, or the promising but aloof Machimura?  In the end, her family fails to give her strong guidance, and this is representative of what appears to be the main thrust of the film.  That in spite of the technological advances in society’s smoothly operating industrial complexes, the previous generation has left their youth feeling rudderless and stricken by doubt and uncertainty.

The movie’s narrative is difficult to comprehend at first, but once you sort out all the characters it’s a very interesting work.  The “Grandscope” wide compositions are done effectively, highlighting the drab and impersonal nature of the plant and its environs, but usually with an Ozu-like simplicity.  The editing is a bit more attention-getting, often abruptly cutting from one scene to the next (which doesn’t help with the confusion) and doing some unusual transitions where diegetic music from one scene bleeds into the next.  Performances are all quite strong, though one can’t help but wish for a little more from the masters Ryu and Tanaka.  Rating: Good (75)


4 Responses to “Kono ten no niji (The Eternal Rainbow)”

  1. […] Martin Teller […]

  2. […] The Eternal Rainbow この天の虹 (1958), the real-life Yawata Steel […]

  3. Nice review! I agree that the “Grandscope” compositions are very effective. I took screenshots and made panoramas of some of the sweeping shots, which I included in the following post:

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