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Nihon no higeki (A Japanese Tragedy)

Posted by martinteller on April 25, 2013

Haruko Inoue (Yûko Mochizuki) has had a rough life.  Her husband was a good-for-nothing philanderer killed in the war.  On her own, she did whatever she could to provide for her children.  She prostituted herself, gave up her land to an unscrupulous brother-in-law, saved nothing for herself.  Now, in 1953, her children are completely ungrateful.  21-year-old Seiichi (Masami Taura) is a medical student — his tuition paid for by the meager wages Haruko makes as a serving girl — who wants to be adopted into a rich family.  19-year-old Utako (Yôko Katsuragi) is studying dressmaking and English, but she’s been squirreling away the money she requests from her mother for school.  Neither of them wants anything to do with Haruko, they’re embarrassed by her and ashamed of her poverty.

This is a sorrowful, bitter film.  Mochizuki spends much of it sobbing over her awful, ingrate offspring.  Kinoshita melds Haruko’s story with Japan’s bigger picture by inserting footage from newsreels and headlines illustrating corruption, crime, suicide, social unrest.  A Japanese tragedy, indeed.  Flashbacks to the period just after the war are somber events, played either silent or just dialogue and key sound effects, no music or ambient sound.  Throughout we see a society that through hardship is losing its sense of decency and kindness.  Rape, beatings, neglect, deception, blame, hypocrisy, jealousy.  Haruko’s only consolation is the maternal advice she can give to Sato (Teiji Takahashi), a cook at the inn where she works, and Tatsuya (Keiji Sada), a wandering street musician.  They develop warm feelings for her, but without the love of the children she’s sacrificed so much for, she is lost.

Kinoshita stacks the deck a bit by making Haruko so noble in her suffering and Seiichi and Utako such reprehensible ingrates.  But there is at least an attempt to give the kids a semblance of humanity, particularly when showing the abuses they experienced at the hands of their hateful in-laws.  Utako has a chilling scene where she proclaims her hatred of all men, her hatred for her mother, her hatred for the wife (Sanae Takasugi) of the English teacher (Ken Uehara) who’s fallen in love with her.  And Seiichi’s final look of shame is almost enough to redeem his behavior a little.

Despite its manipulation, it’s a heartbreaking film that makes interesting use of flashbacks.  Rating: Good (75)


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