Eclipse Series 41: Kinoshita and World War II (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
December 31, 2014 by Dennis Amith
“Eclipse Series 41: Kinoshita and World War II” is one of the better Eclipse Series DVD sets that I have watched and is deserving of five stars because it is a magnificent release!
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TITLE: Eclipse Series 41: Kinoshita and World War II
YEAR OF RELEASE: Port of Flowers (1943), The Living Magoroku (1944), Jubiliation Street (1944), Army (1944), Morning for the Osone Family (1946)
DURATION: Port of Flowers (82 Minutes), The Living Magoroku (89 Minutes), Jubiliation Street (73 Minutes), Army (87 Minutes), Morning for the Osone Family (81 Minutes)
DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio, Monaural, Japanese with English subtitles
COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection
RELEASED: December 16, 2014
Hugely popular in his home country of Japan, Keisuke Kinoshita worked tirelessly as a director for nearly half a century, making lyrical, sentimental films that often center on the inherent goodness of people, especially in times of distress. He began his directing career during a most challenging time for Japanese cinema: World War II, when the industry’s output was closely monitored by the state and often had to be purely propagandistic. This collection of Kinoshita’s first films—four made while the war was going on and one shortly after Japan’s surrender—demonstrates the way the filmmaker’s humanity and exquisite cinematic technique shone through even in the darkest of times.
Before legendary and prolific Japanese filmmaker Keisuke Kinoshita directed the widely acclaimed films “Twenty-Four Eyes”, “Immortal Love”, “The Ballad of Narayama”, to name a few, it took the filmmaker some blood, sweat and tears to become one.
Becoming a fan of cinema at the age of eight and doing all that he could to learn about movies (without university education) and having been drafted into war in 1940, life would change for Kinoshita when he got out of the military and pursued a job at Shochiku. And by 1943, he would get his first big break directing films during World War II. A time when cinema was closely monitored by the government and were to be propagandistic.
While many are enamored by the cinema master who excelled in all genres that he took on, many of Kinoshita’s earlier work has not been seen until now.
“Port of Flowers” (1943), “The Living Magoroku” (1943), “Jubiliation Street” (1944), “Army” (1944) and “Morning for the Osone Family” (1946) will be released by the Criterion Collection as part of its Eclipse Series (#41) DVD set titled “Kinoshita and World War II”.
Here are my reviews for each of the films included in this DVD set:
There are a good number of filmmakers from Japan that are beloved for their long standing oeuvre of work.
Keisuke Kinoshita represents a filmmaker who created films, for the most part, the way he wanted to. He was also a filmmaker who can take on a variety of genres and excel.
And while many watched Kinoshita’s work, not many are familiar with Kinoshita’s earlier films, films that were created during World War II.
Five films about Japan during World War II, Kinoshita’s films show a transition of films that were closely observed by Japanese censors and for the most part, carry propagandist tones, by 1994 with the release of “Army”, we get to see the most daring side of Kinoshita who created a film which is essentially an anti-war film that slipped by through Japanese censors.
And by the surrender of Japan in 1945, it would allow the pacifist filmmaker to create “Morning for the Osone Family”, the voice for Japanese who did not support the war and a film that would demonstrate a different side of a Japanese family that didn’t preach solidarity and if anything, questioned the purpose of Japan’s involvement in World War II.
Prior to watching “Port of Flowers”, I thought about how American World War II films were back in the 1940’s and in some way, expected the bravado and even propagandist tone the films would have with the Japanese war films. Especially since it was an earlier Kinoshita film and that the films were under the scrutiny of the Japanese government, you expect to see the other side of the Japanese perspective and ideology in “Port of Flowers”.
For the first hour, you realize that the film is more about the characters and less about the war. Will these two con men pull of the ultimate scam?
And you start to see how each men find it difficult because the plan of buying shares to build a shipyard proved to be popular among the locals and all are united to go as far to put their life savings in making it happen.
Throw in characters that you care about (and the con men eventually start to care about) and also a bit of a conundrum when the deceased man’s wife and daughter arrive, not knowing that he had two sons.
Suffice to say, the con men are put into a major predicament but they have the choice to steal the money and leave or help the people of the port town. And then, World War II begins and everyone’s perspective changes.
While the film is more upbeat than any of the other four films in the “Kinoshita and World War II” DVD set. It’s one of the more enjoyable and easily accessible films because it relies on humor and you are left wondering if the con men will pull off the major crime or will they change when they hear about the importance of a shipyard during a time of war.
As “The Port of Flowers” was a film that was more comedy but tried to show national solidarity, “The Living Magoroku” is a film that has the feeling of a film that deals with Japanese traditional beliefs vs. the needs of the country and its soldiers.
The Onagi family has owned the land for 300 years and has prevented any farming as samurai have bled and died in the field, but the soldiers who respect the land as their ancestors, want the Onagi family to know that by letting the military cultivate that land, they would be dong the right thing by feeding the Japanese soldiers.
In many ways this is a propaganda film in the fact that the Japanese government and its military did what it can to have farmers give up their crops for the military and history would go to show that many of these farmers gave up so much and received so little, all in the name of Japanese solidarity as the soldiers were fighting a war for the country and have the samurai spirit.
While the farming portion is quite predictable, there are other subplots involving a couple who want to marry, a man who seeks the legendary Magoroku sword and complications of a matriarch who stays firm of not wanting the farmland to be cultivated, while her son is often feeling bad for himself because his lung disease prevents him from fighting in the war like the other guys his age.
But the spirit of the Japanese people are tough and we see the solidarity in full effect.
Compared to “Port of Flowers” which had an enjoyable story of men who try to pull of a major scam on locals but feelings change after Japan enters the war, “The Living Magoroku” is an inspiring film for Japanese, especially at that time where there was pride of having an ancestor who was samurai but the importance of doing all you can for your country. Can one young man who is sick, still become a hero without being a soldier?
The film tries to show audiences that despite one not fighting in the war, they still have an important role and that is to support Japan’s effort. All Japanese to be as one.
Of all the films that are propagandistic, “The Living Magaroku” is possibly the most straightforward in its attempt to preach solidarity in this “Kinoshita and World War II” DVD set. It’s rather interesting when compared to American-based war films which tend to be situated on the actual war itself, “The Living Magaroku” features discussion about the war but it’s about its characters and the decisions that they make for the sake of their country.
As Kinoshita Keisuke continued to make films on the World War II in 1944, “Jubilation Street” is his more ambitious films shot during the war.
From camera experimentation to careful direction with the staff, “Jubilation Street” while having its share of propaganda, is much different compared to “Port of Flowers” and “The Living Magoroku” because of the number of characters featured and trying to convey those who were displaced or forced to move out of their homes.
Similar to “Port of Flowers”, the film saves its solidarity towards the end, as the majority of the film focuses on the relocation effort, but also the romantic drama between Shingo and Takako. But most importantly, showcasing another side of “loss” due to the war (losing your home, losing a love one, etc.) and Kinoshita’s ability to work with talent he was most comfortable with. No one is happy that they are relocating but they all try to find solace with one another.
“Army” was a huge departure from the previous three films that focused on the pride of Japanese, but with “Army”, you can see a major change in tone as Kinoshita wanted to work on a film that he can get away with without censorship.
And “Army” was the result and it’s a film that prevented him from making anymore war films.
The fact is that “Army” is almost a lesson of how the mindset of Japanese were instilled by their parental figures from the past. The Japanese of the 1800’s brought up by their respect of samurai culture, pride in their country and obedience for their emperor, it was the way of life and their ideology.
But children being brought up in the 1930’s and having to fight in World War II in the 1940’s, we see how the war has changed both Tomohiko and Waka from their earlier years in their marriage and when they grow older together and putting all their faith in Shintaro.
Tomohiko is a man who is seen as weak. A man that couldn’t fight or defend his country because of the way he was physically, he was sent back home. While Tomohiko tries to carry that pride instilled to him by his father, he sees a lot of himself in his son Shintaro, who is also weak. Often crying, often ridiculed by other children because of his fear, Waka becomes the mother who is more suitable of instilling the ideology that Tomohiko received from his father and is seen as the woman holding the family together.
But when his father’s attitude with Mr. Sakuragi become tense, it puts a damper since Shintaro is great friends with Sakuragi’s son and both want to fight a war not worried about their father’s feud with one another.
But the film literally rides on the shoulders of actress Kinuyo Tanaka. Her facial emotions seemed genuine, as a scolding parent to a concerned mother, she was the emotional synergy that made the film much more appealing but also adds to the feeling of a concerned mother, instead of a mother that would want her son to die for her country, which many of the other adults have resigned themselves to believing.
Die for your country and your emperor. Kinoshita wanted to show audience that people have genuine emotions and that people were concerned about their love one’s safety.
And the final sequence of the film explains how Waka feels about Shintaro and his military service, without the use of words. Tanaka’s performance was fantastic!
As the war produced propaganda films that the Japanese government approved during World War II, “Morning for the Osone Family” was the film that Kinoshita was able to create and have it become the voice of the liberal families who were against the war.
Unlike the previous war films from Kinoshita depicting families who were about solidarity and fighting for the country, “Morning for the Osone Family” was the opposite. This family were against the government’s belief of fighting the war, this family questioned the war and what the purpose was for?
The mother, Fusako, represents the Japanese mother who followed the man’s lead and did not step in the way of trying to block Issei Osone, the Army General and her children’s uncle.
Ichiro represents those who voiced opposition towards the Japanese government and the war and were jailed, Taiji represents the young men who didn’t want to fight in a war and didn’t believe in it, but yet was drafted and forced to fight for their country. Takashi represents those who voluntarily enlist in military because they bought into the ideology of Japanese spirit and pride, fighting for their country is the most important thing.
While I don’t want to spoil this film for anyone wanting to watch this film for the very first time, the film did make me think about the film “Saving Private Ryan” and I’ll leave it at that.
The performances by Haruko Sugimura and Eitaro Ozawa was fantastic but the overall direction and the writing of the film was fantastic and not only did I feel happy for Kinoshita now being able to have the freedom of creating a war film that he wanted to make but also creating a film that went against many other war films that were propagandist in nature and having the audacity during that time to create an anti-war film.
The message of the film delivered by Haruko Sugimura’s character Fusako was wonderful and because of how this film was a 180 degree change from Kinoshita’s previous war films, it made watching “Morning for the Osone Family” so enjoyable!
With the release of “Eclipse Series 41: Kinoshita and World War II”, cineaste are getting five wonderful and earlier Keisuke Kinoshita films, many which a lot of fans may see for the very first time.
To watch how his films evolve during the war is rather interesting and while you can see the sparkling of this filmmaker’s genius during his earliest cinema work, you can’t help but admire how he manages to have each of these stories flow so well, despite the watchful eyes of the Japanese government and then slowly building from propaganda film to a film in which Kinoshita would create and defy censors with his 1944 film “Army” and then creating his anti-war film “Morning for the Osone Family”. In many ways, his boldness was seen in an early age and an act that probably could have been a worst case scenario for Kinoshita.
But that is what makes this DVD set so magnificent is because we finally get early Keisuke Kinoshita films finally on DVD and for anyone who follows Kinoshita’s work, this is a rarity and I’m quite thrilled that the Criterion Collection has released these films as part of the Eclipse Series.
As some may wonder why these films were not released on Blu-ray, a lot of these films are not in the “Criterion Collection” quality presentation and while watchable and not too bad at all to prevent one from enjoying these films, there are films with good picture quality with films that have louder hiss than others.
Overall, “Eclipse Series 41: Kinoshita and World War II” is one of the better Eclipse Series DVD sets that I have watched and is deserving of five stars because it is a magnificent release!
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