The Living Magoroku (as part of the Eclipse Series 41: Kinoshita and World War II) (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
December 29, 2014 by Dennis Amith
If you love Japanese cinema, not only is “The Living Magoroku” recommended for viewing but the DVD set is worth owning for its wonderful five films featuring Keisuke Kinoshita’s earlier work from World War II!
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TITLE: The Living Magoroku (as part of the Eclipse Series 41: Kinoshita and World War II)
YEAR OF FILM: 1943
DURATION: 89 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
Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Cinematography by Hiroshi Kusuda
Art Direction by Isamu Motoki
Yasumi Hara as Yoshihiro Onagi
Jurumi Yamabato as Makoto Onagi
Ken Uehara as Sagara Kiyomatsu
Mitsuko Yoshikawa as Mrs. Onagi
Toshio Hosokawa as Sakabe Katsusuke, the Army Doctor
A superstitious farming family is hesitant to use its fields to grow crops to help feed the nation’s troops. Keisuke Kinoshita’s rural drama was made to promote the war effort, but his story branches off in many directions, including one subplot about the family’s heirloom samurai sword and another about a blossoming young romance.
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”.
The second film I will review from the DVD set is “The Living Magoroku” (Ikite iru Magoroku).
The film begins in 1573 with samurai fighting and dying in the fields. The film then shifts to present-day Japan as a group of soldiers are training on the same farming land where their ancestry, samurai have died.
And as they prepare to fight the United States, the military want to cultivate the farming land to help feed the soldiers but also become symbols of national solidarity.
But the 75-acres of farm land hasn’t been used in 300 years because the owners, the wealthy Onagi dynasty, has believed that the blood of their samurai ancestry is on those lands and in respects to those who have fallen, the farm land will never be used for farming ever again.
We are introduced to Yoshihiro (Yasumi Hara) of the Onagi dynasty. He is saddened because unlike people his age who have become soldiers, he must stay at home because he is suffering from lung disease. Because of his look in life, he doesn’t behave like the man of the family.
Meanwhile, as one soldier does all he can to convince the family to give up their land, another tries to convince the family to give up their coveted rare samurai sword which was crafted by the ancient blacksmith Magoroku the First.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“The Living Magoroku” is presented in black and white (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio). Considering the film is 70-years-old, while some frames of the film had suffered damage overtime, and features white/black specks, they are not the type that hurts your viewing of the film.
The film is presented in Japanese monaural with English subtitles. There is quite a bit of hiss and the picture quality is not the greatest, but still, it’s quite viewable.
Eclipse Series releases do not come with special features but included in the insert is a background on Kinoshita and the information about the film and the battle between pragmatism and superstition.
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.
And because of the film’s overall style, “The Living Magaroku” is an excellent fit for the Eclipse Series #41’s “Kinoshita and World War II” DVD set.
If you love Japanese cinema, not only is this film recommended for viewing but the DVD set is worth owning for its wonderful five films featuring Keisuke Kinoshita’s earlier work from World War II!
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