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A classic melodramatic love tragedy addressing social inequality in feudal Japan, depicted in Kenji Mizoguchi's typical style. The nostalgic scenes of 1920s Tokyo provides a valuable visual... See full summary »
Kafuku I and II / Learn from Experience, Parts I and II / literally Ups and Downs (Mikio NARUSE, 1937)
This 2-part film romance (clocking in at just a bit under three hours) was based on a story by noted author Kikuchi Kan (who also founded Japan's one of Japan's most prestigious literary prizes, named after fellow author Akutagawa). It is a surprising blend of real and unreal. Everyone in the film seems to come from marvelously rich families -- and lives in very large houses and apartments. And yet the human interactions are generally realistically (and credibly) depicted.
The central character here is Toyomi (played by Takako IRIE, star of Mizoguchi's "Water Magician), a rich young woman in love with Shintaro (Minoru TAKADA), a rich young man. Unfortunately, Shintaro's father is in the process of arranging a marriage for him with Yurie (Chieko TAKEHISA), the scion of an even wealthier family. In order to avoid this, the two young lovers flee to Tokyo to live together. When Shintaro comes back to proclaim his intent to marry Toyomi, his father browbeats him into attending the long-arranged marriage meeting with Yurie. While Shintaro is back home, Toyomi goes on a vacation trip with her closest chum, Michiko (Yumeko AIZOME). At a class reunion, Toyomi is to distressed (at not having heard from Shintaro for so long), she doesn't go out on the town with her classmates. Michiko, however, runs into Shintaro and Yurie (also out on the town), and pulling him aside, demands an explanation. When Toyomi ultimately learns of her betrayal, she flees back home -- but getting a less than warm reception from her father, returns to Tokyo, where she takes a job as a junior shop-girl at ritzy dress shop. And this, covers (briefly) just the first half of the story.
In the second half, we discover that Toyomi is pregnant -- and while Shintaro and Yurie are on their extended honeymoon, she bears his child, a girl named Kiyoko. She is supported in adversity by Michiko -- and gets considerable moral support from not only her own mother but also from Shintaro's mother and siblings. Even more surprisingly, Yurie strikes up a friendship of sorts with her. When Yurie learns that the child is Shintaro's, she convinces Toyomi that it would be best to let Shintaro (and her) raise Kiyoko, so Toyomi can get on with making a proper life for herself. Tearfully, Toyomi agrees. Sometime later, Michiko goes to visit Toyomi -- and sees her at work, as a kindergarten teacher.
This film portrays an amazingly Americanized Japan. Reflections of American culture abound -- advertising signs, cars, clothes, music. Of the younger generation, Toyomi alone remains steadfastly traditionalist, wearing only kimonos -- until her final scene (where she too is dressed in the latest of Western attire). Equally surprising, while the film is circumspect in its depiction of the forbidden premarital relationship, there is no hint of moral disapproval on the part of the film maker. Visually, this is presented in a largely straightforward manner -- but with an usual freedom of camera movement at times (almost as if showing off new, more mobile cameras). This might not be a cinematic masterpiece for the ages -- but was an interesting and entertaining piece of popular entertainment.
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