6.6/10
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2 user 6 critic

Port of Flowers (1943)

Hana saku minato (original title)
Not Rated | | 29 July 1943 (Japan)
The sweet but naive denizens of a charming port town are hoodwinked by a couple of con men who prey on them at the outset of the war. But the hustlers' plan backfires when they come down ... See full summary »

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Cast

Cast overview:
Eitarô Ozawa
Ken Uehara
Mitsuko Mito
Eijirô Tôno
Takeshi Sakamoto
Yosuke Hansawa
Fusako Maki
Chieko Higashiyama
Sachiko Murase
Kanji Kawahara
Einosuke Naka
Shirô Ôsaka
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Storyline

The sweet but naive denizens of a charming port town are hoodwinked by a couple of con men who prey on them at the outset of the war. But the hustlers' plan backfires when they come down with severe cases of conscience. Kinoshita's directorial debut is a breezy, warmhearted, and often very funny crowd-pleaser that's a testament to the filmmaker's faith in people. Written by Anonymous

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Not Rated
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29 July 1943 (Japan)  »

Also Known As:

A Blooming Port  »

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1.33 : 1
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Propagandistic but lighthearted and enjoyable debut from director Keisuke Kinoshita…
27 August 2015 | by (Baltimore, Maryland) – See all my reviews

Keisuke Kinoshita is a Japanese filmmaker that has never quite gotten his due credit. Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi take the spotlight as the "big three" of Japanese cinema, while filmmakers like Naruse and Kinoshita are left somewhat out of focus. There are, of course, many other well known Japanese filmmakers outside of the big three, but mostly they are from the new wave era (Ôshima, Teshigahara, Imamura, Suzuki, Kobayashi, Kurahara, et cetera). In fact, most Japanese directors can be pigeonholed into either this new wave class of filmmakers, or the classical masters with roots in silent cinema, such as Ozu, Mizoguchi, and Naruse. Kinoshita, however, along with Kurosawa, belongs to neither group. Debuting in the early '40s when Japan was at war, these directors found their roots in a kind of Japanese cinematic limbo, rising to popularity well after the original masters had laid the ground for them, yet preceding the influx of filmmakers that came to be grouped together in the Japanese New Wave during the '60s.

Here we have Kinoshita's debut film, "Port of Flowers", a 1943 wartime effort produced by Shochiku. It begins as a lighthearted and playful diversion, the kind you might expect from a country in the midst of war. Most mainstream wartime films fall into one of two categories: escapism or propaganda. The latter is a means of trying to sway public opinion, boost morale, and garner support for the country's cause, while the former simply seeks to distract audiences from the hardships of wartime life, and all the troubles and anxiety that come with it. Through about the first half of the film, "Port of Flowers" seems to fit comfortably into the escapism category, and I would have preferred it to have stayed there. Unfortunately, by the end of the film, Kinoshita delivers pure and unabashed propaganda. I have no problem with escapism, which is obviously not only a wartime device (the United States engaged it heavily during the depression, for example, and we still see it dominating American cinema to this day). As shallow as it can be, escapism must be acknowledged as an inevitable aspect of the medium, and a positive aspect at that, so long as it's taken in moderation, supplemented with some degree of real culture, real art.

Consequently, I was legitimately enjoying Kinoshita's film, at first. The film's style reminded me of the earliest of Kobayashi's films, which were supervised by Kinoshita, under whom Kobayashi apprenticed, if I'm not mistaken. Unlike Ozu and Mizoguchi, who were quite traditional, "Port of Flowers" exhibits a rather western style of filmmaking. The editing, the humor, and the overall tone of the film probably have more in common with certain American, British, or French films from the '30s than they do with anything Ozu, Mizoguchi, or Naruse were making at the time. It was a light, fun, and entertaining film for about forty minutes. Then comes the propaganda, one large wave of it after another.

It can be difficult to interpret these kinds of films. Often I find I complicate matters by analyzing them from an excessively critical frame of mind, probably because I'm looking for something critical in the filmmaker's message, something I can respect as being more than mere jingoistic propaganda. For instance, there were multiple occasions during "Port of Flowers" were it felt like Kinoshita might be trying to sneak in a criticism of the militarist government and their plunging of the Japanese people into war and despair. The main characters of the film are two conmen who show up at a village where the villager leaders hold in high esteem the memory of a man who had tried to build a shipyard there, and help the village prosper. The conmen intend to fraudulently rob the village of a good deal of money, by pretending to restore their shipyard and build ships. They raise the villagers' hopes, and exploit their loyalty to the memory of the man who had tried to help them. We can easily see this as an allegory for the Japanese militarists' manipulation and deception of the Japanese people. There's definitely room for that interpretation, and I wanted to see it that way. Ultimately, however, by the time the film is concluded, it leaves little doubt as to its nature as an overt propaganda piece.

That being said, if Kinoshita was indeed trying to imbue his film with a critical message, he would have to bury it deeply in order to get it by the censors, so I'm not ruling out that possibility all together. It's almost always difficult to know exactly what a filmmaker is trying to convey with a film, even one as apparently simple as this. I remember having the same issue watching Kurosawa's "The Most Beautiful". It all depends on our individual interpretations of dialogue, symbols, and other facets of the medium. Do the conmen represent the imperialist Japanese government, and the ship symbolizes their deception and manipulation of the Japanese people? Or is the ship simply a symbol of hope, the object by which the Japanese people unify themselves in the face of a common enemy? It seems to be the latter, but again, these things will always be open to some level of interpretation. And yet, the film celebrates the Pearl Harbor attack as a wonderful victory for the Japanese people, and refers to the "American devils" that killed one of their people in a submarine attack, in response to Pearl Harbor. So when all is said and done, there really doesn't seem to be a great deal of room for ambiguity here.

Regardless, I like this film. It's outwardly propagandistic, and it's by no means great cinema, but I think it mostly transcends its shortcomings by achieving a joyously lighthearted tone and a generally fun and entertaining story. It's a quality debut from a director who would only get better.

RATING: 6.33 out of 10 stars


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