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In the beginning of the springtime in the period of the Japanese Civil Wars of the Sixteenth Century in Lake Biwa in the Province of Omi, the family man farmer and craftsman Genjurô travels to Nagahama to sell his wares and makes a small fortune. His neighbor Tobei that is a fool man dreams on becoming a samurai, but he can not afford to buy the necessary outfit. The greedy Genjurô and Tobei work together manufacturing clay potteries, expecting to sell the pieces and enrich; however, their wives Miyage and Ohama are worried about the army of the cruel Shibata that is coming to their village and they warn their ambitious husbands. Their village is looted but the families flee and survive; Genjurô and Tobei decide to travel by boat with their wives and baby to sell the wares in a bigger town. When they meet another boat that was attacked by pirates, Genjurô decides to leave his wife and son on the bank of the river, promising to return in ten days. Genjurô, Tobei and Ohama raise a large... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Having read much about this film, I thought I knew what to expect when I finally had the chance to see it. I was wrong; no amount of writing can convey the richness and impact of the images and the overall flow of the film-- which is why this commentary will be brief. Suffice it to say that I recommend this film wholeheartedly to anyone looking for cinematic poetry (though not, probably, to those who, misled by its being set during the Japanese Civil Wars, expect an action film).
Perhaps the most striking thing about the film is the camera-work; on a first viewing one is scarcely aware of it much of the time, but the camera is in constant motion, emblematic of the restlessness which pervades not only the era and the central characters but, by implication, all of human life (in this regard, it's a very Buddhist film). This movement is never gratuitous; when the scene demands little or no movement the camera stays still. Notice, though, how often the camera's movement enhances the emotional impact of the scene, especially in the famous panning shot (not, as occasionally described, a 360 degree shot) of the reunion near the end. Along with this is Mizoguchi's penchant for long takes, which seduce the viewer into the rhythm of the film without calling attention to themselves or to his cleverness as a director.
But these are technical comments which may or may not be helpful in focussing a viewer's attention; what really matters is the film itself as a whole. It is truly beautiful, and powerful in the unexpected way of great poetry. Technique and emotion, simplicity of means and complexity of effects, walk hand-in-hand here, and the result is remarkable in a way which film rarely attains.
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