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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A portrait of post-war Japan, at the beginning of its success, which
takes a cynical and pessimistic view of that success and ts cost.
Macneice's line sums up the hero of the film's ambitions. It begins
with a brief history of a top university at graduation ceremonies,
expanding over the years until we reach "the present day".
Unfortunately the university burned down the day before and it's
raining hard, but that's no reason to do without the ceremony, so, with
everyone hiding under umbrellas, the principal duly makes his long
speech while the students drink beer in celebration, whether they like
it or not.
Tamio Moroi, our hero- who has something of Chaplin or Tati's Hulot- has got a job at a top brewery and his future is planned out- he knows what he will earn and what he will retire on. The brewery doesn't need him; his job merely fills in time; he has nothing to do and must do it as quickly as possible; but that's the next forty years planned. We see shots of Moroi and others crowding onto commuter trains and buses or in the staff canteen and the shots are identical with shots of beer bottles being mechanically dealt with in the brewery. indeed, the people aren't necessary to the brewery, the bottles are. However, things don't go according to plan. Moroi has a sympathetic pain triggered by the noise of the factory; his mentor in the staff hostel collapses vomiting blood; his mother- or so his father says- is going mad. Moroi hires a young medical student who we see acting as dogsbody to a professor to check on his mother and the student first arranges for Moroi's father- a local politician- to build a new psychiatric hospital and then arranges for the father, who may really be the madman, to be admitted to hospital. Meanwhile, the strain of Mori's life has sent him grey. The young student, now a qualified doctor, boasts to Moroi that he has leapt ahead with a hop, step and jump and- demonstrating how it happened- falls under a bus and dies. Moroi runs to his help and collides with a lamp-post. A month unconscious in hospital restores his hair but he has been dismissed from his job for unauthorised absence. Moroi gets a job as a school caretaker by suppressing his qualifications, but is found out and dismissed and he starts a school to train pupils for university. He works out what he will earn eventually, but, in the meantime, a wind threatens to blow away his shack and he and his mother try to hold it together. The film ends with a kindergarten principal explaining to his new pupils what their future holds in terms identical with the university principal in the film's opening. There are elements of Hulot, or Moderrn Times or of Lindsay's O Lucky Man to the film, but for all Ichikawa's ability and despite some fine scenes, especially in the depiction of the factory and its employees, the film just doesn't work very well. In part it's Moroi's character: he hasn't one- he's neither an innocent nor a cynic- sometimes one, sometimes the other, without aspirations or ambitions, neither a rebel nor a conformist except as the plot requires, so he never comes across as a character and we have no interest in or feelings for him- his parents and some of the other characters- a girl student he is mixed up with, or the doctor, who at least has aspirations and hopes- are more interesting. In part it's the plot: it is arbitrary, things just happen because the story needs them to, and there's no logic to it. Not one of Ichikawa's best films- worth seeing, perhaps, if you get the chance, especially for its view of industrial mechanisation, but not worth making an effort to see.
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