Set in Kawaguchi, just north of Tokyo in the early 60s, this simple story chronicles the lives of poor foundry workers and their families, and one girl's dreams of self-improvement through going on to higher education.
Cupola no aru Machi (A Town of Cupolas) was released a few days before I was born. It chronicles the daily hardships and adventures of folk living in Kawaguchi, a city just one stop out of Tokyo in 1962. the grinding poverty, and squalor are pervasive, as is the genuine kindness that many of the people demonstrate even in the face of adversity.
It is interesting that I first went to Kawaguchi in 1985, and some of the scenes from the film were still possible to imagine. The slums where the main characters lived were cleared away in the late 80s, to make way for development, and it was said at the time that some residents resisted moving, even though they were compensated, as they feared losing their close sense of community. Now, in 2007, Kawaguchi is a glass and concrete jungle, and the area around the station would be utterly unrecognizable to anyone returning after a 45 year absence. Although the foundry featured in the movie (and probably the one where some scenes were shot) is still intact, an ancient building surrounded by newer developments, quite a few of the smaller factories and perhaps half of the original foundries have been swallowed up by parking lots, high rise apartments, and the rest.
The main character, 15 year old Jun wants to attend high school, even though her family is poor, and her father, a drunken gambling no-hoper is almost unemployable. One scene is particularly poignant, as he collapses in an alcoholic stupor, his wife tries to find some of his wages that he seems to have blown on betting and booze, she kicks his inert form screeching her frustration and rage as the family looks on. He eventually accepts the help of the local Communist-run labour unions, and Jun becomes friends with the youthful local organiser, although their relationship is more along the lines of a watchful older brother and his little sister than a potential romantic couple.
Like many traditional Japanese stories, rather than a detailed plot and build-up, we are seeing more a snapshot of life, rather like dropping in on some acquaintances, getting to know them just a little, then bidding them farewell, forever wondering what became of them. This is the movie's strength, as the ending leaves you wondering what comes next.
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