Two young brothers become the leaders of a gang of kids in their neighborhood. Their father is an office clerk who tries for advancement by playing up his boss. When the boys visit the boss... See full summary »
The Yagyu family's elder son sends an old and cheap looking pot to his young brother, ignoring that the pot contains a map showing where it was hidden a treasure of a million ryo. He tries ... See full summary »
Set in the last few years of the shogun's rule, this period/ensemble movie depicts the lives of the young and the restless at a whorehouse. The protagonist is Saheiji, a resourceful, witty ... See full summary »
Among the many sure treasures of Japanese cinema we have lost are certainly the 23 films made by Yamanaka Sadao. Indeed, only three survive in full. All of these have been collected on DVD by the Masters of Cinema Series.
But just as is the case with Jean Vigo, great genius doesn't need an extensive filmography to present itself. The films that survive are not great because of hype, historicism or obscurity, but because they are gorgeous achievements in humane and engrossing storytelling and utter expertise in filmic terms. Yamanaka might never be considered in equal terms with Kurosawa by the mainstream, but he is just as inventive, radical and entertaining.
These films are desert island stuff for me, and as is often the case with Yamanaka, nothing is as it seems: a stolen knife (apparently) isn't stolen, it's a fake to begin with and is not; people we come to know by name have different names altogether. Pretense, roles. Whereas **Tange Sazen** (1935) of the previous year is a humorous film, the tragically humane and existential undersong of Yamanaka's films pervades even the light moments. "Kôchiyama Sôshun" (1936), translated into English as "Priest of Darkness", most certainly leans closer toward "Ninjô kami fûsen" (1937), yet perhaps with a rougher edge of melodrama.
All three existing Yamanakas revolve around a lost "object"; here we have the knife, sure, but also Hara Setsuko's Onami, who is reduced to an object of desire with a price tag by the clan from whom our title character, played by Yamanaka "regular" Kawarasaki Chôjûrô, helps to hide her. How much is a life worth, the film asks, and what does it really mean to live?
Yamanaka wrote in his last will: "If 'Humanity and Paper Balloons' should prove to be the last film by Sadao Yamanaka, I would feel a little aggrieved. It is not a loser's grief." The war would take him in Manchuria five months later. Not a loser's grief, but of one who knows that whatever films he would have made would have been beautiful.
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