'Muhomatsu Returns Home' is a TV documentary about Matsukichi Fujita, a 55-year-old former soldier who settled in Thailand after being deserted by his platoon during World War II. Director Shôhei Imamura met him in Thailand and they agreed to document his return to Japan. The presentation of the film, which runs for 47 minutes, is unembellished, even dry, but the story's very intriguing.
Fujita isn't welcome back upon his return. He's a Japanese Rip Van Winkle. The world has moved on in his absence, while he was believed to be dead. Particularly unexcited to see him is his brother, who appears to have engineered the story of his death in order to inherit his pension. Fujita becomes sentimental in a few instances, but mostly expresses anger and bitterness as he walks around, sometimes shirtless, looking like a fossil.
He and his family are residues of Japan's war and post-war years. One of his sisters was killed by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. He fought and lost as part of an army known for its brutality abroad. At some point, he briefly refers to the murderous quality of his job as a soldier, but shows no signs of regret. In fact, he complains about having been betrayed by the Emperor, who ultimately surrendered. Imamura films him with the curiosity of an entomologist. This is reminiscent of the director's approach towards the characters of his 1963 feature film, 'The Insect Woman'. His only judgment comes at the very end, as he criticizes Japan for deserting its people in the wake of prosperity: "Their voices cry out against the country that abandoned them as if they were trash. 236 million yen will be spent to collect their bones and 4.630 billion yen will be spent on arms." Can this be interpreted as an anti-war message? He certainly presents Fujita as a product and victim of a larger machinery.
I have read elsewhere that in the end, Imamura had doubts about his involvement in a film of this kind: "During the filming, my subject Fujita asked me to buy him a cleaver so that he could kill his 'vicious brother.' I was shocked, and asked him to wait a day so that I could plan how to film the scene. By the next morning, to my relief, Fujita had calmed down and changed his mind about killing his brother. But I couldn't have had a sharper insight into the ethical questions provoked by this kind of documentary filmmaking."
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