Sog.: da una novella di Ogai Mori. Scen.: Hisatora Kumagai, Nobuo Adachi. F.: Hiroshi Suzuki. M.: Yoshitama Imaizumi. Mus.: Shiro Fukai. Int.: Chojuro Kawarasaki (Matajuro Emoto), Kan’emon Nakamura (Yagobei), Shizue Yamagishi (Toshi), Masako Tsutsumi (Osaki), Emitaro Ichikawa (Yaichiemon Abe), Kozaburo Tachibana (Gonbei), Shinzaburo Ichikawa (Ichitayu), Shimajiro Yamazaki (Gotayu). Prod.: Masanobu Takeyama per P.C.L. 35mm. D.: 105’. Bn.
Having won notice at Nikkatsu with such ambitious projects as the biopic Jonetsu no shijin Takuboku (Takuboku, Poet of Passion, 1936) and Sobo (Many People, 1937), about working-class emigrants to Brazil, director Hisatora Kumagai (1904-1986) moved to P.C.L. and directed his representative work with this important period film, which fully displays what Peter High described as “the ferocious passion he imprinted as his trademark on all his works”. Working with the Zenshin-za, he produced what critic Sadao Yamane hailed as a new kind of period film, revolutionary for its historical accuracy and detail.
The film is based on a novella by the novelist and Japanese army medical officer Ogai Mori, whose writings also furnished the plots for Shiro Toyoda’s Gan (Wild Geese, 1953) and Kenji Mizoguchi’s Sansho the Bailiff (1954). The original story was a response to the dramatic suicide in 1912 of General Nogi, who committed hara-kiri after the death of the Emperor Meiji. At this time, Ogai produced a number of historical narratives examining themes of loyalty and self-sacrifice.
Abe ichizoku tells of a retainer who commits hara-kiri in defiance of his lord’s command, and the tragic consequences of this act. Concentrating on the way in which bushido ideals shape the actions of the characters, the film, except for its action climax, is austerely ritualistic in style. The emphasis on dialogue and a dignified, restrained acting style play to the strengths of the Zenshin-za ensemble. The film problematizes the demands of the warrior code with its depiction of an incident that, Darrell William Davis writes, is “splendid for its poignancy or its absurdity”.
Nationalist critic Tsutomu Sawamura praised the film ecstatically, writing that “Kumagai has thrown a bomb into the sluggish Japanese film world, blowing open a hole for fresh breezes to enter”. Kumagai went on to direct some unambiguously pro-militarist films from scripts by Sawamura, before leaving the industry to found and lead the Sumera-juku Association, a semi-religious nationalist organisation, where he formed the patriotic theatre troupe Taiyo-za. In postwar cinema he worked as independent producer and directed a few more films in the mid- to late-1950s. His other contribution to Japanese film history was introducing his sister-in-law, Setsuko Hara, to the world of film.
Alexander Jacoby e Johan Nordström