AI NO ONIMOTSU
Scen.: Yuzo Kawashima. F.: Shigeyoshi Mine. Scgf.: Kimihiko Nakamura, Mus.: Toshiro Mayuzumi. Ass. regia: Shohei Imamura, Kirio Urayama. Int.: So Yamamura (Jozaburo Araki), Tatsuya Mihashi (Jotaro Araki, Joichiro Kaida, attore Chambara), Isuzu Yamada (Some Kaida), Mie Kitahara (Saeko Godai), Yukiko Todoroki (Ranko Araki), Eijiro Tono (Jozo Araki), Eitaro Ozawa (Sakaguchi), Kin Sugai (Kamioka), Frankie Sakai (Debanokoji Kamenosuke). Prod.: Nikkatsu. 35mm. D.: 111’. Bn
Described by Joseph Anderson and Donald Richie as “a satiric treatment of the haha-mono” (the popular genre focused on maternal love and suffering), this film, Kawashima’s first for Nikkatsu, is a study of fecundity in the context of early postwar anxieties about overpopulation, and the state-sponsored birth control campaign of the 1950s. Its protagonist, Jozaburo Araki (Yamamura), serves as Minister of Health and Welfare, and is charged with promoting population control; his mission is comically compromised by a series of simultaneous pregnancies in his family. Art director Kimihiko Nakamura, who was later to work on a number of films by Kawashima’s apprentice, Shohei Imamura, helped to imbue the film with verisimilitude by crafting a precise replica of the Japanese parliament building in Akasaka, Tokyo. The political elements of the film are as telling as the comic ones are uproarious. Kawashima, however, was stung by accusations of plagiarism; the film was inspired by a celebrated play, Lorsque l’enfant paraît, by André Roussin, which Kawashima had seen at Tokyo’s Bungaku-za theatre in 1953, with a similar premise about a senator who prescribes birth control while his family procreate. With characteristic self-deprecating defensiveness, he commented that “If it is called plagiarism, I wouldn’t agree, as actually its story and theme are different. However, the fact that it got that much criticism from so many different people got me down. If you were to compare it you would see that it didn’t plagiarise that much”. Despite such criticisms, the film received an admiring review in “Kinema Junpo”, whose critic praised it as a milestone in the director’s career, claiming that it made Kawashima a rival of Kon Ichikawa as a director of comedy, and fostered high hopes for his future works. He praised Kawashima’s directorial tempo, and the verve of the characters, which together imbued the film with a sense of energy. He also celebrated the excellent acting, which is indeed one of the movie’s main virtues. Tatsuya Mihashi, who plays multiple roles, had moved to Nikkatsu in order to work with Kawashima, and was to go on to appear in another 15 of his films. Nikkatsu’s own in-house publicity declares that: “This special director and lead actor relationship between Mihashi and Kawashima is reminiscent of similar pairings in the history of Hollywood comedic cinema, such as the duos of Howard Hawks and Cary Grant, Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon, and Preston Sturges and Joel McCrea”. The cast also includes such luminaries of Japanese cinema as Isuzu Yamada, who had superbly delineated the rebellious heroines of Mizoguchi’s pre-war classics, Osaka Elegy (1936) and Sisters of Gion (1936), and who, two years later, was to give an indelible performance as Kurosawa’s Lady Macbeth in Throne of Blood (1957). So Yamamura, as the minister, gave distinguished performances for Ozu, Mizoguchi and Naruse, as well as directing several films, including the celebrated proletarian classic, The Crab-Canning Ship (Kanikosen, 1953).
Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström