Sog.: da una pièce di Junji Kinoshita. Scen.: Hajime Takaiwa. F.: Minoru Maeda. Scgf.: Kazuo Kubo. Mus.: Masao Ooki. Int.: Kanzaburo Nakamura the 17th (Gentazaemon Araki), Kyoko Kagawa (Shino Araki), Yunosuke Ito (Jinbei, il custode del mulino), Ineko Arima (Sen, moglie di Jinbei), Masao Mishima (Uemon), Shobun Inoue (Tota), Jun Tatara (Taneomi), Ton Shimada (Kurosuke). Prod.: Shochiku. 35mm. Col.
This comic jidai-geki (period film), shot in the Japanese colour process Konicolor and boasting both humour and politically charged satire, features the debut film performance of legendary Kabuki actor Kanzaburo Nakamura the 17th (1909-1988), in the lead role as an Edo-period magistrate who falls in love with and tries to seduce the beautiful wife of the local miller during a certain nighttime village festival, when according to custom, so-called yobai (‘night-crawling’, i.e. wife swapping), is legally permissible as long as the festival drum is beating. Ineko Arima, who plays the wife, had been a star of the Takarazuka all-girl theatre troupe and would win cinematic recognition for her work in Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo boshoku (Tokyo Twilight, 1957) and Higanbana (Equinox Flower, 1958), and in Masaki Kobayashi’s Ningen no joken (The Human Condition, 1958-61).
Hailed on release by the “Kinema Junpo” reviewer as a treasure of Japanese cinema, the film is based on a stage play by Junji Kinoshita (1914-2006), a leading twentieth-century Japanese playwright as well as a respected translator of Shakespeare’s plays into Japanese. The play was itself inspired by a foreign novel, El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat, 1874), by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón y Ariza (1833-1891), which had also been adapted into a classic ballet by Manuel de Falla. Kinoshita’s other works ranged from plays inspired by traditional folk tales to sociopolitical commentary, including a theatrical response to the Tokyo war crimes trials and a dramatisation of the life of German-born Soviet spy Richard Sorge, executed in Japan in 1944.
The source material’s comic take on feudal class distinctions was well suited to director Satsuo Yamamoto (1910-1985), a left-wing director long affiliated with the Japanese Communist Party. Many of his films were independently produced, with a didactic sociopolitical focus: among them, Pen itsuwarazu: Boryokugai no machi (Street of Violence, 1950) depicted a crusading journalist’s campaign against organized crime; Shinku chitai (Vacuum Zone, 1952) was a savage indictment of the brutality of the Japanese army; and Taifu sodoki (Trouble about a Typhoon, 1956) was a witty and revealing satire about small-scale political corruption. Even Yamamoto’s more commercial films, made mainly under contract at Daiei, included such socially aware works as Akai mizu (Red Water, 1963), another satire on smalltown politics, and Shiroi kyoto (The Ivory Tower, 1966) an indictment of Japanese medical ethics.