Scen.: Kaneto Shindo. F.: Nobuo Munekawa. M.: Tatsuji Nakashizu. Scgf.: Atsuji Shibata. Mus.: Sei Ikeno. Int.: Ayako Wakao (Yukie Mitani), Yunosuke Ito (Tokizo Maeda), Hisano Yamaoka (Yoshino Maeda), Yuko Hamada (Tomoko Maeda), Manamitsu Kawabata (Minoru Maeda), Eiji Funakoshi (Eisaku Kamiya), Shoichi Ozawa (Pinosaku), Hideo Takamatsu (Ichiro Katori), Kyu Sazanka (Shuntaro Yoshizawa), Chocho Miyako (Madame Yuki). Prod.: Daiei Studios. DCP. Col.
Kawashima’s darkly humorous imagination was at its height in this “choking comedy” (Tadao Sato’s words), released only six months before his death at the age of 45. The project was rejected by Toho, Shintoho and Shochiku before being accepted by Daiei. Kawashima worked with the great director-screenwriter Kaneto Shindo (1912-2012), and this script is one of his most brilliant and cynical. Shindo saw the story of a family of fraudsters inhabiting a two-room Tokyo apartment as a broader critique of postwar society, declaring that “all new Japanese families are like this”; the characters he created exemplified, he thought, the corrosive effects of modernity and materialism. Shindo originally envisaged the story as a stage play, a genesis still apparent in its single set. Yet the film is typical of Kawashima’s last period in displaying a new, self-conscious and wholly cinematic visual ambition; indeed, Shindo suspected that the challenge of dealing with this “anti-filmic” material may have been what captured the director’s attention. Luke Stephen Cromer notes that “Kawashima skilfully utilises the cinematic space, the four walls, floor and ceiling – six surfaces in total – in a unique and experimental style.” Constantly varying camera positions open up new perspectives on the confined space, and ’Scope offers the ideal shape for Kawashima’s characteristically frenetic imagery, in which characters threaten to burst from the frame. Mikiro Kato has compared the film to the work of Fassbinder, whose Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant opted for a similarly confined, yet strikingly cinematic approach. Shitoyakana kemono performed rather poorly at the box office, being the least successful release of the New Year season of 1962-3. Despite this failure, the notoriously self-deprecating Kawashima, who tended to dismiss much of his own work, took pride in the film, declaring that: “Shitoyakana kemono is the milestone from which I want to start my future journey.” Sadly, his premature death brought that journey to an end, leaving Shitoyakana kemono as his last major achievement.
Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström