Sog.: Sadao Yamanaka. Scen.: Kinpachi Kajiwara. F.: Kikuzo Kawasaki. M.: Toshio Goto. Scgf.: Sentaro Iwata. Mus.: Tadashi Ota. Int.: Chojuro Kawarasaki (Sentaro Takigawa), Kan’emon Nakamura (Hikotaro), Sachiko Chiba (Yoshie Todo), Hideko Takamine (Otsu), Tamae Kiyokawa (Omasa), Isuzu Yamada (Osaki), Sukezo Suketakaya (Hikobei), Tsuruzo Nakamura (Tokubei), Kosaburo Tachibana (Toma Yasuda), Sensho Ichikawa (Kyohei Matsunaga). Prod.: Masanobu Takeyama per Toho. 35mm. D.: 86’. Bn.
Sadao Yamanaka’s last script was realised after his death by director Ryo Hagiwara, who crafted a forceful indictment of the devastating effects of war and nationalistic fanaticism on the average man, who, in the face of the absurdity of violence, is reduced to apathy or victimhood. In its bleak vision of the human condition, it is similar in tone to Yamanaka’s Ninjo kamifusen. Donald Richie writes that, in this story of a family of Kyoto innkeepers caught up in the troubles surrounding the Meiji Restoration, “ninjo becomes something like bravery”, while the elite Shinsengumi corps of troops set up to defend the Shogunate are presented in a highly unflattering light, “implicitly comparing a violent and destructive Shinsengumi with a violent and destructive contemporary Japanese army”.
Born in 1910, Hagiwara worked in the film industry from 1930, coming under the tutelage of Sadao Yamanaka, who was to have a lasting influence on him, after his arrival at Nikkatsu in 1934. He collaborated as screenwriter on the scripts collectively produced by the Narataki-gumi, before making his directorial debut in 1936. He worked at various studios, and latterly directed a number of films independently. Sono zen’ya is his most celebrated work.
The film’s stark portrayal of its main characters frailty and powerlessness in the face of historical circumstances proved too strong for the “Kinema Junpo” reviewer, who praised Hagiwara’s direction as some of his finest, while admitting that sequences such as the seppuku scene and the sight of characters rushing to their deaths left a lingering unpleasant feeling. In the end, the reviewer claimed, the film’s Yamanaka-like darkness left the viewer with nothing but despair. In retrospect, the critic’s discomfort speaks for the subversive power of this ideologically dissident film. It is a fitting testament to the talent of a director who was obliged to leave the Japanese cinema when it can perhaps be said to have needed him most.
Alexander Jacoby e Johan Nordström