Jolly Cinema > 21:45


Sadao Yamanaka


Monday 26/06/2017


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Yamanaka’s last and most famous film is a downbeat yet vital account of the life of a tenement community in Edo, brought to life with superb conviction and detail by the Zenshin-za actors. The film dovetails the story of a disappointed ronin (masterless samurai) seeking a position with an account of a fruitless kidnapping scheme masterminded by the local barber. The characters of ronin Unno and barber Shinza are superbly played respectively by Chojuro Kawarasaki and Kan’emon Nakamura. The film highlights Yamanaka’s skill at pictorial composition and deep focus, and his use of editing.
Loosely based on a kabuki play by Mokuami Kawatake, the film shares its “faithful portrayal of the manners and atmosphere of ‘downtown’ Edo” (Keiko McDonald). But his vision of daily life is given a bleaker inflection as it charts a futile struggle against poverty and despair. Yamanaka changed the play’s flamboyant characters to weaker, more realistic versions of themselves, and further darkened the ending provided in Mimura’s script.
Yamanaka produces a disenchanted study of a society in which the values of bushido celebrated in more traditional jidai-geki are abandoned or betrayed, and in which people cannot progress. The emblem of his bleak vision is the fragile paper balloons which float in the gutter in the last shot of the film – a shot which seems a premonition of the director’s own tragic death. For Donald Richie, this image “creates an absolute in a world of shifting values. Life is neither more permanent nor more consequential than a mere paper balloon. This haiku-like sentiment is at the base of the metaphor. It makes a statement”.
Sadao Yamanaka (1909-1938) was the greatest master of the jidai-geki during mid- to late-1930s. His career spanned only six years, but he realised around two dozen films. Alas, only three survive complete, but they fully illustrate his austerity, poetry, realism and wit. Shortly after making Ninjo kamifusen, Yamanaka was drafted into the army and sent to China, where he died a year later in a field hospital. But writing his ‘Last Will and Testament’ in the year of his death, he was still able to celebrate his achievement. “If Ninjo kamifusen should prove to be the last film by Sadao Yamanaka, I would feel a little aggrieved. It is not a loser’s grief”.

Alexander Jacoby e Johan Nordström

Cast and Credits

Sog.: liberamente ispirato all’opera kabuki Kamiyui Shinza (Shinza il barbiere) di Mokuami Kawatake. Scen.: Shintaro Mimura. F.: Akira Mimura. M.: Koichi Iwashita. Scgf.: Kazuo Kubo. Mus.: Tadashi Ota. Int.: Chojuro Kawarasaki (Matajuro Unno), Tsuruzo Nakamura (Genko), Kan’emon Nakamura (Shinza), Choemon Bando (Yabuichi), Rakusaburo Ichikawa (Yakichi), Kikunosuke Ichikawa (Kanekichi), Sukezo Suketakaya (Chobei), Kosaburo Tachibana (Sanzaemon Mori), Kikunojo Segawa (Chushichi), Takako Misaki (Okoma), Shizue Yamagishi (Otaki). Prod.: Masanobu Takeyama per P.C.L. 35mm. D.: 86’. Bn.