The Living Magoroku

cdotaiofhyuttkgzilvy8q4mvei6tg_smallMade and set during WWII, Kinoshita’s The Living Magoroku didn’t wow me. Though the film begins with an action-packed sequence of a samurai, the rest of the film wasn’t on par with his Morning for the Osone Family or Port of Flowers. 

In a nutshell, generations ago the Magoroku family’s field was the site of a bloodbath. They believe a legend that says they shouldn’t plow or cultivate this land. Moreover, the living Magoroku’s believe that their eldest male child will die early. This belief has currently haunted the oldest son, who’s coughs a lot and has some psychosomatic condition. The widowed mother won’t let her daughter marry just in case the son does die. This curse or legend is still strong.

One of the villagers believes that the 72 acre field should be cultivated for food. Japan is in the midst of a war and would benefit from using fertile land.

Keeping this land fallow and the efforts to get the Magoroku’s to change their mind, leads to a a couple engagements getting put on hold.

I would say the film does show how films were used in the war effort, how they tried to persuade the audience to sacrifice. Yet the oldest son’s acting as rather stiff and the story wasn’t as engaging as what I’ve seen from Kurosawa or Ozu. There are better Japanese films to invest your time in.

Morning for the Osone Family

MORNING FOR THE OSONE FAMILY

Keisuke Kinoshita’s Morning for the Osone Family (1946) probably couldn’t get made today. It’s an anti-WWII film that exposes how the military and government squelched free speech and exploited citizens even when Japan was at a point when it was clear they were bound to lose.

Curiously, the film begins with the Osone family celebrating Christmas and singing “Silent Night.” After some chit chat, the eldest son is summoned by law enforcement and is soon imprisoned for writing an article that subtly questioned Japan’s militarism.

It’s a big hit for a family whose father died a while back. The mother has tried to live up to the father’s pacifist philosophy. She continues to support her second son, who’s a struggling artist, and her daughter who wants to marry for love, but now that her fiancé has been drafted, is getting pressured by her uncle to marry a scion he’s lined up.

The family unity continues to dissolve. The painter gets drafted and the daughter goes to work in an army support job. The uncle, who’s an officer and very pro-war moves into the family home with his haughty wife. Their presence, and particularly their lavish lifestyle enjoying black market goods, while most citizens starve, sickens the mother and daughter. The final straw is when the uncle urges the youngest son, who’s still in high school, to enlist in the army.

Morning for the Osone Family offers a beautiful, moving view of history. My hunch is few Japanese have seen this film, but they should. We should too. I’m glad I did.

Twenty-four Eyes

24 eyes

Filled with pathos, 24 Eyes chronicles an elementary school teacher nicknamed “Miss Pebble” who teaches on a remote island from just before till just after WWII. “Miss Pebble” makes waves as she rides a bicycle to school. Heavens! The villagers have never seen a woman on a bike! To make matters worse, this teacher wears Western clothes. Lots of gossip surrounds this threat to a tradition bound village that doesn’t see many strangers. Despite all the obstacles and troubles, Miss Pebble stays the course giving the children all her best and forgiving them when their prank causes her to break her leg.

“Miss Pebble” is kind-hearted and sticks up for doing the right thing when the political climate is charged with suspicions and accusations, when a child’s essay may be considered “Communist” and teachers are suspended for political ideology. Many of her students are from poor families and face great hardships that break Miss Pebble’s heart time after time, culminating in seeing her students go off to a war she doesn’t believe in, but can’t protest.

We see the children grow from first graders to young adults. To make the film as authentic as possible Kinoshita, the director, cast siblings who were about 6 years apart. Thus the characters look as if they really have aged in a very natural way.

Twenty-four Eyes shows how the Japanese value close ties with teachers, how gossip is common and hurtful in a village, and how people looked back on the war.

While this is definitely a “three hanky” tear-jerker, there’s a beauty in Miss Pebble’s perseverance and kindness. She never grows bitter despite experiencing so many difficulties.

The black and white photography was exquisite and the actress playing the teacher was so sincere and open. It’s a beautiful window into the heart of Japan.