30 August 2011

CALF Short Film Festival in Summer

CALF Short Film Festival in Summer
Natsu no Tanben Matsuri/夏の短編祭
September 3-9, 2011

Eurospace in Shibuya is hosting the CALF Short Film Festival in Summer starting this Saturday night. CALF has lined up an exciting program of experimental films and animation including both established filmmakers like Masanori Tominaga, Naoyuki Tsuji, Takashi Makino and Takuji Suzuki as well as younger filmmakers like Shin Hashimoto and Dairiki+Miura. CALF regulars Mirai Mizue, Kei Oyama, Atsushi Wada, and TOCHKA also have films in the program. One animation not to miss is DREAMS, the final collaboration between legendary pop artist Keiichi Tanaami and the late, great Nobuhiro Aihara (read about him here). Check out the official website (JP only) to learn more about special guests, film talks and more.

Program A (7 works/89 minutes), 3rd and 7th of September 2011
Ningen no Kogai (人間の郊外)

Holiday (ホリデイ, Ryō Hirano, 2011)
Jigoku Sensei (地獄先生, Masanori Tominaga, 2008)
Beluga (ベルーガ, Shin Hashimoto, 2011)
Sunday (Donghoon Kim, 2007)
TEGWON RHAPSODY 2011 (Kenichiro Mizuno, 2006-11)
Ranbō to Totaiki (乱暴と待機, Masanori Tominaga, 2010)
NINIFUNI (Mariko Tetsuyo, 2011)

Program B (9 works/108 minutes), 4th and 8th of September 2011

In a Pig’s Eye (わからないブタ, Atsushi Wada, 2010)
Q/P (Masanori Tominaga, 2011)
Scripta Volant (Ryo Orikasa, 2011)
Steps (TOCHKA, 2010) Read Review
One Piece Shōsetsuka (ワンピース「小説家」, Takuji Suzuki, 2010)
Oyasumi Paradox (おやすみパラドックス, Masanori Tominaga, 2011)
Ato no Matsuri (あとのまつり, Natsuki Seta, )
Nikotoko Island (ニコトコ島, Takuya Dairiki and Takashi Miura, 2008)
DREAMS (Keiichi Tanaami/Nobuhiro Aihara, 2011)

Program C (5 works/105 minutes), 5th and 9th of September 2011
Chika Honryū/地下奔流

Black Hair (黒髪, Nobuhiro Sawa, 2011)
Hand Soap (Kei Oyama, 2008) Read Review
In Your Star (Takashi Makino, 2011)
TUESDAY GIRL (Rikiya Imaizumi, 2011)
One Piece Dorobō (ワンピース「泥棒」, Takuji Suzuki, 2010)

Program D (7 works/88 minutes), 6th of September 2011
Otokotachi no Tatakai/男たちの戦い

aramaki (Isamu Hirabayashi, 2009)
One Piece Shitsuren Nema (ワンピース「失恋沼」, Takuji Suzuki, 2010)
Children of Shadows (影の子供, Naoyuki Tsuji, 2006)
Gentle March (やさしいマーチ, Wataru Uekusa, 2011)
Shinboku Motomachi no Inu (神木本町の犬, Shinichi Tamano, 2011)
AND AND (Mirai Mizue, 2011)
Mime Lesson (マイム・レッスン, Sho Miyake, 2006)

All Programs Start at 21:00
Admission 1,500 yen (1,300 for students)
Pass to all four events costs 4,000 yen

Eurospace (MAP)
Q-AX Bldg. 3F
1-5 Maruyama-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0044
Tel. 81-3-3461-0211

Muybridge’s Strings Road Show

It’s an exciting year for animation at the NFB of Canada with new work by top independent animators like Koji Yamamura, Georges Schwitzgebel, Co Hoedeman, Paul Driessen, and the animation duo Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis.

Koji Yamamura’s hotly anticipated film Muybridge’s Strings (Les Cordes de Muybridge/マイブリッジの糸, 2011) will be having a three week “Road Show” this fall at the Tokyo Metropolitan Photography in Ebisu.

Can time be made to stand still? Can it be reversed? Koji Yamamura’s Muybridge’s Strings is a meditation on this theme, contrasting the worlds of the photographer Eadweard Muybridge—who in 1878 successfully photographed consecutive phases in the movement of a galloping horse—and a mother who, watching her daughter grow up, realizes she is slipping away from her. Moving between California and Tokyo, between the nineteenth century and the twenty-first, the film focuses on some of the highpoints in Muybridge’s troubled life and intercuts them with the mother’s surrealistic daydreams—a poetic clash that explores the irrepressible human desire to seize life’s fleeting moments, to freeze the instants of happiness. Enriched by Koji Yamamura’s refined artistry and Normand Roger’s soundtrack, Muybridge’s Strings observes the ties that cease to bind, fixes its gaze on the course of life, and presents a moment in time suspended on the crystalline notes of a canon by J.S. Bach. (2011,12’39”) Source: NFB

From September 17 until October 7th, visitors can either watch a half hour screening dedicated to Muybridge’s Strings and how it was made or an hour-long program of recent works by Yamamura with some of his favourite NFB animated shorts including Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis’s latest work Wild Life (2011). The other Yamamura films being screened are Fig (無花果/Ichijiku, 2007), which was Yamamura’s contribution to Image Forum’s omnibus animation Tokyo Loop (read review), and A Child’s Metaphysics (こどもの形上学/Kodomo no Keijijyōgaku, 2007). A Child’s Metaphysics is a terrific little film but was a bit overshadowed by the success of A Country Doctor (カフカ田舎医者/Kafuka Inaka Isha, 2007) which was released in the same year. A Child’s Metaphysics is available on DVD in the States from Kimstim/Zeitgeist.

Program A (28 minutes)

Muybridge’s Strings + The Making Of

Muybridge’s Strings (Koji Yamamura, 2011)
The Making of Muybridge’s Strings: Tokyo/Montréal

Program B (63 minutes)

Muybridge’s Strings + Selected NFB Animated Shorts + Selected Works By Yamamura

Canon (Norman McLaren, 1964)
Mindscape (Jacques Drouin, 1976)
The Bead Game (Ishu Patel, 1977)
Jeu (Georges Schwitzgebel, 2005)
Wild Life (Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, 2011)

Fig (Koji Yamamura, 2006)
A Child’s Metaphysics (Koji Yamamura, 2007)
Muybridge’s Strings (Koji Yamamura, 2011)

Go to the official website or Facebook page for more information including film descriptions, bios, and a screening schedule. (JP only)

The short program costs 500 yen and the extended program 1,000 yen.

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (MAP)
〒153-0062 Yebisu Garden Place, 1-13-3 Mita Meguro-ku Tokyo

Support Koji Yamamura buy ordering his work on DVD:

Order from Japan via cdjapan:

Tokyo Loop / Animation
Tokyo Loop (JP only - but no dialogue)

Atamayama - Koji yamamura Sakuhinshu / Animation
Mt. Head and Selected Works  (JP with English subs)

Kafka Inaka Isha / Animation
Kafka Inaka Isha (JP only)

From the US:

Takashi Film Series vol.0

Five top experimental filmmakers named Takashi are screening their work at 3331 Arts Chiyoda in Tokyo this Sunday.  Takashi Film Series vol.0 will feature works by: 

Read DVD Review (Midnight Eye)

Takuhain (Takashi Sawa, 2000) 16 min., shot on 16mm, screening video version
『特派員』澤隆志 16ミリ(ビデオ版)/16分/2000

Eve (Takashi Makino, 2000) 3 min, shot on 16mm, screening video version, music by Makino
『EVE』牧野貴 16ミリ(ビデオ版)/3分/2004 音楽:牧野貴

Film of the Sea (Umi no Eiga, Takashi Ishida, 2007), 12 min., video
『海の映画』石田尚志 ビデオ/12分/2007

Hōmonsha (Takashi Nakajima, 2010), 15 min., video
『訪問者』中島崇 ビデオ/15分/2010

Kansei (Takashi Nakajima, 2011), 10 min., video
『歓声』中島崇 ビデオ/10分/2011  

A Sweet Life (Amai Seikatsu, Takashi Itō, 2010), 23 min., video
『甘い生活』伊藤高志 ビデオ/23分/2010

Event description at RealTokyo (JP)

Takashi Film Series vol.0
September 4, 2011, 18:00-21:00
Admission ¥1,500

3331 Arts Chiyoda 
6-11-14 Sotokanda Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 101-0021
Tel. 03-6803-2441

- 1 min. from Tokyo Metro Ginza Line Suehirocho station (Exit 4)
- 3 min. from Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line Yushima station (Exit 6)
- 6 min. from Toei Oedo Line Ueno-Okachimachi station (Exit A1)
- 7 min. from JR Okachimachi station (Southern Exit)
- 8 min. from JR Akihabara station (Electric City Exit)

27 August 2011

Japan in Germany 4: Japan Media Arts Festival Dortmund

The Japan Media Arts Festival has been held annually in Tokyo since 1997.  Sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, the festival aims to promote the development of innovative media arts.  They accept entries from all over the world and award prizes in four creative divisions: Art, Animation, Entertainment, and Manga.  Last year they had a total of 2,645 works entered into the competition including 694 from overseas.  Check out their website for their current call for entries.  

Dortmund U is hosting a selection of the best of the Japan Media Arts Festival this fall from September 9th until October 2nd, 2011.  The event has been curated by Stefan Riekeles (Les Jardins des Pilotes, Berlin).  The Exhibition itself will be open daily except for Mondays:

Tuesday - Wednesday 10:00 -18:00
Thursday - Friday 10:00 - 20:00
Saturday - Sunday 11:00-18:00

Featured Artists will include:
HIRAKAWA Norimichi / QUE Houxo, KUROKAWA Ryoichi, KUWAKUBO Ryota, MIYAMOTO Naotaka, ONISHI Yasuaki, SHINTSUBO Kenshu, SHINTSUBO Kenshu / IKEGAMI Takashi, UKAWA Naohiro
FUJIKI Jun / SUZUTA Ken / SUZUKI Tatsuya, HAYASHI Tomohiko / SENBO Kensuke / KOYAMA Tomohiko, MASE Jitsuro / NAGAE Tom, MIYAWAKI Osamu, MIZUGUCHI Tetsuya, NAKAMURA Haruki, UCHIDA Shinya
AZUMA Kiyohiko, INOUE Takehiko, IWAAKI Hitoshi, YAMADA Yoshihiro, YAMAMOTO Naoki, YOSHINAGA Fumi, Nichimandoku
ANNO Hideaki, HARA Keiichi, HOSODA Mamoru, ISO Mitsuo, KOIKE Takeshi, MIYAZAKI Hayao, OSHII Mamoru, SHINKAI Makoto, TANIGAWA Nagaru / ISHIHARA Tatsuya, YUASA Masaaki
sasakure.UK feat. Hatsune Miku, Momoiro Clover Z 
For me, the highlight is of course the animation on offer.  I am planning on going up to Dortmund on the first Sunday of the event to see the Film Talk with Masaaki Yuasa.  He won the Grand Prize in 2010 for The Tatami Galaxy.  He also won the Grand Prize in 2004 for Mind Game and an Excellence Prize in 2008 for Kaiba.  All of these films/TV series will be screening at the Dortmund U event.  I also highly recommend the selection of short films on offer:

JMAF Short Film Special 
Sept. 9 (at the opening event), 24 and Oct. 2nd

ISHIDA Hiroyasu: Fumiko's Confession
ITO Naoki / Frank HAHN: Nike Music Shoe
MASHIMA Riichiro: Ski Jumping Pairs
MIZUGUCHI Tetsuya / TAMAI Kenji: make.believe / Genki Rockets
NAKAMURA Magico u.a.: Hibi No Neiro (Tone of everyday)
OKAMOTO Noriaki: Algol
OKAWARA Ryo: Animal Dance
SAKAMOTO Yusuke: the river
SEKI Kazuaki: arukuaround / sakanaction
TAKAHASHI Nobuo: Musashino Plateau
TAKEUCHI Taijin: a song like a fish
YAMAMURA Koji: A Child's Metaphysics
YKBX: natsu wo matteimashita / amazarashi

Here is the Full Film Program:

Saturday, September 10th

20:00 Redline (Takeshi Koike, 2009)

Sunday, September 11th

16:00 Kaiba (Masaaki Yuasa, 2008, TV series)
18:00 Film talk with special guest: Masaaki Yuasa
20:00 Mind Game (Masaaki Yuasa, 2004)

Thursday, September 15th

20:00 Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (Hideaki Anno/Masayuki/Kazuya Tsurumaki, 2007)

Friday, September 16th

20:00 Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (Hideaki Anno/Masayuki/Kazuya Tsurumaki, 2009)

Saturday, September 17th

16:00 Summer Wars (Mamoru Hosoda, 2009)
18:00 The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Mamoru Hosoda, 2006)
20:00 The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (Tatsuya Ishihara/Yasuhiro Takemoto, 2010)

Sunday, September 18th

16:00 Ponyo (Hayao Miyazaki, 2008)
18:00-23:00 The Tatami Galaxy (Masaaki Yuasa, 2010, TV series)

Thursday, September 22nd

20:00 Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995)

Saturday, September 24th

16:00 JMAF Short Film Special | 13 Films, 60 min.total
17:00 Den-noh Coil  / CyberCoil (aka  Dennō Koiru, Mitsuo Iso, 2007, TV series)
18:00 Summer Wars (Mamoru Hosoda, 2009)
20:00 The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Mamoru Hosoda, 2006)

Sunday, September 25h

16:00 Crayon Shinchan: The Storm Called: The Battle of the Warring States (Keiichi Hara, 2002)
18:00 Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone  (Hideaki Anno/Masayuki/Kazuya Tsurumaki, 2007)
20:00 Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (Mamoru Oshii, 2004)

Thursday, September 29th

20:00 Buttgereit's Monster Film Selection (TBA)

Friday, September 30th

19:00 Talk with Director Jörg Buttgereit
20:00 Buttgereit's Monster Film Selection (TBA)

Sunday, October 10th
16:00 Ponyo (Hayao Miyazaki, 2008)
18:00 JMAF Short Film Special | 13 Films, 60 min.total
20:00 Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (Hideaki Anno,  2009)

This blog post is part the Japan in Germany series.

Japan in Germany 3: Nippon Puffed Rice Chocolate Squares

Nippon puffed rice chocolate squares are common sight on the chocolate shelves of German grocery stores and kiosks. Made by the Hosta company in Stimpfach, Schwäbisch Hall, the squares appear to simply be puffed rice covered in chocolate, but the ingredients actually include other grains or grain derivatives.

The squares come in a variety of sizes and occasionally can be found in dark bitter and white chocolate varieties. The official website for Nippon squares does not give any history as to why the product was called “Nippon”.  Perhaps the logic was that the product  contains rice and rice is a staple food in Japan.  It is possible that the snack was inspired by Tochoco’s Rice Chocolate bar. It is featured on the Showa Navi because the product was launched in 1953 – Showa 28 on the Japanese calendar. The Tochoco puffed rice chocolate bar contains a lot more chocolate than the German Nippon square.  Read a product review of the Tochocho Rice Chocolate at Japanese Snack Reviews to learn more.

Although I have not yet tried it the German company Wawi apparently has a competing line of chocolate rice squares which they claim won the award for Best Brand of Puffed-Rice Chocolate in Germany in the Lebensmittel Zeitung (a grocery consumer publication) in March. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for it next time I’m at the supermarket. Other similar products include the Australian company Sunrice’s Tumbles.

My children really like Nippon, but they are not really to my taste. I prefer dark chocolate and I had the impression when taste-testing them that they contain quite a lot of vegetable oil and fatty cacao butter as it left my mouth feeling quite greasy afterwards. I recommend taste-testing them with a strong coffee to counteract this.  While looking in vain for historical information about the Nippon squares, I discovered an intriguing recipe using them as the base of a cake.

You can find the rest of the recipe for Nippon Chocolate Cake with Yogurt Cream & Strawberries at lecher.de.  I have worked the cake table at Kindergarten events before and the cakes heavy with cream are always a big hit here in Germany.  I will have to give this one a try the next time we have guests.

This blog post is part of a new series called Japan in Germany.  

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011

26 August 2011

Pictures at an Exhibition (展覧会の絵, 1966)

In 1967 Osamu Tezuka picked up his second Noburo Ofuji Award for his animation Pictures at an Exhibition (展覧会の絵, 1966). Among other domestic honours, this 39-minute film (33 minutes in its current cut) also picked up the award for Best Animated Film at the Asia Pacific Film Festival that year.

The film is a modern interpretation of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” (1874), a suite in ten movements composed for the piano. The music was inspired by an exhibition of the works of Mussorgsky’s late friend Viktor Hartmann. The first movement is the famous Promenade, which represents the visitor walking around the exhibition. This is followed by various movements that are meant to either create the picture in the mind’s eye or at the very least capture the mood of the picture. Each movement is interspersed with a reprise of the Promenade theme in order to depict the visitor moving on to the next picture.

Tezuka commissioned the composer Isao Tomita to arrange Mussorgsky’s composition for the orchestral accompaniment to the animation. The arrangement was performed by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. The Geneon DVD of the animation adds the original 1966 ending of the film as a 3 minute extra. It shows the orchestra performing the piece before segueing into the credits.

In the accompanying information, written by Masahiro Katayama, he describes Pictures at an Exhibition as the “antithesis of Mushi Pro’s TV animation.” Katayama feels that the film demonstrates the “journalistic eye of Tezuka throughout.” The film was, like Tezuka’s later film Legend of the Forest (1987), made as a kind of homage to Disney’s Fantasia (1940)

The film opens with the camera gracefully tracking up to the doors of a Western-style museum (post a comment if you recognize the building). Once inside, the film switches to animation as the camera pans along a wall of portraits in a nod to Mussorgsky’s original theme. However, the pictures are not those of Viktor Hartmann (which would be actually impossible as not all of them survived), but modern illustrations of people and character types that would have been easily recognizable to audiences in the late 1960s. Many of them: Shakespeare, William Tell, Sigmund Freud, the Beatles are still recognizable to us today. Some, like the Beatnik, are now a bit dated. Following the musical cues of the Promenade, the camera pans along at an irregular pace and pauses at various portraits. All 10 portraits are given an animated interpretation, followed by an extended “Allegorical Conclusion”.

In the English opening credits – which are replete with errors including the odd spelling of Tezuka’s name as Osam Tezka (unless this is an inside joke which explains his son’s unusual choice of Romanization of the family name) – explain that “This picture is constituted of the conventionalities of various heroes today.” My own interpretation of each “portrait” is that they are meant to be tongue-in-cheek satires of important figures in society. Here is a summary of each “portrait.”


I actually think that the English title of this section is inaccurate. The old, spider-like, pipe-smoking negative stereotype that is depicted is really more of a media magnate / newspaper publisher along the lines of figures like Rupert Murdoch and William Randolph Hurst. There really are no positive attributions given to this dictatorial figure. He is shown as being corrupt, publicity seeking, self-serving, and power-hungry. All in all the portrait leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Gardener of the artificial landscape

An insect is flying through a world of skyscrapers. He is exhausted from his long journey and searches out water and flowers in order to find some nourishment. Each flower he encounters turns out to be fake. The garden of fake flowers is tended to by a large man with an entourage of fans who dusts and perfumes the flower and cuts out any real ones and disposes of them. When the gardener finds the bug, he throws him away as well, but his fate is left ambiguous. Although the title card on the Geneon DVD suggested that this film was a kind of homage to Fantasia, the second portrait reminded me much more of the Fleischer BrothersMr. Bug Goes to Town (Dave Fleischer, 1941). Not only does Tezuka’s bug resemble Hoppity the Grasshopper, the theme is also similar: nature (in the form of insects) being threatened by modernity (the city).

Mr. Bug Goes to Town / Disney
Order Mr. Bug Goes to Town (EN/JP) from Studio Ghibli

Cosmetic Surgeon

This is one of the more amusing portraits in Pictures at an Exhibition – and one which uses a more pared down sketch style animation on a watercolour background. In this scenario, Tezuka mocks the profession of cosmestic surgeon by showing a number of over-the-top techniques being performed on various people. One person is being expanded with air, another is put through a giant pencil sharpener, yet another is treated with a hammer in the backside. The most amusing moment comes in the form of a close up on the surgeon’s face when it is distorted by a sneeze.

Big Factory Proprietor

This portrait seemed heavily influenced by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). Tezuka wrote a manga called Metropolis loosely inspired by the film in 1949 – which was of course adapted into an anime by Rintaro in 2001. Like the portrait of the “Journalist” the factory boss is depicted as a dictatorial, greedy, soulless creature. Eventually the whole factory, including the big boss himself, are taken over by machines.


Although the portrait on the wall looks like a beatnik, the animation is of dancing chicks who seem to be recreating one of the Sharks vs. Jets dance numbers from West Side Story (Jerome Robbins/Robert Wise, 1961). This is easily my favourite sequence in the animation because it is so delightful. The use of chicks is a direct reference to the Mussorgsky score because this suite is known as “Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks.” The original watercolour by Harmann was amusingly surreal and can be seen here


The boxer in this portrait is an elephant with a boxing glove on his trunk. The suggestion is that boxers, like circus animals, are being exploited by their managers for financial gain. It is a pessimistic portrayal in a similar vein to  the first and second portraits.

TV Talent

Like the “Cosmetic Surgeon” portrait, this portrait uses a sketching animation style. This time black on a coloured background. The TV Talent is an attractive woman cruising about in an expensive car while people at the TV studio panic because she is late for the shoot. The TV Talent carelessly runs over staff on her way into the building and the world of television is literally shown to be world in which people tear each other apart.

Zen Priest

This portrait suggests that Osamu Tezuka questioned the sincerity of practitioners of Zen Buddhism. A grumpy looking Zen priest sits immobile in this portrait. Neither earthquake, nor rain and storm, rocks falling from the sky, nor fire can move him. The screen fades to black, but then returns to the Zen priest, catching him yawning and stretching and he immediately goes back to his meditative pose as if he had never left it.


The use of cutouts and abstract shapes in this “picture” are quite cleverly done. It depicts a negative stereotype of soldiers and the brutality of war. The soldiers appeared to be American – in fact one looked African American – and in a combat situation. The film suggests that the soldiers have a lack of empathy for civilians and are only interested in their baser instincts. I know from having attended an exhibition in Tokyo in 2007 at the Showakan called Osamu Tezuka War Memories and Drawings that the war that Tezuka’s wartime experiences had a significant impact on both his outlook on life and his art. This vignette offers a very pessimistic view of the role of the soldier in times of war.  I have a feeling that the theme of this "picture" was strongly influenced by American military involvement in the Vietnam War, which was such a bone of contention at the time this animation was made.

Allegorical Conclusion
The conclusion of the film adapts the final movement “Great Gate of Kiev” quite literally. A procession of people, including many characters from the previous “pictures”, walk through a giant archway – which appeared more Greco-Roman than Russian to my eye but then I am no expert in architecture. I found the ending strangely unsatisfying, mainly because I didn't fully understand what Tezuka was trying to say with it. It seemed to suggest that the people were walking up to the “Pearly Gates” of heaven, but for what purpose I cannot say with any certainty.  There seemed to be a message about supporting others and togetherness, but it was a bit convoluted.

There are many who find Pictures at an Exhibition pessimistic and “weird” (see Hayao Miyazaki’s comments in Starting Point, p. 195), but I think it was Tezuka’s honest attempt to use animation in an original way. Most of the “pictures” are clearly meant to be read as satire – which is a rhetorical form renowned for rubbing people the wrong way. Although I found the “Allegorical Conclusion” a bit over the top in its use of allegory, it does however match the pomposity of Mussorgsky’s score. What Tezuka was trying to “say” with Pictures at an Exhibition is a matter of debate, but the quality of the animation is irrefutably high. It is an intriguing example of animation inspired by music.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2011

This review is part of Nishikata Film Review’s  2011 Noburo Ofuji Award Challenge.

19 August 2011

A Mother Should Be Loved (母を恋はずや, 1934)

In support of the BFI, one of the many companies to lose their stock in the Sony warehouse fire in Enfield, I ordered their dual format edition of Late Autumn / A Mother Should Be Loved last week. A Mother Should Be Loved (母を恋はずや, 1934) is one of the few extant Yasujiro Ozu films that I had not yet seen. Although the first and last of 9 reels that make up the film are missing, enough remains of the film to make it enjoyable viewing.

A Mother Should Be Loved is the type of family melodrama that was common at the time. It tells the story of two school-aged brothers from a wealthy home whose father (Yukichi Iwata) dies suddenly. Their mother Chieko Kajiwara (Mitsuko Yoshiwara), with the support of an old friend of their father’s whom they call Uncle Okazaki (Shinyo Nara) and his wife (Shinobu Aoki).

As the Kajiwara brothers grow up, it becomes apparent to them that their mother tends to favour the elder brother Sadao (Seiichi Kato/Den Obinata) over her younger son Kosaku (Shusei Nomura/Koji Mitsui). It is not until Sadao applies for college and sees his birth certificate for the first time that the family secret is revealed: he is the son of his father’s late first wife and Chieko is only his stepmother. Sadao’s bitterness over this well-intentioned family deception leads to a rift between the two brothers that the plot tries to resolve.

Visually, the film is unlike Ozu’s later style apart from a few favourite motifs such as clothes hanging to dry, factory chimneys, and trains. The house that the family lives in until the father’s death has a European furnishings which more resemble the set of an early Carl Dreyer film than an Ozu film. As the family’s financial circumstances become more difficult they move to a more modest Japanese-style home.

The most fascinating element of A Mother Should Be Loved that I would like to learn more about is Ozu’s use of poster art in the film. The mother is strongly associated with Christian imagery in the film in the form of a poster for the Passion Play Tercentenary in Oberammergau. In 1634, the residents of this small town in Bavaria made a pledge to God that if they were spared from the bubonic plague they would produce a play every ten years depicting the life and death of Jesus. With a few exceptions, the play has been performed every 10 years since. The event advertised in the poster in A Mother Should Be Loved was exploited by the Nazis as part of their greater anti-Semitic agenda and Hitler himself even attended one of the performances. It would be interesting to find out how much Ozu understood about the context of the event itself.  He certainly would not have know about Hitler visiting.  The film was released in May 1934 and Hitler saw the Passion Play in August 1934.  Without all the historical baggage, the cross on the poster merely functions metaphorically to suggest that the mother is adhering to the Christian principle of self-sacrifice.

In contrast, the brothel that Sadao moves into when he runs away from the family home has its walls papered with Hollywood and European movie posters.  The most striking of these is a stylized poster of Joan Crawford in Lewis Milestone's Rain (1932). Here is a screencap from the film alongside the original full colour poster:

This is quite appropriate for a brothel as Joan Crawford plays a prostitute on a path to redemption and a life on the straight and narrow.  Many critics complain that A Mother Should Be Loved is "marred by melodrama" (Donald Richie, Ozu, p. 219), but it is really quite tame in comparison to the over-the-top melodrama of Rain (a film which I coincidentally saw for the first time in Japan - I picked it up in a 500 yen bargain bin several years ago).

Another poster in the brothel is for the G.W. Pabst epic Don Quichotte (The Adventures of Don Quixote, 1933) starring the wildly popular Russian operatic bass Feodor Chaliapin (spellings vary in different European countries).  It was the first sound film adapation of Miguel de Cervantes's novel and three versions were shot - French, English,and German - with Chaliapin singing in all three versions.  I couldn't find the poster used in the film but to get an idea of how it looked in colour I have found a different poster for the film as well as a poster for a theatrical version that uses a similar graphic design:

Alexander Jacoby, who wrote the introductory essay in the BFI booklet, remarks upon the thematic similarities between a A Mother Should Be Loved and the Julien Duvivier classic Poil de carotte (The Read Head, 1932) about a boy who is unloved by his parents.  Like the Passion Play poster, the poster for Poil de carotte is made all the more poignant from the perspective of today because the child star Robert Lynen, in the title role of François Lepic was executed by the Gestapo for his role in the French Resistance in 1944.

The final movie poster that I recognized in A Mother Should Be Loved is for the film Die Tochter des Regiments (The Daughter of the Regiment, 1933).  The film was directed by Carl Lamac and stars his wife (or ex-wife - they divorced sometime in 1933) Anny Ondra (most famous for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail) and Werner Fuetterer.  This is the most rare of the films referred to in A Mother Should Be Loved.  I do not know if a copy of it is extant, but it most certainly has never been released on DVD.  I would presume that the film is an adaptation of the Donizetti comic opera La fille du régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment, 1840)

A Mother Should Be Loved sparked my interest in learning more about the kinds of films Ozu was watching in the 1920s and 1930s and what he thought about them.  Such a shame that so many of his early films were lost as I am sure they would shed even more light onto craft of this endlessly fascinating film director.  


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