A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sandakan 8 (Kei Kumai, 1974)

Kinuyo Tanaka in Sandakan 8
Keiko Mitani: Komaki Kurihara
Osaki Yamakawa: Kinuyo Tanaka
Osaki as a young woman: Yoko Takahashi
Okiku: Takiko Mizunoe
Hideo Takeuchi: Ken Tanaka

Director: Kei Kumai
Screenplay: Sakae Hirosawa, Kei Kumai
Based on a book by Tomoko Yamazaki
Cinematography: Mitsuji Kanau
Production design: Takeo Kimura
Music: Akira Ifukube

Kinuyo Tanaka was one of the world's greatest actresses, celebrated particularly for her work with Kenji Mizoguchi in The Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu (1953), and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), and she gives a heartbreaking performance in one of the last films she made before her death in 1977, Sandakan 8. She plays Osaki, an elderly woman who was sold into prostitution as a girl, servicing overseas Japanese in brothels in what's now Malaysia. In the film she tells her story to a young woman, Keiko Mitani, who is researching the history of the karayuki-san, women who were sent throughout the South Pacific to work as prostitutes. We see Osaki's life in flashbacks in which she's played beautifully by Yoko Takahashi. Osaki struggles at first against the life she has been forced into, but eventually gives in to the reality of her situation. Still, once the practice of selling girls for overseas prostitution is ended by the Japanese government and Osaki is able to return home, she finds herself the object of scorn. Even in old age, living in a shack on the outskirts of a town, she is looked down upon by her neighbors because of her past. When Keiko first visits her, Osaki tries to pass her off to the neighbors as her daughter-in-law from Kyoto. (After her first return to Japan, Osaki went to Manchuria, where she married and had a son. He sends her money, but his wife has never visited and seems determined to have nothing to do with her.)  Sandakan 8 tells a compelling story without excessive sentimentality or sensationalism. It drifts occasionally into clichés, as when Osaki falls in love with a shy young man who loses his virginity with her and promises to return when he's made enough money to buy her out of prostitution, but eventually he betrays her when he finds her exhausted after servicing a pack of randy sailors that has swarmed into the brothel after their ship came to port. But the rapport that develops between Osaki and Keiko is splendidly portrayed, as is Keiko's determination to make the story of the karayuki-san known in a country that would prefer to keep it an unknown episode in Japan's history.

Filmstruck Criterion Channel

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