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

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Legend or Was It? (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1963)

Kinuyo Tanaka and Shima Iwashita in A Legend or Was It?
Kieko Sonobe: Shima Iwashita
Yuri Shimizu: Mariko Kaga
Hideyuki Sonobe: Go Kato
Shiziku Sonobe: Kinuyo Tanaka
Shintaro Shimizu: Yoshi Kato
Goichi Takamori: Bunta Sugawara
Norio Sonobe: Tsutomu Matsukawa
Narrator: Osamu Takizawa

Director: Keisuke Kinoshita
Screenplay: Keisuke Kinoshita
Cinematography: Hiroshi Kusuda
Film editing: Yoshi Sugihara
Music: Chuji Kinoshita

Keisuke Kinoshita's A Legend or Was It? begins in an idyllic setting: a mountain valley in Hokkaido, gorgeously filmed in color, almost like a travelogue. But the narrator -- a rather obtrusive and unnecessary presence in the film -- tells us that it wasn't always inhabited by the kindly villagers we see going about their chores today. The setting remains the same as the film switches to black and white and we're told that it's now the summer of 1945. War is nowhere in evidence, but it's an inescapable presence. The villagers know that Japan is about to lose, and they're looking for ways to vent their frustration at having supported a losing cause. They find one in a family, the Sonobes, who have moved there after their home in Tokyo was bombed out. Suspicious and resentful of "city folk" on their turf, the villagers make the Sonobes a target after the daughter, Kieko, breaks off an engagement to Goichi Takamori, the son of the powerful mayor of the village, a wealthy landlord. Kieko's brother, on leave from fighting, has recognized Goichi, with whom he once served, as having killed and raped civilians, and urged Kieko not to marry him. In revenge, Goichi destroys the Sonobes' crops and begins spreading malicious rumors about them. A mob forms and a small-scale civil war breaks out. A Legend or Was It? is a highly kinetic film in its later parts, and the score by the director's brother, Chuji Kinoshita, helps create the kind of tension that needs to be released in action. Like Ennio Morricone, who punctuated Sergio Leone's "Man With No Name" trilogy (196419651966), with pennywhistle tweets and percussion, Chuji Kinoshita's score relies heavily on simple, perhaps even primitive instruments, setting up a pounding repetitive sound to propel the action. It  has something of the hypnotic quality of Philip Glass's music, though without the variations that keep Glass's themes from complete monotony.  Critics commenting on A Legend or Was It? sometimes compare it to Fritz Lang's Fury (1936) for its portrait of vigilante mob justice. It's an unforgiving film, without Kinoshita's typical lapses into sentimentality, and an effective one.

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