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

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Our Marriage (Masahiro Shinoda, 1961)

Noriko Maki and Chieko Baisho in Our Marriage
Keiko: Noriko Maki
Saeko: Chieko Baisho
Komakura: Shin'ichiro Mikami
Matsumoto: Isao Kimura
Father: Eijiro Tono
Mother: Sadako Sawamura

Director: Masahiro Shinoda
Screenplay: Zenzo Matsuyama, Masahiro Shinoda
Cinematography: Masao Kosugi
Art direction: Chiyoo Umeda
Film editing: Yoshi Sugihara
Music: Naozumi Yamamoto

It goes without saying (though I've said it often enough) that cultural differences are a hindrance to our understanding or enjoyment of films made in other countries, but Masahiro Shinoda's Our Marriage brought the point home for me in an unusual way. It's a simple, elegantly made film, scarcely over an hour long, about two sisters and the pressures on women to get married. That's nothing we haven't seen in films by Naruse and Ozu and others, but Shinoda is particularly focused on social and economic change -- not just in the role of women in Japan but also on a society in which upward mobility is becoming possible and desirable. Keiko and Saeko are office workers in a factory, the daughters of a man struggling to make ends meet by harvesting seaweed. His job has become more difficult because of industrial pollution, and his wife sometimes has to borrow money from the daughters to pay bills. So the parents begin looking for a husband for 22-year-old Keiko. The father wants her to marry the son of the union chief at the factory, a widower nearing 30, but another man, Matsumoto, who works for a dry goods company, also shows interest in her. The parents disapprove of Matsumoto because he traded in the black market in the postwar years, but he has since cleaned up his act. The complication is that Keiko has met a handsome young factory worker, Komakura. Saeko, who has a secret crush on Komakura, wants Keiko to marry him, and Keiko is certainly not averse to the idea except that Komakura doesn't make much money. Things work themselves out after some family drama, of course. But the cultural difference that mars the film for me is not the tension between arranged marriages and marrying for love -- that's familiar enough even in the Western tradition. The problem is that the music arranger has chosen the tune of the old spiritual "Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore" as the film's main theme. Anyone who grew up singing it around a campfire, or knows the recorded versions by Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte, is going to have a hard time reconciling the music with the story.

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