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

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Snow Flurry (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1959)

Yusuke Kawazu and Keiko Kishi in The Snow Flurry
Haruko: Keiko Kishi
Sakura: Yoshiko Kuga
Suteo: Yusuke Kawazu
Sachiko: Ineko Arima
Tomi: Chieko Hagashiyama
Nagura: Yasushi Nagata
Hideo: Masanao Kawakane

Director: Keisuke Kinoshita
Screenplay: Keisuke Kinoshita
Cinematography: Hiroshi Kusuda
Art direction: Chiyoo Umeda
Film editing: Yoshi Sugihara
Music: Chuji Kinoshita

Like so many of Keisuke Kinoshita's films, The Snow Flurry tells a conventional, melodramatic story while using innovative, even audacious film techniques. It's a family drama spanning about 18 years, from 1940 to the year the film was made. At the beginning we are watching a wedding procession in one of the long shots that are characteristic of the film, which seems to want to isolate its figures in its mountainous landscape. Suddenly, a young man breaks away from the onlookers and runs away, pursued by a woman. We will learn that they are Suteo and his mother, Haruko, and that the bride is Suteo's cousin, Sakura, but Kinoshita leaves it to us to piece together this information, first by flashing back to 1940, when Haruko, pregnant with Suteo, survived an attempted double suicide with her lover, Hideo. Hideo's father, patriarch of the Nagura family, reluctantly takes Haruko into the household, but on a decidedly subordinate status: Once the child is born, the tyrannical old man, a wealthy landowner, goes behind Haruko's back and officially registers the boy's name as Suteo, which means "outcast" or "abandoned." Mother and child live in an outbuilding, take their meals in a separate room from the rest of the family, and are expected to do menial chores. As a boy, Suteo is teased and bullied by other children, but he grows close to his cousin, Sakura, who is the only member of the "legitimate" Nagura clan who shows him kindness. When we return to the scene that opened the film, we understand why he is so distraught at her marriage, and why Haruko runs after him, afraid that he may do himself harm. What distinguishes this rather thin story is Kinoshita's almost experimental technique in telling it, relying on frequent jump cuts back and forth in time that are initially confusing but have a certain payoff in keeping the story from bogging down in sentimentality, Kinoshita's usual failing. It also helps that there are some fine performances, especially by the great character actress Chieko Hagashiyama as the matriarch, who survives the death of her cruel, apoplectic husband to rule the family with an iron will. She has a great scene in which, learning of Sakura's engagement, she breaks down in a mixture of laughter and tears -- joy that the family lineage will continue, sorrow that it has taken so long to ensure and that it will continue through the female line and not the male. Only 78 minutes long, it's not a great film but an impressive display of filmmaking skill.

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