Musashino, the Landscape That Never Was (Part 1)

The film opens with distant roar of heavy bombing, as thick ribbons of smoke drift over the horizon. The war is at its last stage. A couple fleeing from the inner city is Michiyo (Kinuyo Tanaka) and Tadao (Masayuki Mori), who seek refuge in Michiyo’s parent’s home in Musashino. An old large estate with long history of Samurai family, the place is deeply etched with pride of the prestigious clan. Tadao, a sarcastic and decadent French literature professor, finds this luxurious atmosphere comfortable but feels alienated at the same time. He finds agreeable fellow citizens next door; Michiko’s cousin Eiji, a businessman, and his wife Tomiko. Tension is already building up.

Michiko’s mother dies as if she is cursed by the old skeletons buried deep in the garden, and her father survives her by just few months. On surface, Michiko and Tadao are living the life everybody envies; a large estate in quiet suburb, substantial inheritance and handsome income from Tadao’s publication. However, Tadao is quite vocal about his dissatisfaction. The estate is in his wife’s name, not his. There’s also a hint that Michiko is not particularly interested in sex with Tadao. Tadao always claims everyone should be more open about their sexual desire and adultery should be socially acceptable. He openly discuss matters of free sex in his class, boasts his ideas with his neighbors, who take his words half-seriously. It is apparent that his logic is not based on his experience; he is drawing the blueprint he himself fantasize reenacting sometime.
Then, Tsutomu, Michiko’s another young cousin, came back from a detention camp in tropics. Tsutomu becomes the center of the storm; he becomes Tomiko’s object of desire while his feeling gravitates toward Michiko. Soon, Tsutomu’s obsession tries to overturn their ‘clean’ relationship. Michiko, though attracted to Tsutomu, tries to hold her obligation as a married woman.
THE LADY OF MUSASHINO (武蔵野夫人) is released in 1951, under TOHO productions. It is based on the popular novel of the same title by Shohei Ooka (who also wrote the original novel of FIRES ON THE PLAIN), and the reception at the time was not particularly enthusiastic, nor damning. Most of critics found Kinuyo Tanaka’s characterization of Michiyo rather wooden, specifically compared with the character in the novel. But overall, it was a fairly good production with “a unified atmosphere (Juzaburo Futaba)”. Mizoguchi himself was not pleased with the outcome, and calling the year 1951 ‘unproductive’ (referring to his previous work “Miss Oyu” as well). 
The most critical factor in the film (and its original novel) is the Musashino and its effect on people. This aspect of the film may be puzzling to those who are not familiar with our relationship to this particular region of Kanto. For example, Tsutomu’s obsession with Musashino might seem purely academic, collecting some legends and historical facts, plus geological interests. The tale about “Love Hollow” does support the psychological narrative while images of water reflects the nature of sexual undertone. But the film draws inspiration from much more than that. It is rooted in Japanese’s long obsession with Musashino, even dating back to 8th century.

Top : Kawagoe, Saitama, Bottom: Fuchu Tokyo, 
Additional marking is at Koganei, the location of THE LADY OF MUSASHINO

History of Musashino

Musashino is not a specific city nor a county. It is a rather loose term describing the western region of Tokyo and Saitama. The literary meaning is “Plain of Musashi (-province)”, the large area of hills and slopes once belonged to Musashi Province (8th century to 19th century). Usually, it is considered the region between Kawagoe (Saitama) and Fuchu (Tokyo). Today, the region is densely populated suburb of the Greater Tokyo.
Musashino was once covered with ancient forests until deforestation and cultivation by the early settlers. By the 8th century, the proto-ecosystem of Musashino as we know it has emerged, according to some studies.
During medieval to feudal era, the large part of Musashino remained untouched. It was a slow process of several centuries to develop the vast land as agricultural backyard of Kanto. Even as late as Edo-era, the place was largely ‘blank’ in maps with only few names of villages and settlements. New Japanese Government of Meiji era created ‘Tokyo’, the center of Industrial Japan, but most of the development concentrated around Sumida River, the east part of the city. It took another century to transform Musashino into modern suburb. However, around this time, ‘Musashino’ began to sneak into vocabulary of Japanese literature, emitting quiet but mystic aura around it.
The most influential person who brought Musashino into literature was Doppo Kunikida. His work “MUSASHINO” is still a widely read book, and its influence did lend the place mystic and romantic aura. It was a revolutionary book; it offered different view or relationship to nature or landscape from what Japanese, especailly Eddoko, had previously. Eddoko loved cherry blossom along the banks of Sumida River in spring. They loved fireworks over the Sumida River in summer. They loved ‘something special’; seasonal festivals, colorful blossoms, sight-seeing …, anything extraordinary pleased them. Kunikida appreciated “nothing special”. He admired the landscape with no name, filled with trees, grasses and water, immersed in vastness of the earth. It resonated with the minds of the time, when central Tokyo was gradually transforming itself into another capital of industrial revolution.
But, unbelievable it may seem, Kunikida’s ‘Musashino’ is just a little west of what is Shibuya today. Yes, back then, Shibuya was still the fringe of Tokyo city. Beyond the Forest of Yoyogi, the place was mostly barren, with rice fields and farms in spots.
As THE LADY OF MUSASHINO suggests, the massive land development in the area started after the World War II.

Copyrighted materials, if any, on this web page are included as “fair use”. These are used for the purpose of research, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Kinoshita’s Blu-Ray and DVD released

Let’s Toast the Young Lady (お嬢さん乾杯, 1949)

Twenty-Four Eyes (二十四の瞳, 1954)
Carmen Comes Home (カルメン故郷に帰る, 1952)
The Ballad of Narayama (楢山節考, 1958)
Twenty-Four Eyes (二十四の瞳, 1954)
Carmen Comes Home (カルメン故郷に帰る, 1952)
My First Love Affair (野菊のごとき君なりき, 1955)
The Lighthouse (喜びも悲しみも幾歳月, 1957)
The Ballad of Narayama (楢山節考, 1958)
The River Fuefuki (笛吹川, 1960)
Tragedy of Japan (日本の悲劇, 1953)
The Garden of Women (女の園, 1954)
Broken Drum (破れ太鼓, 1949)
Let’s Toast the Young Lady (お嬢さん乾杯, 1949)
The Army (陸軍, 1944)
Phoenix (不死鳥, 1947)
The Snow Flurry (風花, 1959)
The Yotsuya Ghost Story (新釈 四谷怪談, 1949)
Port of Flowers (花咲く港, 1943)
Carmen’s Innocent Love (カルメン純情す, 1952)
The Tattered Wings (遠い雲, 1955)
Farewell to Dream (夕やけ雲, 1955)
The Immortal Love (永遠の人, 1961)
The Scent of Incense (香華, 1964)
Oh, My Son! (衝動殺人 息子よ, 1979)
Three Blu-ray titles are digitally restored and remastered from 4K scanning. Last 7 DVD titles are released commercially for the first time. Also, the box set (Twenty Four Eyes Blu-ray and DVD, Carmen Comes Home, My First Love Affair, The Lighthouse DVD and lots of materials) will be available. His TV drama output from sixties to early seventies are also scheduled to be released as a four box sets.
But the real treat is all 49 of Kinoshita’s works on DVD as a 6-volume box sets, if you are ready to spare 1600 dollars for it (this set was already released last month).
Unfortunately, none of these disks appears to contain English subtitles.
I wish they had restored at least several more titles for higher image quality. Like, “Lighthouse” or “Tragedy of Japan”. It is understandable these titles will not make good business sense in domestic market, but it will make much more sense than to have Blu-ray AND DVD of “Twenty Four Eyes” in the same box set.
In case you missed it, Shindo Kaneto was 100 years old this year. Yes, he is senior to Kinoshita by eight months.

Mistresses and Lovers

Beni Imada Kiezu (1949) Inebriated SanaeTakasugi demands more drink.

This is part seven of “Films of 1949” series (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6).

Though Imai’s “Green Mountain” captured the new spirit of the time, liberation from old era, the year 1949 was also at the entrance into another long turmoil; the Cold War. Joseph McCarthy gave his “Wheeling Speech” in February of 1950. Korean War also broke out in 1950. Yes, U.S. was also heading for the dark age. Inevitably, U.S. policy toward Japanese democracy quickly shifted to that of anti-communist. 
Socialist movement and protests were blocked by SCAP. There were many bloody incidents involving assassinations and terrorism, all linked to underground operatives of U.S. secret agency. These political landscape was not unfamiliar to Japanese people; suppression of social movements and communists, along with bloody espionage, all happened between 1920 and 1945 in Japan. In addition, many powerful political figures in war criminal courts were acquitted or sentenced to ridiculously short terms (one of them were to become a Prime Minister). In such a political climate, one had to wonder the “democracy”, as it was called, was just another re-labeling of the sour milk way past its expiration date.
Beni Imada Kiezu (“Lip Rouge Has Not Faded Away, Yet”, 朱唇いまだ消えず、1949) is a movie that reflects such atmosphere. Though it may be a simple tale of adultery on its surface, its characters are tormented with moral ambiguity and are not able to decide what they want to do. This is a departure from faith in humanity evident in Imai’s “Green Mountain” or Kurosawa’s “Quiet Duel”. However, it is not a moral tale of prewar melodramas, either.
A married man, Mamiya, (Shin Saburi) keeps untidy extramarital relationship with Takako (Sanae Takasugi) whom he had known for years. He is indecisive and really vague on his intentions, but insist on continuing their relationship. As the story develops, she begins to realize that the relationship is not only betrayal to his wife and daughter, but also betrayal to herself. However, when he finally gives an indication that he may consider divorce and proposes the secret trip to Atami, she was more than willing to accept his proposal. When they arrive at Atami’s discreet hotel, anticipating amorous one night, he received a phone call ….
There is a striking similarity between this rare film by Minoru Shibuya and Naruse’s masterpiece, “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)“. From extramarital relationship with a woman of a nightclub, contrast to the wholesomeness of young couples to the man’s departure to Osaka in the end, the basic elements of the plot have much in common. These similarity does in fact underscore the difference between the two films. The portrait of men in the film, the protagonist in particular, is radically different. In Naruse’s film, Fujizaki (Masayuki Mori)’s intention is obvious. It is to have fun, to enjoy risque fireworks on cheap, and to satisfy his sexual drives in the end. However, Mamiya in “Beni Imada Kiezu” seems to be unsure about his feeling toward Takako; sometimes he behaves as if he is indeed in love with her, but in the next second, he is completely occupied with his family.
One of Mamiya’s friends, who also casually enjoys the relationship with young girls succinctly puts it;
“You feel guilty because you call her a mistress; just call her a lover.”
This is re-labeling. It was rather openly “accepted” (or at least many men thought so) practice to have a mistress, to flirt with women in prewar Japan (as evident in Green Mountains). In postwar years, liberation of women condemned male-centric view of the world, emphasizing the marriage in an equal terms between a man and a woman. But nothing really had changed overnight. Men did cheat on his wife. So did American GIs. There was no much of a difference in ‘us’ and ‘them’. But you need to re-label it to make it acceptable. Call it lovers. Call it democracy. Some were ready to accept the new terminology. Others were confused. Mamiya is the prime example of this confused mind. He didn’t know if love has anything to do with it. Or maybe it does. Maybe he does love Takako. Or wait, how about his daughter? He never took time to think what this is really all about. He never asks himself what he believes.
Haruko Sugimura is excellent as Mamiya’s unsuspecting wife. Her portrayal of this pathetic woman, too submissive, too dependent to observe the obvious, is one of the key feature of this film. Through her presence, we understand Mamiya’s compromised soul, confusion and decadent immaturity. It is a brilliant characterization by Kaneto Shindo, the writer, and Sugimura.
In a sense, Mamiya in “Beni Imada Kiezu” is a product of time. Ten years later, Fujizaki is much more calculating and cunning. Of course, Fujizaki won’t hesitate to call her a lover.
Copyrighted materials, if any, on this web page are included as “fair use”. These are used for the purpose of research, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).