We Will Fight Until Hell Freezes Over… (Part 2)

The Poster for “Until the Day of Victory (1945)”
(via. NFC/MOMAT)
Another film of 1945, “Until the Day of Victory (勝利の日まで, 1945)” is directed by Mikio Naruse, the film was released in January of that year. Judging from the synopsis, it seems quite an odd ball for Naruse. It was about a “mad” scientist who invented a new bomb, which delivers entertainment to soldiers in the fronts, rather than deaths to enemies. It seems 15-minute fragment survives in the NFC archive. I have never seen this fragment, but the productions stills from the movie are quite tantalizing. I have no idea how this film did in terms of box office. 

After this whimsical comedy, Naruse directed his first Jidai-geki (period film), “Sanju-san-gen-do Toushiya Monogatari (三十三間堂通し矢物語, A Tale of Archery at the Sanjusangendo, 1945)“. This is partially based on the actual event in 1686. Sanju-san-gen-do is the Buddhist temple in Kyoto known for its long hall (121 m). Samurais used the whole span of 121m of this long hall to exhibit their archery skills (called ‘Toh-shi-ya’), which turned into fierce conpetition among the masters of the art. A Toh-shi-ya contestant spent a whole day (24 hours) shooting arrows and tried to beat the previous record. The record-holder is Noritoh Wasa, who successfully shot 8133 arrows to the target in 1686. The record shows that he shot total of 13053 arrows, which means he shot an arrow every 6 seconds for 24 hours (there were breaks during the event, so the actual shooting rate was much higher). The film is based on this record-breaking event, with a lot of legends and fabrications thrown in. 
“Sanju-san-gen-do Toushiya Monogatari (1945)”
(From Left: Unpei Yokoyama, Sensho Ichikawa, Kazuo Hasegawa)
Daigoro Wasa is a young master of Japanese archery, who is determined to beat the previous record set by Kanzaemon Hoshino. Since Daigoro’s father failed to break the record and committed suicide (harakiri) when he was young, it was his duty to reclaim the family’s honor. He was aided by O-kinu (Kinuyo Tanaka), a young proprietor of the inn near the Sanju-san-gen-do. However, as the day of the contest approaches, Daigoro becomes agitated and nervous. Also, Hoshino apparently paid thugs to injure Daigoro to prevent him attend the contest. 
Strangely, though the film contends honor, shame and Bushido as the motivation for such a deadly competition, it is neither preachy nor propagandistic. Naruse and the writer Hideo Oguni successfully weave the story of adolescent versus maturity. While the discussion of “finding the way of mastery” fails to be convincing, the narrative itself is not overtly dogmatic for the subject matter. Many view this film as a failure since Naruse’s sensibility is unfit for Jidai-geki, but who says Jidai-geki has to be always like Inagaki’s or Ito’s? I wonder how they would have come out if Naruse were to direct more Jidai-geki in later years. 

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We Will Fight Until Hell Freezes Over… (Part 1)

“Eiga Gijutu (Cinema Technology)” Cover, March 1943

According to Japanese Movie Database, total of 23 movies were released between January 1st and August 15th of 1945. That is the last seven and half months of Great Japanese Empire and its militaristic endeavor. In the same seven and half month in 1935, the ten years prior, the total of 289 movies were released. Thus, the leaders of the Empire miraculously reduced its cultural output by the factor of twelve within a decade, it seems. 

The filmmaking during the last days of the war faced serious setbacks. The materials, such as film stocks, various building materials for the sets, and lighting equipments were seriously in shortage. Blackouts were too often. Even cameras were not readily available, since the Interior Ministry had been adamantly advocating the need for propaganda newsreels and documentaries shot in the combat zones, and the cameramen had been sent off to China and Southeast Asia only to be perished along with the other soldiers. And their cameras had perished with them.

Eiga no Tomo (Friends of Cinema), Cover, January 1942
Setsuko Hara
Of these 23 films of 1945, one of the films is still quite well-known, thanks to its creator. “Zoku-Sugata-Sanshiro” was directed by Akira Kurosawa as a sequel to a fairly successful “Sugata-Sanshiro” two years earlier. There is one obscure fact about Kurosawa during these months, however. He embarked on another film after “Zoku-Sugata-Sanshiro” only to abandon it in August. The film was titled “Arahime-sama (荒姫さま)” and miraculously, its fragments, roughly 20 minutes I believe, survived. Not only that, it was available on a limited-edition DVD, offered as a prize for those who sent in a coupon in Kurosawa Box Set. I have never seen it.
“Arahime-sama”, though often called “that Japanese Jeanne d’Arc movie” by those who knew, was based on the short story “Kougai-Bori” by Shugoro Yamamoto, which, in turn, was based on the historical incident in 16th century. In 1590, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the most powerful warlord at the time, was trying to conquer the Kanto. Toyotomi’s 3,000 troops surrounded the Osi-castle (in Ikuta City, Saitama, today) and the Toyotomi’s right-hand man, Mitsunari Ishida, built a canal, diverted water into it then, destroyed the canal and flooded the area, cutting off the lifeline of the castle. However, it took more than a month before the Osi-castle surrendered. The legend has it that the castle defense was commanded by the Princess Kai, a 19-year old beautiful daughter of the Warlord Ujinaga Narita. Narita was away to discuss the strategy against Toyotomi with his family in Odawara. The Princess Kai is said to have brilliantly outwitted the enemy, sabotaging the water canal to drown 270 enemy soldiers. Yamamoto’s short story further elaborated on this legend, making the Osi-castle defense as a story of the band of brave women guarding their home. Yamamoto published this story in 1943, clearly intended as a war-time propaganda. It conveniently drew a parallel between the legend and the domestic “home front” rhetoric – to mobilize women’s labor force and even to train them as soldiers.
Setsuko Hara played the Princess, and according to those who saw the surviving material, she was more than charming. It seems Kurosawa had two male sidekicks to the Princess. It sounds suspiciously resembles “The Hidden Fortress (隠し砦の三悪人, 1958)”, but I reserve my judgment. According to Keinosuke Uekusa, a screenwriter and Kurosawa’s frequent collaborator, the “Arahime-sama” was a bit of a sensation at the Toho studio. Kurosawa himself was somewhat arrogant and pressed Uekusa to write up its screenplay as soon as possible (Uekusa turned down the offer after all). Yasujiro Shimazu, the veteran filmmaker, is said to have made an exceptionally pointed remark to Kurosawa; “You should try something more artistic”. Apparently Shimazu didn’t see any merit in making another flag-waving crap, especially by a young talented filmmaker.
However, it is interesting to ponder how it would have had come out, if the film had been completed. The portrayal of women in Kurosawa’s films during this decade is quite unique. The films such as “No Regrets for Our Youth (1946)“, “One Wonderful Sunday (1947)” and “The Quiet Duel (1949)” tried to embody women as struggling independent individuals, with varying results. Maybe the plot of “Arahime-sama” is too contrived to venture into complex characterization.

In later years, Kurosawa adapted yet another novel by Shugoro Yamamoto to film “Sanjuro (椿三十郎, 1961)“. “Dodes’ka-den (どですかでん,1970)” is also based on another novel by Yamamoto.


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A Few Odd Facts About Universal’s Frankenstein

Probably one of the most discussed topics about popular Hollywood cinema is that of horror genre. Horror fans are the most loyal and devoted group of cinema aficionados, who spend enormous time and efforts on digging up the most arcane facts of their favorite films. Above all, Universal horror films are the most researched and discussed topics of all and, of course, “Frankenstein” and its sequels fascinate all of us to this day.
As I was preparing for the Japanese magazine article (in preparation), I read many of these treatises, writings and publications of extensive research and discussions. They are excellent and just interesting to read. Plus I did my own research myself, and some of my findings don’t seem to have appeared in any of recent discussions on the topic, as far as I know. So I will share some of them. They are nothing ground-breaking or anything, just a few bits of trivia you might find interesting if you are familiar with Universal’s Frankenstein series.

(1) An Odd Weather for the Preview

The preview screening for “Frankenstein” caused a great pain on Carl Laemmle Jr. stomach. It was held on October 29, 1931, at the Granada Theater in Santa Barbara. According to James Curtis (“James Whale, A New World of Gods and Monsters”), the audience reaction appeared anything but enthusiastic.
When the lights came up, there was no applause, no congratulatory handshakes, nothing to indicate the film had been a rousing success. The preview cards were anything but complimentary. “Story is about a man who was destroyed by his own creation,” said one. “Look out this doesn’t happen to Universal.”
Laemmle Jr. panicked and ordered reworking of the film for the release. However, Eddie Montagne, ex-Universal man now at Paramount, persuaded him otherwise, assuring the preview response “Frankenstein” experienced did not indicate the immediate doom. Laemmle Jr. decided not to go on rampage and settled on some minor changes. So we have the version of the original Frankenstein as it is now today.
The reaction of the preview audience might not have been the results of the film itself. It may well have been the heat. The weather in Santa Barbara that day was an odd one. According to the National Climatic Data Center, Santa Barbara experienced unusual high temperatures during the last week of October in 1931. Particularly, on October 29, the day of the preview, mercury in the glass tube hit as high as 36 degree C (roughly 97 F) during the daytime. It must have cooled down after the sunset, but no data on that.
Daily highs in Santa Barbara, 1931
The arrow indicates October29.
Maybe audience were exhausted from heat. They might have just needed fresh cool air.

(2) “‘Frankenstein’ Is A Thriller, Make No Mistake “

This is from the review of “Frankenstein” appeared in “Motion Picture Herald”
“Frankenstein” is a thriller, make no mistake. Women come out trembling, men exhausted. I don’t know what it might do to children, but I know I wouldn’t want my kids to see it. And I won’t forgive Junior Laemmle or James Whale for permitting the Monster to drown a little girl before my very eyes. That job should come out before the picture is released. It is too dreadfully brutal, no matter what the story calls for. It carries gruesomeness and cruelty just a little beyond reason or necessity.
The film was categorized as “drama” in the headline. It is easily understandable that the ‘horror’ genre was yet to be recognized widely, even though quite a few films of that nature had been released by then, including Universal’s own “Dracula (1931)”.
This article appeared before the general release (the reviewer had seen the preview at Hollywood), and that infamous scene of the girl drowning was already a ‘sensation’. 
From Motion Picture Herald

(3) Measurement of Horror

From “The Film Daily”, December 3, 1931:
New Machine Records Film Audience’s Emotions
Chicago – A new movie machine called the Polygraph, a variation of the lie-detector, demonstrated Wednesday in the projection room of the Universal Film exchange during the showing of “Frankenstein”, has Film Row agog. The machine acts as a check on the emotions of a motion picture audience, recording accurately every thrill felt by the subjects, according to Phil Reisman. The test was supervised by Col. Calvin H. Goddard and Dr. Leonard Keeler of the Crime Detection Laboratory of Northwestern University. The machine records the psychogalvanic reflex of the person to whom it is applied.
Leonarde Keeler is the “father” of Polygraph, the Lie Detector. While he was in UC Berkeley and later in UCLA, he developed an instrument to record subject’s response under (criminal) interrogation. It is reported that his first handmade polygraph ‘solved’ a murder case in 1924. Since then, he had been obsessed with perfecting the technique of lie detection. In 1930, Keeler moved to Chicago with his police friends, August Vollmer and John Larson. Keeler joined the Crime Detection Laboratory of Northwestern University, the nation’s first forensic laboratory. Chicago was the capital of the organized crime, and the lab was founded in response to St. Valentine Day Massacre.
It seems little odd to see such a device in a movie projection room, but it goes to show that people saw this movie as a ‘possible trigger’ for dark hidden feelings. There is no report of the result of measurements, though.
From Motion Picture Herald

(4) PG Rating Ignored

This article is from April 30, 1935, upon the release of “Bride of Frankenstein”.
“Frankenstein” Ads Fail to Halt Kids
Kansas City, April 29. – The perversity of human nature is demonstrated here in this week at the Tower where “The Bride of Frankenstein” is drawing an unusually heavy child attendance. The picture is proving to be a family attraction, and Barney Joffee, manager, is at loss to explain, inasmuch as his ads stressed it is “not for the young, the scary or the nervous”.
Reviewers on local papers also pointed out the picture is not suitable for children, but over the week-end many parents brought their families.
Joffee decided he would not refuse admission to children since, he said, measures taken with the previous “Frankenstein” picture and other horror films, such as age limitations and the sale of only adult admissions, have proved to be subterfuges and parents cannot be prevented from bringing their children.
As we all know, kids who watch too many horror movies would grow up to be violent criminals. So it is damn important to make sure they don’t watch “Dracula”, “Frankenstein” or “Bride of Frankenstein” on TCM. Now, Mr. Barney Joffee miserably failed to stop irresponsible parents to bring their small children to his theater. I don’t want to know what might have become of them, but Mr. Joffee must have been horrified to see these children back in his theater many years later, now grown up, watching “Ghost of Frankenstein” or “House of Frankenstein” and even more horrifying “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein”.