A Woman in the Typhoon Area (1948)

There must have been some temptation for filmmakers to cast Setsuko Hara as a gangster moll. The idea sounds intriguing on paper, maybe. However, it was not that simple and easy, of course.

“A Woman in the Typhoon Area (颱風圏の女, 1948)”, directed by Hideo Ohba, is a rather curious piece. As a Hara vehicle, it is not a successful one. She acts too heavy, too plastic and too sentimental. As a gangster caper movie, it is a disastrous attempt to assimilate “Key Largo”. So Yamamura, who is most memorable as Koichi in “Tokyo Story”, desperately lacks gangster quality of any kind, let alone Edward G. Robinson-kind. Eijiro Tono resembles more like a Merrie Melody character than a scary hunchback murderer. Yes, he is supposed to be playing a hunchback, but his square-box-under-the-shirt hunchback sometimes disappears in thin air and he walks straight. I wonder why. The premise and the plot are even less convincing, if you still need to be convinced.

A group of gangsters/pirates were fleeing from Japanese Coast Guard, after attacking a couple of cargo ships. They arrived at an isolated island and decided to lie low. This island is virtually uninhabited, except a couple of operators at the weather station on the island. The gangsters burst into the station, threat the operators to keep quiet, forbidding any contact with the outside world. No radio communication to inform the Coast Guard that the station was hijacked by the gangsters. The leader of the gang brought his ‘girl friend’ along. An ex military nurse during the war in the South Pacific, the bitter experiences during and after the war had made her hard as a nail and crooked as a crooked nail. However, one of the most fierce storms of the year, a typhoon, was approaching the island. The gang has to stay until it passes. Then, sex and money don’t choose time and place when it comes to seducing people …

Though the movie opens with a fairly exciting chasing-on-water sequence, it quickly loses its momentum. After the gangsters hijack the weather station, the plot wanders into a fairly routine one, the jealous gangster vs. the straight guy over the sexy moll. Of course, the sexy moll remembers when she was a good girl and has some nice thoughts about the straight guy. Well, the rest is nothing new.

If I were to pick one redeeming aspect of this film, it is Akira Ifukube’s music. It is all the more astonishing that one of his most romantic and beautiful melodies was used in this film. The musical piece used during the encounter between Hara and Usami was later developed into the second movement in Sinfonia Tapkaala (1954, the first version). Ifukube is known for his frequent ‘borrowing’ from his own works, so discovering a part of his masterwork in a B movie is nothing new. But, still, when this haunting melody starts to fill this overly sweet melodramatic moment, I have to wonder if there wasn’t any other suitable project for such an extraordinary composer at the time.


A Woman in the Typhoon Area (颱風圏の女, 1948)

Directed by Hideo Ohba
Written by Taguhisa Yanagisawa
Starring Setsuko Hara, So Yamamura, Jun Usami, Eijiro Tono

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  • I also had this experience of an Ifukube
    score raising the standard; although despite some superficial similarities – criminals on the run taking hostages in isolated, extreme weather conditions – I did rather enjoy 1947’s ‘Snow Trail’.

    Also re Setsuko Hara playing ‘bad girls’ (No Regrets For Our Youth, The Idiot, there must be more) – she may not have been brilliant but was sexy as all hell in the process… that’s the dream factory for you though: a flesh market of sorts, producing objects for the proverbial male gaze.

    There is lots to be said about the consumption of ‘Setsuko Hara’ and her role in Japanese and Western conception. There are these great pictures online of her drinking with ‘the lads’, perhaps early 60s just before Ozu died; it does make you wonder what stories she must have had to tell, beginning with that German propaganda film..

    • As you noted, the way Setsuko Hara has been and is perceived, especially by male audience, in the context of postwar Japanese fantasy sometimes reveals concealed perversion on the spectator’s part. As you may know, the “consumption” of female (particularly young girl’s) images in Japan today is incomprehensible, and simply disturbing to many outside Japan. This phenomena and social conditions are inherited from the previous decades, I believe, and those conditions have been definitely a major part of male-dominant entertainment industry back then in the Setsuko Hara’s time. Sadly, it’s still there. When an actress is described as “played her part with all her body” in Japanese, it usually means she went nude. No kidding. Some time ago, a young actress complained about such a culture in film industry, saying “They think girl’s good acting consists of yelling, crying and showing boobs” on her Twitter, lots (LOTS) of male followers and non-followers including fairly famous film critics, producers and whatever started trolling her, condemning her and criticized her with fairly abusive language. Yeah, some cultivated snot.
      In such a environment, Setsuko Hara was and is considered an “eternal virgin (I am not making this up, this is how they call her)”, and yes, we all wonder what she thought of it. Personally, I find her as a mirror of the society at the time, what men and women saw in themselves.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.