It was the year 1963. Just one year before Tokyo Olympic. People were pretty much occupied with the economic boom and speed of capitalism. Life is fun. You work and get paid. There are so many fun things in life. Playing sports is fun. Rock and roll music is fun. Spending nights with your friends, your girl or boy, or your family is fun. Or is it?
Mr. Eburi murmurs: No fun. No, nothing. Nothing interesting. He has a stable job. He is a copywriter at an ad agency. He has a family. He lives in a small house provided by the company. What does he have to complain about? Well, just, no fun.
The opening scene of “A Elegant Life of Mr. Everyman (1963)” is exaggerated visual montage of the office workers during lunch break. When we look at this rhythmic deconstruction of postwar Japanese capitalism at work, we wonder if this was just a hyperactive fantasy or some kind of joke on superficial consumerism. It’s been more than 50 years since this movie was released. We just can’t imagine how it was like. But it does tell us one thing: obsession with fun.
Mr. Eburi spends his nights sitting on bar stools. Usually drinking. If he is not drinking, he is complaining. If he is not drinking nor complaining, he is just talking nonsense. In one of those inebriated moment of late night, he was talking to editors from publishing firm, who just happened to sit next to Eburi. And for no apparent reason, Eburi agreed to write a novel for their magazine. Next morning, slightly hungover Eburi was visited by the editors, who were genuinely interested to hear what Eburi, an average middle-aged guy in an average middle class, has to say. Now, Eburi has to squeeze out his inner thoughts.
The average saralyman, with no talent, faces difficulty in living earnestly. That’s what I want to write ….
Over the course of the film, Eburi’s voice-over tells us the stories of his life in the most unusual way. Some episodes are in flashback, some are his daily routines, all scattered randomly around his fluid thoughts. His storytelling sometimes dissects the visual into avant-garde wonder. In one scene, when Eburi is explaining his attire for work, including his underwear, Eburi and his colleague were shown in their underwear, while they walk to the office. It is just his way of showing how he perceives the life, why he prefers cheap simple underwear rather than colorful ones, or how he imagines himself during the office hours, but it would certainly look comical in this context. Then it gradually becomes apparent that he is obsessed. He is obsessed with having an opinion. Such an obsession bends and breaks the rules of perception, but self-consciousness without ventilation creates ever amplifying feedback loop.
Such an overdrive of self-consciousness, and above all, self-consciousness of an boring middle-aged man, may not be perceived as something of interest. It is like reading a Facebook post or bunch of tweets by … well almost all of us. And the Japanese audience back in ’60s found this film not only just boring but also irritating. The film has been shown in theaters only for a week and shelved and forgotten.
Kihachi Okamoto was not the original choice for the director of the film. Yuzoi Kawashima was assigned to direct this light comedy. However, Kawashiwa died suddenly in June 1963, and the producer Masumi Fujimoto wrongly assumed Okamato could handle this cheerful, if a bit cynical, essay on modern salarymen just as good as other able directors. The completed movie wasn’t a comedy. Not a cheerful one. It’s a avant garde visual meta-fiction. Animation in a style of UPA, saturated stream-of-consciousness voice-over, stop motion overlay, and a long monologue on war by the man of the forgotten generation in the end, all thrown into 102 minutes of film. It was destined to meet the disaster.
However, over the years, the reputation of the film steadily picked up. Some think the film is an ambitious sleeper, if not a masterpiece. The inexplicable regret and resentment of Mr. Eburi, surviving the war and enjoying the happiness, may resonate more with us today. We have acquired wealth, not the wealth of 1% or not even 10%, but we still enjoy reminiscent of 20th century industrial and information revolution in those “advanced” nations. We are obsessed. We are obsessed with abundance. But somehow, we forgot something. There used to be Cold War, and threat of nuclear annihilation. Maybe we don’t feel like digging a nuclear shelter like those people did back in 50’s, but we feel uneasy. It’s not just Trump. Not just Abe. Not even Putin, for that matter. It’s whole atmosphere of uneasiness. We might have felt some tickling uneasiness, but we were obsessed with having fun. It may not be evil. But nonetheless, it’s dark and something we have forgotten for a long time.
Unfortunately, we know it’s busting wide open here and there and everywhere.
An Elegant Life of Mr. Everyman
Directed by Kihachi Okamoto
Written by Toshirô Ide, based on a novel by Hitomi Yamaguchi
Starring Keiju Kobayashi, Michiyo Aratama, Eijirô Tôno
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