Drama / Romance
Drama / Romance
Keywords: woman director
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This valiant melodrama is the brilliant debut as a moviemaker of the great Japanese actress Kinuyo Tanaka, who also has a small role in the story. Based on a screenplay by Keinosuke Kinoshita, "Koibumi" explore the wounds of war, the limits of love and the need to forgive. A sad and troubled man, Reikichi Mayumi (Masayuki Mori), finds a new job five years after the end of WWII. He will write love letters for other people, which was not uncommon in post-war times (remember the starving poet Lope Veiga -Fernando Rey- in Spanish masterpiece "Cielo negro"). His ideas about love and his personal principles will be tested when he reconnects with his former girlfriend, Michiko (Yoshigo Kuga), a woman with a dark past marked by war and the further occupation of her country by the US military forces.—Anonymous
Uploaded by: FREEMAN
February 25, 2023 at 10:06 AM
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Masayuki Mori came out of the War at loose ends. For half a decade he has had no ambition except to find Yoshiko Kuga. They had loved each other, but he had just graduated from the Naval Academy and was going to war; her father had arranged a marriage, and with a difficult stepmother, she had accepted. The marriage was a failure, the husband had died, and More had been looking for her in a desultory fashion since.
Now things are looking up for him. An old friend has a business writing letters for the girlfriends of US soldiers returned stateside, asking for money. With Mori's Academy education, he turns out effective letters, and works with his brother, whose business is buying the latest American books and magazines cheap and selling them at cover price, Because they are airmailed to service personnel, these goods are available before the standard importers can put them out. Mori is happy, practicing his craft, until he overhears his partner writing a letter for Miss Kuga.
It's Kinuyo Tanaka's first time as director, and working with a script co-written by Keisuke Kinoshita, there's a sharp and disapproving paradox at its heart. Mori disapproves of Miss Kuga's failure to adhere to traditional Japanese values, and rants at her the popular anti-American sentiments of the day, even as he and his brother participate in other aspects of the trade. There's a message of forgiveness, but it's tinged with self-loathing and misogyny; Mori's living situation with a male friend, who cleans his clothes and puts him to bed when he's drunk has a homosexual tinge to it.
Still, the performances are sharp, the camerawork is fine, and there's one sequence in which Miss Kuga encounters Jûzô Dôsan, Mori's brother, in which the conversation is punctuated with their umbrellas that is a delight.
Tanaka's directoral debut takes on all the norms of Japanese Cinema
You rarely expect an actor, no matter how great, to simply ease into the director's chair, especially not in her debut. The thing that struck me the most is how daring she is in regard to composition and style. This does not feel Japanese! In fact it moves almost like an early piece from the French New Wave.
The strict composition of formality and form is nowhere to be seen. Instead of calculated and rigid Tanaka places the camera slightly to the side or slightly higher than Mizoguchi, Kinoshita (who wrote the scrips), Ozu, Naruse, Ichikawa and any of the other masters of cinema in 1950s Japan. The camera moves, a lot, especially on the streets, giving you the feeling of true cinema verité - thought is also clear that this is not an experiment, nor consistently forced, only used when it's natural for the story.
Breaking with the traditions of Japanese cinema does however fit perfectly with the movie itself, where it's characters also break away from the traditions, morals and standards of old. We follow Masayuki Mori, a broken returned soldier barely scraping by while supported by his younger brother. He has a longing. Upon meeting an old friend he gets into a business he had not thought likely - writing "love letters" to American GIs from their mistresses, often several GIs per woman (many of whom are also prostitutes).
One day the woman he has been longing for and searching for comes in for the exact same purpose. Though described as a melodrama, and yes the label may to an extent fit, Tanaka takes the harsh issues straight on and elevates it with her almost unbelievable prowess. What a natural!