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  • zetes13 May 2012
    A touching melodrama about a custody battle. Yoshiko Okada plays an actress who has won fame and fortune making movies in America. She now returns to Japan hoping to reunite with her six year-old daughter, who currently believes her ex-husband's second wife (Yukiko Tsukuba) is her biological mother. The ex-husband is sent to prison for mismanaging his company's funds, and the wealthy actress has an advantage over the now destitute Tsukuba. The film initially comes off as morally simplistic - Okada is the Westernized woman who is palling around with her two criminal brothers (the younger of whom provides some entertaining comic relief, but in general they aren't very useful characters) and Tsukuba is the noble, more traditionally Japanese woman who's willing to throw herself in front of a car to save her stepdaughter - but the characterization is beautifully done. In the end, both Okada and Tsukuba come off as sympathetic. Okada is the clear MVP among the actors - her final moment in particular is incredible. The little girl is absolutely adorable. Some things could be clearer. I was never clear who exactly the guy with the beard who helps Tsukuba was supposed to be. A friend? A brother? I feel like I missed something there. The filmmaking is wonderfully dynamic - tons of pans and tracking shots and perfectly edited. This one is pretty close to great.
  • The film opens with a whip pan blurring a 360 circle around a middle-class Tokyo neighborhood and an intertitle popping-up to announce 'Thief!'. A crowd runs across the street and clamors around a man. Outraged at the accusations, he makes a vehement public display, a show, that allows him to extricate himself. Only in the following scene do we recognize that we were, in fact, tricked. All this prefigures main tenets in the film about trickery, motion, acting, bargains, subterfuge, moral dilemmas and cleverly situates us inside the movie as part of the crowd of onlookers who will have to surmise a plot from the spirals of deceit.

    Ordinarily it would be about sex and money as the main objects of power. Here the coveted treasure is a child. Motherhood is the social role worth deceiving for. The plot is about a famous Hollywood actress coming back from the Americas to reclaim the daughter she abandoned. Meanwhile the child is growing up with her dad and stepmother.

    So a double perspective is what we have, on one hand the love and safety of the family nest, but which exists on a certain dishonesty on the part of the father and the ability of the stepmother to perform a role, on the other hand the biological mother who really wishes to atone and make good, noble intentions but once more obscured by deceit and pretending. The father is sent to prison for financial mismanagement, karmic payback.

    So the first layer is successful, a melodrama but structured in such a way as to allow us to recast tumultuous dramatic life as a matter of theatric conventions. The household is the stage. Actresses vie for control of the kid's innocent gaze. The larger world is the adults' organized cruelty.

    This is fine. But there is no additional layer as a way of annotating the first in terms of images being performed. This would involve our gaze next to the kid's. The camera would travel around the edges of who these people present themselves to be. Instead you will notice that the camera is always thrust in the face of the participants, head-on, anxious, like a mic set up for a comment. They comment but always as expected after first meeting them.

    The audience is never really outwitted as promised by the opening scene of deceit in broad daylight. There is never any serious doubt about who the daughter belongs with. Morally the thing is of simple value.

    Sternberg was getting this part right at around the same time, staging images in a way that we became complicit in dreaming about them.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I saw this movie in October 2005 at the Cinema Muto festival in Sacile, Italy. The festival screened a print from the National Film Centre, Tokyo. I was faintly surprised that the Japanese film industry was still producing silent movies as late as 1932. The print screened at Sacile had its original Japanese intertitles, with English subtitles added.

    SPOILERS THROUGHOUT. Tamae Kiyuka is a woman with a past. Seven years ago, she gave birth to a daughter (Shigeko) out of wedlock, but wasn't able to raise the child properly. She gave the girl to Masako, a peasant woman who has no wealth but who does have a stable marriage and family life. Masako raises Shigeko as her own daughter.

    Seven years later (which reminds me: do the Japanese give the number 7 the same mystical significance that westerners do?), Tamae decides to reclaim her daughter. She offers Shigeko all sorts of material comforts which Masako and her humble husband Atsumi cannot match. For these reasons, and because of the call of blood, Shigeko at first agrees to come with Tamae and to accept her biological mother as her true parent. However, eventually Shigeko realises that she truly loves her adoptive mother Masako as her parent, and cannot learn to love the gaudy Tamae. In an ending right out of 'Stella Dallas', Tamae is a good enough mother to recognise that she is a bad mother: her maternal love for Shigeko compels her to put Shigeko's happiness above her own. Reluctantly, she returns Shigeko to Masako's household, and departs.

    On one level, this very Japanese movie reminded me of a lot of Hollywood epics about mother love: not only 'Stella Dallas', but also 'Mildred Pierce', 'Madame X' and even 'East Lynn'. It's in this movie's favour that it touches emotional chords which are common to both eastern and western cultures.

    Unfortunately, I never much fancied any of those Hollywood mother-love epics ... so, the fact that I felt similarly towards this movie is NOT a point in its favour. This is a chick flick of the most bathetic sort. The fact that it's a Japanese chick flick from the 1930s -- giving me a glimpse of another culture, another time -- is a point in its favour, but only a small point. This movie bored me in the same way that 'Madame X' and 'Stella Dallas' bored me. My rating: only 3 out of 10.