28 July 2002 | sharptongue
More like a miniseries
This film was made shortly before the advent of the miniseries and, had it been made later, probably would have been treated so.
Sustaining interest over three hours is a tough task, and there is about half an hour of waste here. The opening fifteen minutes could have been cut - it's a confusing and largely irrelevant potted history. For the rest of the movie, pauses are made to highlight big historical events, which use stock footage. There is also a dorky narrator who pops up at inappropriate moments. I don't think this kind of framing really helps the film, because the film becomes more watchable the further things get away from these pauses.
That's pretty much all the bad news. If you can get past the baffling and muddled first fifteen or twenty minutes, then the rest is well worthwhile. The story pretty much follows Shinsuke from infancy to teenage, with his stepmother looming as the most important character. And they pack quite a lot into the remaining two and a half hours. His father is killed in a heroic mine rescue. His mother becomes close to and is wooed by a Korean man, risking ostracism. The father had a sworn enemy Goro, with whom he fought a duel, who became his friend during the mining accident, and became an important father figure to Shinsuke. The girl next door, Ori-eh, decides she'll marry Shinsuke when he grows up but the boy and his mother leave town just as the little girl reaches puberty.
The acting and production values are uniformly excellent. The script is sometimes a little sloppy, and there are occasional silly slips in direction, such as comic speeding up of a baseball game, which falls flat.
If a half-hour had been judiciously clipped out, this would be a great film, instead of just pretty good.