30 June 2020 | topitimo-829-270459
Director Shima Koji started his career as an actor, and by 1937 he had appeared in about 80 films. He then turned to directing, achieving wide success with his second film "Kaze no Matasaburo" (1940), a tale of Japanese boys growing up in the windy countryside based on a novel by Miyazawa Kenji. The film cracked the annual top 10 of Kinema Junpo and established Shima as a filmmaker of high potential. It was logical for him to continue on a similar path, which he did with this film, his fourth directorial work. It is also a tale of boyhood, based on a popular novel (1936), this time by Shimamura Kojin. Two key differences are, that "Jiro monogotari" (1941) lacks the supernatural element of "Matasaburo", and centers on the experiences of just one boy, the titular Jiro, instead of being a group depiction.
Due to his mother's illness, Jiro has to live with a foster family. Years go by, and the mother returns, and there is a touching scene. Yet Jiro doesn't have too much time with her. The film studies the childhood of a boy without a fixed maternal figure. He has difficult relationships with other kids, and throughout the film, is shown to be a lonely figure, whom he sympathize with. With this film, Shima takes steps towards a psychological depiction of a child, not unlike Shimizu Hiroshi's previous films on the subject. In fact, this film actually got remade by Shimizu in 1955.
For a war-time film, it does not contain much propaganda, but instead voices its concerns about the upbringing of children in a calm way. The film argues, that a child needs steadiness, also when it comes to the parental figure. We are shown the turmoil that the lack of a parental presence can cause. The loneliness depicted in this film becomes very universal, much like the childhood nostalgia in Shima's previous "Matasaburo". This film, too, received a spot on Kinema Junpo's list, and it is almost as good. The rural landscapes of the film aren't quite as fresh and inviting, but then again this is supposed to be a sadder tale. The film has some very good performances, like Sugimura Haruko before her Ozu days, as well as Sugi Yukihiko as the young protagonist.