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NIHON NO HIGEKI (aka: TRAGEDY OF JAPAN) (director/writer: Keisuke Kinoshita; cinematographer: Hiroyuki Kusuda; music: Chûji Kinoshita; cast: Yûko Mochizuki (Haruko Inoue), Yôko Katsuragi (Utako, Haruko’s daughter), Keiko Awaji (Wakamaru, a geisha), Keiji Sada (Tatsuya, street musician), Masami Taura (Seiichi, Haruko’s son), Ken Uehara (Masayuki Akazawa, the English teacher), Sanae Takasugi (Mrs. Akazawa); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Takashi Koide/Ryôtarô Kuwata; Panorama Entertainment; 1953-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
A brilliant but bleak tragic family drama by prolific master Japanese filmmaker Keisuke Kinoshita.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A brilliant but bleak tragic family drama by prolific master Japanese filmmaker Keisuke Kinoshita (“Koge”/”Father”/”Ballad of Narayama”), that reflects on Japan’s agony during the postwar and post-occupation period.It’s set at a tenuous time of transition, some eight years after the war, when goods are commonly purchased through the black-market, an untested democracy changes the way the government is run and eliminates the possibilities of Japan’s militaristic past recurring, the need to learn English in this new world order becomes essential, and westernization (for better or worse) is sweeping across the country changing the traditional ways of culture and family.

In the tourist town of Atami, located just outside of Tokyo, the aging war-widowed maid at a rundown inn, Haruko Inoue (Yûko Mochizuki), lives only for her two children–her 19-year-old medical student college sonSeiichi (Masami Taura)and her 17-year-old daughterUtako (Yôko Katsuragi). Though making every sacrifice possible for her children–paying for her son’s tuition and paying for her daughter’s English and dressmaking lessons, the Tokyo dorm living children are ungrateful and now that they have grown up –after being raised by her abusive brother-in-law, on land stolen from her and not returned by the nasty black-market profiteering relative–the materialistic-minded hardened children reject her. The daughter has an affair with her married English teacher (Ken Uehara) and runs away with him; while the son wishes to get adopted by a wealthy older couple, who lost their son during the war and want to replace him with someone who would be his same age. Unable to hold onto either child, the only thing she cares about, and haunted by her disreputable past as a prostitute, the despondent lonely woman is driven to commit suicide by throwing herself in front of a commuter train.

The personal story, classified as a ‘mother picture’ in Japan, has its context structured around both the mother’s tale of woe (using flashbacks without sound) and the historical background of the times, even interjecting newsreel footage to the fiction story. There’s also a traditional itinerant street musician (Keiji Sada) who plays a melancholy serenade titled Resort Town Elegy, that greatly moves Haruko. But even he lies to Haruko, as everything about her idealized world is shattered following the suffering the war has caused for the losing side.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”