A well-intentioned fortune teller, Tashiro (Chishu Ryu) returns home with a lost boy from Chigasaki named Kohei (Hohi Aoki) after a trip to Kudan. His roommate, a struggling actor named Tamekichi (Shohichi Kawamura) disapproves of Tashiro’s impulsive act of kindness and convinces him to send the boy away for the evening to stay with a stern faced, middle-aged widow named Tome (Eiko Takamatsu). The next morning, Tome finds that Tashiro has already left the house for the day, leaving Kohei in her care, and complains to Tamekichi about her unwanted, bed-wetting guest. Tamekichi and Tome then pay a visit to a married neighbor in an unsuccessful attempt to pass off Kohei by rationalizing that “raising three or four kids won’t make a difference.” Tamekichi suggests that they draw lots in order to determine who will take Kohei back to Chigasaki. Finding an ‘X’ on her slip of paper, Tome protests that she has already been inconvenienced, but, nevertheless, agrees to take the boy home. But upon reaching Chigasaki, Tome learns that Kohei’s father is an itinerant carpenter who had only rented a room for a few days before leaving for Tokyo. Unable to rid herself of Kohei, she returns home with the boy and a sack of potatoes, and continues to devise ways of sending the boy away. An amusing conversation ensues as Tome seizes an opportunity to transfer Kohei to the care of a geisha house mistress when the latter pays a visit in order to arrange for the purchase of some household supplies: “Don’t you need a boy?” “Not me, I need a rubber hose.” However, as Tome resigns to idea of caring for Kohei, she gradually finds herself developing genuine affection for the endearing, helpless boy.
Record of a Tenement Gentleman is humorous, touching, and good natured film on surrogate relationships. However, beyond the levity and tenderness of the film lies a powerful, underlying social statement on the human condition: the alienation that results from urban migration; the hardship caused by postwar rationing; the plight of neglected and abandoned children. The final shot shows a sea of faceless children spending idle time at Ueno Park near a statue of Saigo. It is a poignant image of senseless despair and lost innocence, and a reaffirming glimpse of renewed hope and humanity.
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