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October 2, 2005

Army, 1944

army.gifKeisuke Kinoshita's wartime film, Army is anything but the rousing call to arms and reinforcement of patriotism that the authorities had envisioned the film would be. Known for his Ofuna-flavored shomin-geki "women's pictures", Kinoshita subverts the official themes of duty, allegiance to the emperor, and national glory. Contrasting the emotional (and philosophical) rigidity of the family patriarchs through several generations as they try to instill the virtues of service and duty as career officers against the exquisitely haunting final sequence of an extended tracking shot of the mother, played by the great actress and frequent Mizoguchi heroine (and erstwhile muse) Kinuyo Tanaka, running alongside her son as the new military recruits march through the streets in a send-off parade before being deployed to the battlefront, the lingering image of the price of war becomes imprinted, not in the father's stern and uncompromising life lessons but in the complexity of emotions revealed through a mother's anxious, tearful farewell.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 02, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Shochiku at 110


Apparently, this originally ended with Tanaka literally running down the tracks after the departing troop train. Not surprisingly, the censors chopped this off. I sense an almost elegiac tone in the film -- as if Kinoshita already felt (down deep) that the ongoing war had already been lost. Somehow, this hardly constitutes the kind of propaganda that one would expect the government to have wanted.

I wonder whether Kalatozov (and/or Urusevsky) could have seen this film. The through-the-crowd sequence seems to uncannily prefigure the similar sequences (visually -- and in tone) of "Cranes Are Flying".

Posted by: Michael Kerpan on Oct 05, 2005 9:15 AM | Permalink

Interesting story about the original ending, although this one had a pretty sobering effect as well. I was surprised by how much of what were clearly anti-militarist comments were retained in the film, like Ryu telling the friend that his son will probably die in battle, but that the country is more important...and he agrees with him and apologizes!

Posted by: acquarello on Oct 05, 2005 11:37 AM | Permalink

I'd love to see a greater range of Japanese war-time films. The ones I've seen are stunningly un-propagandistic (and some strike me as borderline anti-militarist).

On a lighter note -- I wonder if this is the only film that features Ryu and Tanaka as a married couple?

Posted by: Michael Kerpan on Oct 05, 2005 11:49 AM | Permalink

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