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October 2, 2005

The Ball at Anjo House, 1947

anjo.gifFilmed during American postwar occupation, The Ball at Anjo House is a curiously atypical Japanese film that hews eerily closer to the privileged, dysfunctional families and moral abandon of The Magnificent Ambersons or a Douglas Sirk melodrama than a Shochiku middle-class shomin-geki: the proud family patriarch, Tadahiko (Osamu Takizawa) who continues to harbor the illusion that his name will be sufficient to secure credit and save the family mansion from foreclosure; the aimless, playboy son, Masahiko (Masayuki Mori) who seduces a maid with empty promises of marriage and instead, latches on to Yoko (Keiko Tsushima), the daughter of the blackmarketeer, Shinkawa (Masao Shimizu) to whom his father is financially indebted; the prudish daughter Akiko (Yumeko Aizome) who once spurned the affections of the handsome family chauffeur for an ultimately (and scandalously) failed marriage to a socially prominent man; the pragmatic, devoted daughter (Setsuko Hara) who accepts the family's change in fortune and is inspired by the idea of forging a new beginning (and, perhaps, away from the intractable social codes that bind their class). Filmmaker Kozaburo Yoshimura's portrait of the privileged class, scripted by Kaneto Shindo, is highly formalized and stilted, but nevertheless, presents a provocative portrait of the inevitable democratization of class structure - and, more importantly, the chaotic upending of social order - in postwar Japan (as symbolically encapsulated in the physical toppling of the ancestral samurai family armour that is prominently displayed in the main entrance of the estate). Perhaps the most incisive sequence in the film is revealed in the sublime father and daughter tango that concludes the film - a change in sentiment (and literal pace) that hints at an image of struggling to keep in-step with the uncertain, disorienting, and foundation-less realities of contemporary, postwar society.

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


What this film most reminded me of is Chekhov's Cherry Orchard (one of my favorite plays) -- without the warmth and humor that makes Cherry Orchard so wonderful. I've seen other comments that link this to "Rules of the Game". In any event, I wonder whether this film captures much in the way of genuine social realities -- or whether it is mainly grounded in Western sources.

There are certainly some wonderful sequences, but Yoshimura's film seems to be pretty haphazard in its pacing and development (as well as stilted). I find many of the same characteristics in another of his films from the same period -- "Yuwaku" (Temptation).

Posted by: Michael Kerpan on Oct 05, 2005 9:09 AM | Permalink

Agree, this film is definitely very Western, but I see that also as a means to keep the Occupation censors happy in terms of showing the democratizing of social class (let's face it, we take perverse pleasure in the fall of the rich and mighty :)). I find it subversive in that regard: it shows people who have completely lost their mooring, when nothing seems ordered, certain, or predictable. It's something profoundly traumatic like the paradigm shift of one day being told (by foreign occupiers, no less) that the Emperor is not a divine ruler anymore.

Posted by: acquarello on Oct 05, 2005 12:03 PM | Permalink

I think it would be interesting to watch this side by side with FEI Mu's "Spring in a Small Town" -- another Asian film of the same period that I find extraordinarily (possibly deliberately) Chekhovian.

In this case, one finds the "world upside down" motif in "Cherry Orchard" -- perhaps that is why Yoshimura felt it was useful to evoke the Russian play.

Posted by: Michael Kerpan on Oct 05, 2005 12:14 PM | Permalink

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