October 2, 2005
The Ball at Anjo House, 1947
Filmed 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.