Children in the Wind, 1937

In a pivotal encounter during Children of the Wind, the Aoyamas’ rambunctious younger son, Sanpei (Jun Yokoyama, credited in the film as Bakudan kozo, or “explosive boy”), having been sent to live temporarily with his uncle (Takeshi Sakamoto) and aunt (Fumiko Okamura), befriends an orphaned circus performer played by frequent prewar Ozu child actor Aoki Tomio after learning that the circus’s traveling itinerary would take them to Sanpei’s hometown. The casting of Aoki for the cameo proves to be an inspired one, having earlier played the role of the younger brother in Yasujiro Ozu’s salaryman social drama I Was Born But… and, like Ozu’s film, Hiroshi Shimizu’s Children in the Wind, based on the children’s story by Joji Tsubota, also eloquently (and poignantly) captures the children’s confused reactions to the contradictions and irrationalities of a complicated, adult world. The idyllic opening shot of children comparing (uncorroborated) grades on their final report cards as they head home for summer vacation (having sneaked a ride in the back of a farmer’s cart) poses the idea of inherent competition that would weave through the film, and provides an insight into the nature of Sanpei’s actions: first, in his repeated attempts to convince his mother (Mitsuko Yoshikawa) to entrust him – in lieu of his dependable older brother, Zenta (Masao Hayama) who received better grades in school – with the task of running to the office to deliver his father’s lunch; then subsequently, in his feud with Kinta, the spoiled son of a company executive.

Similarly, Sanpei’s rivalry with Kinta also provides a window into their fathers’ preoccupations at work – a competition for authority, control, and credibility that reaches a turning point when Sanpei’s father, (Reikichi Kawamura), a company accountant, is referred to the police under suspicion of embezzlement after a discrepancy surfaces during a recent company restructuring. With his father’s fate uncertain and finances left in disarray as police continue to investigate the allegation, Sanpei is sent away to his uncle’s house in Ugai for the summer, a traumatic separation from his family that would lead him to further misadventures in his quest to find a way home. In a sense, the children’s playtime also reflects the hidden anxieties of the world around them, where rounding up neighborhood children to play (with a coded Tarzan call) illustrates an arbitrary reinforcement of implied authority, coasting down the river adrift in a tub conveys a sense of helplessness to circumstances beyond their control, and bouts of sumo wrestling mirror the constantly changing dynamics – and real-life consequences – of grown-up power struggles. Ending with a shot of Sanpei inviting Kinta to the circus as they watch the acrobats make their way to town, the whimsical juxtaposition highlights the ironic reality of the boys’ renewed friendship – an olive branch gesture that seems only possible in a world of innocence and make believe.

© Acquarello 2008. All rights reserved.
First published in The Auteurs Notebook, 07/24/08.