Evaluate: The Munekata Sisters (1950)


Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) used to be a type of uncommon administrators who appeared incapable of creating a in point of fact terrible movie. Granted, a large portion of his early occupation within the Twenties and ‘30s has been misplaced—swept away through the cataclysms that burnt up an estimated 96% of Eastern silent cinema1—so we don’t have any get admission to to Spouse Misplaced (1928) and Attractiveness’s Sorrows (1931), seriously maligned movies that even their writer deemed substandard. However of Ozu’s many extant works, the bulk vary between honest and very good, with masterpieces (1949’s Past due Spring, 1953’s Tokyo Tale, 1958’s Equinox Flower, and so forth.) that rank with cinema’s maximum profound achievements. Even lesser efforts (1934’s A Mom Must Be Liked, 1948’s A Chicken within the Wind) characteristic sufficient excellent moments and cast craftsmanship to warrant occasional viewings. Such may be the case of the lesser-known The Munekata Sisters.2

In accordance with the unconventional through Jiro Osaragi and launched in August 1950, The Munekata Sisters marked the primary of 3 circumstances the place Ozu directed for a studio as opposed to Shochiku.3 In spring 3 years previous, staff at rival corporate Toho changed into pissed off with their hard work union’s laws and artistic interferences, and thus shaped an alternative union to constitute themselves. Known as the Society of the Flag of Ten, they have been allowed to paintings in a up to now vacant set of soundstages and have been christened Toho 2d Manufacturing Department. Alas, tensions between the Society and the former union endured, the previous ultimately breaking off to shape a subsidiary referred to as Shin Toho (“New Toho”).4 Shin Toho to start with gained distribution and monetary backing from its father or mother corporate—in alternate for twenty-five p.c of all earnings—however in March 1950 defected to function by itself. Their output integrated debut movies through up-and-comers like Kon Ichikawa in addition to freelance jobs from established moviemakers. Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Canine (1949) used to be one such movie, the Ozu image below dialogue being every other.

Making The Munekata Sisters proved slightly irritating for Ozu, because the entrance administrative center no longer best dictated casting however picked the supply subject matter.5 “To be frank, I to find it tricky to make a movie out of a singular,” he recalled in a 1958 interview with Kinema Junpo mag. “You’re compelled into remodeling the creativeness of the writer, after which have to make a choice anyone to play a task already created. After I write, I all the time write with an actor in thoughts from the start, and this is helping create the function within the movie.”6 Operating from what he described as a “very heavy” script,7 he additionally discovered himself quarreling with big name Kinuyo Tanaka, with whom he’d labored a large number of occasions earlier than however who’d lately returned from 3 months in Hollywood and as a result had new concepts referring to movie appearing. Ozu, familiar with dictating performances all the way down to the tiniest motion (“You don’t seem to be intended to really feel, you are meant to do,” he as soon as advised an actress), used to be even overheard grumbling about his main girl.8 However, he remembered the shoot being a very easy one and addressed the tale catch 22 situation through directing the “heavy” script “very frivolously.”9

The Munekata Sisters starts with probably the most titular siblings, Setsuko (Kinuyo Tanaka), visiting the previous capital of Kyoto, the place she learns her father (Chishu Ryu) is terminally sick with abdomen most cancers. An overly “conventional” Eastern lady, she spends a lot of her time traveling the town’s well-known temples—a lot to the boredom of her more youthful, “fashionable” sister Mariko (Hideko Takamine). Infused with fresh techniques of considering, Mariko’s likewise pissed off with the trail her sibling’s selected: Setsuko tolerates an unemployed husband, Mimura (So Yamamura), in spite of lasting love for Hiroshi (Ken Uehara), a person she knew earlier than the struggle. Mimura learns of his spouse’s emotions, turns towards each siblings, opposes Setsuko searching for monetary the help of Hiroshi to avoid wasting her bar, and bodily moves her after suggesting they divorce.

At this level, the movie is going comically off the rails. The husband’s next demise of a center assault ends up in a nauseating denouement during which his widow refuses to marry Hiroshi for worry of being haunted through the previous. (The subdued writing and appearing within the resultant breakup scene feels misplaced amid overheated melodrama.) However the issues start even earlier than that, with contrivances and the drained cliché of interrupted intimacy. At the verge of divorcing her husband, Setsuko rendezvouses with Hiroshi at an inn to talk about the longer term. The 2 are slowly leaning in for a kiss once they pay attention anyone entering into the room; as they step aside, Ichiro Saito’s track involves a halt, accentuating what’s already an awkwardly staged scene. Ozu professed all through his lifestyles to had been bored to death in romance,10 and nowhere is that this extra glaring than right here. Further issues stem from the daddy and his inconsequential sickness subplot: as written, his best narrative serve as is to proffer recommendation to his daughters.

Ahead of Act 3, alternatively, The Munekata Sisters fares as a modest access in Ozu’s oeuvre, thank you in nice phase to Hideko Takamine. A significant big name since age 5, Takamine gave the impression in over 100 photos as a kid—together with one directed through Ozu, 1933’s Tokyo Refrain—earlier than shifting to Toho in her adolescent years. Clinging to recognition after the struggle, she’d been probably the most founders of the Society of the Flag of Ten and thus accompanied them to Shin Toho. In The Munekata Sisters, Takamine performs a tomboy (“She looks as if a woman however acts like a kid,” says her father) susceptible to funny tics (protruding her tongue, scrunching her face, describing others’ lives with a theatrical tone of faux-profundity). Maximum apparently, despite the fact that, her persona Mariko is a byproduct of occupation-era (learn: westernized) Japan, often at odds along with her sister, whom she deems “outdated.”

At its core, The Munekata Sisters is concerning the conflict of life between its two protagonists. While Setsuko dons kimonos, Mariko struts about in Occidental clothes; whilst the previous’s content material roaming the temple of Kyoto, the latter’s happier in cosmopolitan towns reminiscent of Kobe and Tokyo; Mariko enjoys being spoken to in English and, at one level, kicks her slippers at a displayed set of samurai armor, one thing her sister would by no means do. Within the film’s easiest scene, the siblings sq. off towards every different and their respective techniques of lifestyles. (“Issues which might be in reality new by no means get previous. What does ‘new’ imply to you? Brief skirts? Fashionable nail polish colour?” “You and I are utterly other. We have been raised in numerous occasions.”) The movie by no means chooses an aspect, despite the fact that the siblings’ father, whilst assuring Mariko to seek out her means, cautions her that “being fashion-conscious is dull.” By means of drama’s finish, the sisters walk in combination via Kyoto, clinging to their global perspectives—Setsuko nonetheless in kimono, Mariko nonetheless in western clothes.

Proceeding at the matter of modernization: The Munekata Sisters is retroactively amusing as a glimpse into the later years of Japan’s postwar career. Whilst no foreigners seem, their affect is it seems that visual: an administrative center construction rife with English indicators for Time, Existence, and Bible Area; a café with a Coca Cola signal prominently hung from the ceiling. Interim, the characters reminisce concerning the struggle and prewar years: a bartender persona is a former pilot, and Mariko attended junior prime in Manchuria, the Chinese language demographic infamously annexed through Japan in 1931.

And there’s a excitement constant throughout all surviving Ozu works: the beautiful sense of design, the herbal glide of pictures. Along with cinematographer Joji Ohara, the director will get inventive with climate, at one level staging an inside scene all through a thunderstorm, attaining mild results during the shadow of raindrops streaming down home windows. Pictures that without a doubt glance impressive within the movie’s new recovery. I haven’t observed the print in query (it’s to make its debut on the 2023 Cannes Movie Competition) however hope it ultimately makes its solution to house media markets there and somewhere else. For even minor Ozu movies reminiscent of this are definitely worth the consideration of great movie fans around the globe.

Works cited and additional studying:

  1. Russell, Catherine. The Cinema of Naruse Mikio: Girls and Eastern Modernity. Durham: Duke College Press, 2008, p. 52
  2. A disclaimer at the movie’s name. In keeping with a Eastern correspondent of mine, the right kind pronunciation of the sisters’ surname is “Munakata.” Then again, I lately attended an Ozu show off on the Kanagawa Museum of Fashionable Literature in Yokohama, Japan; and the plaque associated with fabrics for the movie below dialogue spelled the English name as “The Munekata Sisters.” This seems to be the legit English spelling according to the movie’s copyright holders; and so, for the sake of illustration, that is the spelling I’ve used on this article.
  3. The opposite two circumstances are 1959’s Floating Weeds, shot for Daiei, and 1961’s The Finish of Summer time, shot for the Toho subsidiary Takarazuka Eiga.
  4. Anderson, Joseph L. and Donald Richie. The Eastern Movie: Artwork and Trade (Expanded Version). Princeton: Princeton College Press, 1982, pp. 167-8
  5. Bordwell, David. Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema. Princeton: Princeton College Press, 1988, pp. 311-2
  6. Richie, Donald. Ozu: His Existence and Movies. Berkeley: College of California Press, 1977, p. 236
  7. Bordwell, p. 313
  8. Richie, pp. 144; 236
  9. Bordwell, p. 313
  10. Richie, Donald. “The Later Movies of Yasujiro Ozu.” Movie Quarterly 13, no. 1. Autumn 1959, p. 21



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