Resurrection and renewal in postwar Japanese cinema, as seen through Tomu’s 1955 masterpiece
Following Japan’s surrender in World War II, the colonial tables were turned. The Chinese took control of Manchuria1 and the Manchurian Film Cooperative (Manei)2, and the Americans took control of Japan and its film industry. The Japanese, who had fabricated and controlled Manchuria’s film industry from 1937 to 1945, writing the lines to be spoken by Chinese actors in Manchurian productions, were now forced to appear as the puppet actors in an American production. In the early days of the American Occupation, the overlay of democracy in Japan seemed to have been effortlessly deployed. But in the postwar period, the ideology that drove Japan to reach new heights of modernism and atrocity on the Continent was not so effortlessly put to rest. As the Japanese cinema entered its postwar golden age, a “working out” of militarist, modernist, and feudalistic ideology on the level of mass culture took place in Japan’s packed movie theatres. In this period, celebrated filmmaker Uchida Tomu3 brought his Manchurian experience living on the edge of Japanese ideological extremes back to Japan with him and infused it into his conflicted 1955 samurai classic Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji (Chiyari Fuji).
Tomu’s Early Career
Before establishing himself as a film director, Tomu lived as a romantic, in touch with and sympathetic to the common people, yet enamored of wealth, fashion, and the arts. Born in Okayama in 1898, Tomu, at the age of 16, moved to Yokohama where he found work in a piano factory. After a brief stint in the military, where he was assigned to a special unit for the emperor because of his good looks, Tomu returned to work as a piano tuner, a job that enabled him to socialize with those who could afford pianos – Westerners and wealthy Japanese. Tomu scraped by financially, eating “sauce rice” and living with friends, who despite their poverty were interested in drinking, dressing fashionably, and speaking English. He took the Western name “Tom” for which he later adopted characters that can be read “Tomu,” which literally means “to spit out dreams.”
During these early years, Tomu spent a great deal of time at the house of Tanizaki Junichirô, one of Japan’s greatest literary figures of the twentieth century. In 1920, Tanizaki employed Tomu as an actor in his Taishô Katsuei Film Company. When the company broke up in 1923, Tomu moved in with Inoue Kintaro, who would later become a well-known actor and screenwriter.4 In the hard times following the Tokyo earthquake, Tomu joined a traveling acting troupe of the lowest class. In his biography of Tomu, Suzuki Naoyuki describes the moment when Tomu, struggling to make ends meet with the troupe on the road, first heard news that his friend Inoue was directing his second film in Kyoto. Inspired by Inoue’s success, Tomu borrowed money from the local stationmaster to immediately return to Tokyo where he eventually found work with the film company Nikkatsu in 1926.5
Transferred to Kyoto, Tomu quickly worked his way up to become one of Japan’s premier prewar film directors. He first achieved critical fame in 1929 with Ikeru Ningyo. In 1936 Tomu returned to Nikkatsu’s Tokyo Tamagawa studio to make four classic films in four years, including two, Kagirinaki Zenshin (1937) and Tsuchi (1939), that were chosen as top film of the year in Kinema Junpô’s annual rankings.6 Tsuchi was especially praised for its realistic depiction of the lives of poor Meiji-period7 tenant farmers. Tomu not only attempted to shoot the film in the town where it was actually written, but also searched for earth of just the right shade of brown, despite the fact that the film was shot using black-and-white film. Prophetically, the final triumphant scene of a farmer tilling his new field was made into a poster and co-opted by propagandists recruiting settlers to Manchuria.8
By the early 1940s, Tomu’s romanticism found a new object of affection – military nationalism. Yamaguchi Takeshi points out that Tomu, amidst the confusion resulting from increased government intervention and control over the film industry, found himself swept up in nationalism and enthusiasm for the military.9 Tomu’s autobiography, published in 1968, is noticeably silent concerning this period of his career. In his later life, Tomu consciously avoided contact with film colleagues he worked with under Fascism, particularly directors Itô Daisuke and Tasaka Nobutaka.
By 1940 Manchuria had become an inviting place. Manchurian Li Xiang Ran (Yamaguchi Yoshiko), paired with leading Japanese actors and playing the role of a Chinese enchantress in romantic musicals set in Manchuria, was taking the Japanese film box office by storm. Manchuria drew Tomu’s interest for personal reasons as well. Negishi Kanichi, his supportive producer at Nikkatsu, had become head of production at the Manchurian Film Cooperative, backed by the talented producer Makino Mitsuô. Kiga Seigo, Tomu’s close friend from his days at Taishô Katsuei, was there as well. In addition, Manei boasted a large, new studio located in Xinjing (now Changchun) and state-of-the art equipment. In 1943, with filmmaking becoming more and more restricted in Japan, Tomu, along with director Shindô Kaneto, made an extended visit to Manchuria to discuss the making of a film glorifying the Japanese Kantôgun Tank Division, which had been instrumental in Japan’s invasion and control of Manchuria. A scenario writer who made the trip with them remarked on Tomu’s apparent sympathy for the militarists, noting that at one point Tomu expressed how wonderful it would be to die for one’s country.10
Tomu was drawn to Manchuria for practical reasons as well. The situation for Japanese filmmakers in the mid-1940s had deteriorated to unbearable levels. Film studios had been consolidated and were under complete government control. The number of films being made – particularly entertainment films – dropped drastically. By the time Tokyo was first bombed in March 1945, the war picture for Japan was looking grim, with survival itself becoming an issue. Manei, on the other hand, remained untouched by the war and still had resources available for filmmakers. Practical considerations fueled by romanticism precipitated Tomu’s decision to go to Manei.
In the Realm of Amakasu’s Manei
Because of the worsening war situation, Tomu’s glorious military tank film was never made. He notes in his biography that “the reality of ‘the great war film’ ended at the dream stage.”11 However Tomu used this as a pretext to return to Manchuria in May 1945 – ostensibly to apologize for never finishing the film. Critics and friends suggest that Tomu went to Manchuria still intent on making the film.
The head of the Manchurian Film Cooperative, militarist Amakasu Masahiko, was an exemplar of the value system underlying Japan’s bushidô (“the way of the samurai”) ethic. If it were not for his interest in cigars and classical music, Amakasu could have walked directly out of a samurai film himself. Working for the secret police in the confusion following the Tokyo Earthquake, Amakasu became notorious for his participation in the murders of anarchist Ôtsugi Sakai, his female companion Noe, and Ôtsugi’s seven-year old nephew. A protégé of Tôjô Hideki, Amakasu was released from prison after only three years. After some time in Paris, Amakasu crossed over to Manchuria to work as a civilian with militarists and saboteurs to “create” Manchuria. Because of his past, Amakasu necessarily worked behind the scenes. His devotion to the Japanese emperor was complete.
Amakasu was appointed chairman of the Manchurian Film Cooperative in 1937 and, due to his powerful charisma, quickly earned the respect of both the Chinese and Japanese staff. With the end of the war in sight, Amakasu not only stubbornly refused draft orders for his staff, but also arranged evacuation trains for the families and distributed five million yen to the employees. Hirai notes that more than 3,000 people, Chinese and Japanese in Xinjing, attended Amakasu’s funeral, an indication of the devotion he instilled in those around him.12
Tomu’s ambivalent respect for Amakasu’s charismatic bushidô militarism becomes apparent in the dramatic descriptions of their meetings found in Tomu’s autobiography, which prominently features a photograph of Amakasu.13 Tomu recounts one of his earliest meetings with Amakasu, where Tomu nervously breaks the ice by asking him for a cigar. In his autobiography, Tomu further describes how, as the war situation worsened, Amakasu initially resolved to turn the film company into a fortress and to go down fighting. Rumors circulated that Amakasu had planned a mass suicide in which all those associated with the Manchurian Film Cooperative would go up in an explosion of flames fueled by the existing (highly flammable) stock of film. Tomu marvels in his autobiography at the extremism of Amakasu, who provides poison in case of capture for all of the families as they are evacuated. Just before the Russian troops arrive to occupy the Manchurian capital Xinjing, Tomu describes the early morning scene in which Amakasu dies in Tomu’s arms after having taken a dose of poison.14 In his suicide note, Amakasu wrote that as a samurai, he would like to have died as a samurai by seppuku (hara-kiri), but that having failed the emperor, he was not worthy of such an honorable death.15
Amakasu’s riveting intelligence, radical – almost lunatic – samurai presence, and fanatical ideology underlie Tomu’s entire experience with the Manchurian Film Cooperative. A romantic nationalist and a realistic nation-builder, Amakasu embodied the honor and tragedy inherent in loyalty to the samurai ideal, an ideal that brought Japan to the Continent. In his autobiography, Tomu concludes an entire section devoted to Amakasu with two ambivalent lines written in Chinese that perhaps capture the meaning of the whole Manchurian experience for Japan: “Without Amakasu’s militaristic ideology, there would have been no Manchuria.”16
Staying on in Manchuria
Though offered the chance by Amakasu to lead a group of Japanese families back to Japan before the Russian occupation, Tomu refused. Along with many of the Japanese staff, he decided to stay in Manchuria to work to make films and to build the new Chinese nation with the young Chinese filmmakers who had trained at the Manchurian Film Cooperative. Yoshida Sadasugu17, who returned earlier to Japan, speculates that Tomu’s decision to remain in Manchuria was based on his belief (which proved false) that he would have more of a chance to make films in Manchuria than in Japan.18 Though Tomu gave sporadic lectures on film, and a few quality Chinese films were eventually made, fighting between Nationalist and Communist forces took center stage. As a result, Tomu was unable to pursue serious filmmaking. The film company was repeatedly relocated and restructured. At one point, the Japanese were forced to draw lots among themselves, and Tomu found himself reassigned to work in a coal mine – an incident he never discussed, having avoided any contact with those involved once back in Japan.19 Despite the hardship, Tomu still managed to study the work of Balzac and Dostoevsky.
The Japanese met weekly in a study group designed to rid themselves of individualism and to instill Maoist doctrine. Tomu found Mao’s dialectic philosophy concerning contradiction20 and development to be particularly influential. In the Mao interpretation Tomu studied, small contradictions or irrationalities build gradually upon one another to reveal larger contradictions, which in turn lead to an explosive climax or revolution in which contradictions are resolved. Likewise Tomu came to think of a film’s plot in terms of a series of oppositions or conflicts. “Contradictions are part of human society,” he would remark. “When these build on one another they lead to a big climax.” The climax comes at the moment when the largest contradiction explodes.21 Seen with particular clarity in Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji (1955), this philosophy, as Suzuki points out, becomes the central pillar of Tomu’s postwar dramatic film art.22
Sporting a long goatee and in ill health, Tomu returned to Japan in October 1953 with the last group of Japanese returnees, and was immediately hospitalized. Relations with his wife, who had been resentful at his long absence, were difficult. Yet friends from the film world were soon knocking on Tomu’s door. Tomu joined Daiei, a film company that sought to make films targeting Japan’s popular masses rather than more upscale and sophisticated crowds.23 In his first interview with Daiei’s Makino Mitsuô, Tomu, who had just experienced a decade of violent turmoil on the Continent, said that he wanted to make “a peaceful movie.”24 Co-producers for Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji, included old filmmaking friends Ozu Yasujiro, Mizoguchi Kenji, and Itô Daisuke.
The Samurai Film in Postwar Japan
The samurai film, although frequently compared with the American Western, is often difficult for Westerners to understand. At first I assumed the problem was linguistic. The characters in samurai films often use old, ritualized forms of speech and speak in terse, gruff bursts. But the difficulty in comprehension lies not at the surface use of language, but rather in the cultural mindset of the samurai world that filmmakers tried to re-create. Action in samurai films, rather than being driven by a dialogue-generated plot, seems to flow according to rules built into the genre, according to an internal patterned logic that makes samurai films very Japanese. Homesick for Japan after his long time away, Tomu made his first post-Manchuria film in this most Japanese of genres. Although samurai films are obviously not unknown in the West, they are proportionately less represented than modern dramas. In addition, many of the few samurai films known in the West were made by Kurosawa Akira, a director known for taking a different slant. Tomu’s relative obscurity in the West is due in part to the fact that none of his prewar masterpieces survive intact, and in part to his penchant for making samurai films in the postwar period.
Though largely confined to NHK’s Sunday night samurai drama and to reruns on late night television, the samurai film still haunts Japan’s ultramodern everyday culture. One night while I was watching television with a Japanese family, a samurai film unexpectedly came onscreen. Booming overdramatic music and images of men in samurai dress sporting the trademark samurai haircut (chon mage) caused 16-year old Ryu to reflexively change the channel. “This is so embarrassing,” he told me. The contrast between the world of the samurai film and the world of modern Japanese television with its bright colors, commercialism, and slick production is jolting. Japanese youth may try to sweep the samurai film under the rug, but the fact remains that the samurai film still has a tremendous influence on contemporary culture. The older generation in Japan continues to watch the dramas without irony. The country’s most prolific film critic, Satô Tadao, estimates that until the end of the 1950s (with the exception of the period of the U.S. Occupation), half of all Japanese films made belonged to the samurai genre.25
In 1953, when Tomu returned to Japan in poor health, the Japanese film industry was in excellent condition. In the wake of the profitable Korean War, the industry found the resources to buy the latest filmmaking equipment, and it faced a rapidly expanding market. Between 1951 and 1953, gross receipts doubled, growing from $20 to $40 million in two years. Between 1945 and 1957, the number of theaters grew from 845 to over 6,000. By the end of 1956, over 80 percent of theaters were regularly showing double features.26 Attendance in 1956 reached 1.27 billion, an average per capita attendance of 12.27 Demand for new films had never been higher as production companies churned out new features weekly. In the mid-1950s, the samurai film genre was just beginning to make its final comeback to its prewar popularity and form.
Following the war, samurai films were almost completely suppressed after having been specifically targeted as dangerous by the U.S. Occupation. Joseph Anderson and Donald Richie note that in addition to burning more than 200 existing films thought dangerous, the Occupation authorities drew up a list of types of films to be made, prohibiting the following:
Militarism, revenge, nationalism or anti-foreignism; distortion of history, approval of religious or racial discrimination; favoring or approving feudal loyalty or treating human life lightly; direct or indirect approval of suicide; approval of the oppression or degradation of wives; admiration of cruelty or unjust violence; anti-democratic opinion; exploitation of children and opposition to the Potsdam Declaration or any SCAP order.28
Satô notes that the few samurai films made in the early postwar period were so regulated that they were almost unrecognizable as samurai films. While uncontrolled violence is the heart of the samurai film – without it the film fails – these early postwar films were often tentative, democratic, antiviolent stories of the samurai choosing romantic love or farm work over fighting. Although it was not made until 1955, Satô points to Kurosawa Akira’s Seven Samurai, in which samurai protect helpless villagers, as one successful example of mostly failed postwar attempts to adapt the genre to a changed world.29
Even after the end of the Occupation, however, samurai films did not return to their prewar formulaic vigor until the second half of the 1950s when they came to dominate the popular market. The turning point in cinematic interest from romantic love to the samurai came in 1955 when yearly production topped 400 films. Samurai films attracted more viewers than modern dramas in 1955, 1956, 1958, and 1959. Chiba Nobuo refers to this as the “Chûshingura Boom.”30 Chiba goes on to speculate that the domination of films concerning romantic love during the first half of the decade reflects popular discontent with the lack of freedom to pursue romantic love in culture. Similarly, the rapid rise in popularity of the samurai film during the latter half of the 1950s reflects the rise of a low-level recalcitrant nationalism freed at last from the U.S. Occupation and its censors. Chiba suggests that while films made in the early 1950s depict realistic humanism in modern postwar life, the return to full-fledged samurai films signals the end of Japan’s postwar period. The “Chûshingura Boom,” Chiba claims, provided a needed confirmation of national identity.31
Satô views the samurai film as a revolt against modernization and Westernization, and sees its rise in popularity as an indication of Japan’s tenuous modern identity. Samurai films glorify the past and assert traditional values.32 The mibun shakai (the tiered social structure that reigned during the samurai era) is a world in which position, identity, morality, and action are clearly defined, predetermined, and in harmony with established codes extending down to even the finest details of everyday life. Despite the permanent, unchanging parameters, however, the samurai world is at heart a world of action. The utter chaos of uncontrolled violence that marks the center of the genre finds its most perfect stage within this most ordered of worlds.
Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji – Tomu’s Conflicted Comeback
Upon his return to Japan, Tomu’s ten “blank” years in Manchuria come alive both ideologically and filmically in Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji, his 1955 comeback samurai film. Both progressive and nostalgic, humanistic and nationalistic, peaceful and violent, Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji, like the Japanese experience in Manchuria, is an aggressive conglomeration of extremes.
In the opening shot of Tôkaidô, the film establishes itself as atypical for a samurai film.33 Cinematographer Yoshida Sadasugu notes that while typical samurai films open with a conventional shot of the actual Tôkaidô surrounded by thick pines, Tomu chooses an open space lined here and there with straggled trees.34 Rather than take actual shots of majestic Mt. Fuji (Japan’s holy mountain), Tomu uses a poorly made – almost laughable – painted backdrop. Rather than booming seriousness, the opening music is light and playful.
Comic elements, present throughout, give the film a nostalgic touch. Before the war, Tomu was known for his comedies, and he made silent films for over ten years. He uses elements of slapstick that are characteristic of the silent era in the Noten (outdoor tea) scene. In this scene, high-ranking shoguns decide to have tea in the middle of the road to enjoy the view of Mt. Fuji (again, rather than show the real Mt. Fuji, Tomu uses the cheap set prop). No one can pass along the road while the spontaneous tea party is on. Servants scurry in both directions to assuage parties of dignitaries and the common crowds who are inconvenienced on either side. When a young orphan with loose bowels that render him unable to wait crouches at the roadside, the wind promptly carries the smell to the dignitaries enjoying tea – a comical “who farted?” scene ensues. As the shoguns make detailed comments on the weather to show off their education, a heavy rainstorm ensues and exaggerated chaos results.
Nostalgia for the silent era is apparent not only in the moments of slapstick, but also in the film’s vast silences. A particularly memorable long silent sequence consists of a set of long takes, first of a woman about to be sold into prostitution looking out of the guesthouse at the evening rain. Next the samurai protagonist Kojurô happens to open the window of his room located just across from hers. Their eyes meet only in passing and, despite the fact that no words are exchanged, real communication takes place. The series of understated shots moves beyond predictable romantic love formulas, pushing into a deeper compassion shared between individuals. Satô notes the general lack of camera movement throughout, and suggests that the film’s brilliance lies in its steady capture of the rhythmic movement between silence and action, the leisurely pace of travel and the fury of battle.35
In addition to its wide tonal range, another feature that marks Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji as atypical for a samurai film is the degree to which a social cross-section of characters is introduced. Here, too, Tomu breaks with convention by having the samurai sleep in the same room with commoners we come to know over the course of the film. Suzuki reports that Tomu was “more interested in developing characters than in historical accuracy.”36 While ostensibly the story of a samurai on his way to Edo to deliver a tea bowl, the film does not confine itself to the samurai’s world. The samurai’s story is just one of many small interlocking dramas through which the film eddies. Developed characters include servants, women, and children. Mini-dramas include that of an orphan child who seeks to become a spear carrier; an old man forced to sell his daughter into prostitution; a man who has saved money for five years in order to buy back his daughter from prostitution; and a thief impersonating a Shintô priest. Here, Tomu illustrates his lifelong alliance with common people, taken up in the vein of novelist Ishikawa Tatsuô, who contributed the preface to Tomu’s autobiography.37 The dramas, set consistently within the realm of realism, unfold without a sense of manipulated emotions.
Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji is also a travel film. For Tomu, freedom is found on the road. In a 1936 dialogue with Ozu published in the film monthly Kinema Junpô, Tomu remarks that he doesn’t like to be confined by large groups. “Large groups are no good. If you go out on your own, you don’t have to determine where you’re headed. On a Sunday morning you can put on a backpack and head out with no specific goal in mind.”38 During the Edô Period, people of all classes had to travel along the same road (Tôkaidô) to reach Edô. In the film, travel becomes an opportunity for individual characters to expand their social worlds beyond the confines of their respective genders and social stations (mibun).
Before becoming a director, Tomu mixed freely with people from all social classes, and even worked as a traveling actor. The Japanese film world into which he entered, however, was in many ways an exclusive world, an old boys’ network, closed off from society at large. Those in the industry had to fit into a rigid system of relations, particularly senpai-kôhai or mentor-apprentice relations. During his ten-year Manchurian detour, however, Tomu again experienced travel and wide social interaction with a great variety of people living in a less rigidly defined society. Social classes were necessarily more jumbled in recently settled and multiethnic Manchuria. Mibun was less established, less trustworthy, less confining. Upon surrender, the mibun of the Japanese who remained again underwent major revision. The situation for the Japanese left in China continued on in flux as the battle between the Nationalists and the Communists raged on. The arbitrary and tenuous nature of social position would be more apparent to Tomu upon his return from Manchuria and would become a major theme in his films.
Among the Shomin (common people) with whom the young samurai Kojurô and his two servants Gonpachi (played by Kataoka Chiezô) and Genta travel, mibun (social station) is treated as a fluid, playful category. In an early scene, when Kojurô notices that Gonpachi, his spear carrier, has developed a blister on his left foot, Kojurô offers his own ointment. Gonpachi is shocked at the samurai’s generosity toward him as a servant, and hesitates to use ointment meant for a samurai. In the next scene, however, a young orphan boy traveling on his own tells Gonpachi that he dreams of one day becoming a spear carrier. Gonpachi in turn breaks the rules of mibun decorum and suggests that they practice. Gonpachi then plays the role of the samurai walking ahead with exaggerated dignity while the boy follows behind carrying the long spear. When Gonpachi notices that the woman shamisen player is watching their antics, Gonpachi is embarrassed and promptly grabs the spear away from the boy and continues on. The scene, infused with a gentle comedy, suggests that mibun is arbitrary and performative, a game. This playful attitude toward feudal roles is further expressed in a scene where the young daughter of the shamisen player performs “the spear carrier’s dance” at a local festival. Gonpachi looks on briefly before leaving in embarrassment as the tiny girl, dressed in a kimono, acts out the various duties of the spear carrier in her dance.
The contradiction between form and content in feudal society is further played up when Kojurô, upon hearing of the plight of the woman who will be sold into prostitution, decides to pawn his spear in order to save her. Kojurô discovers, however, that the spear, a gift to his father from the supreme Shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu, is a worthless fake. Instead, when the common man who has saved for five years to buy back his daughter hears that she died of illness two years before, he offers the money to save the woman about to be sold. Injustices and ironies slowly stack up: a thief who dresses as a Shintô priest, the fake spear, the common man being able to do more for the woman than the samurai can. The plot follows the style Tomu encountered in Mao’s teaching while in Manchuria: small contradictions and conflicts reveal larger irrationalities that build toward an explosive conclusion.
Romanticism in Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji is reserved for the film’s intense bloody conclusion. While Gonpachi is enjoying a pastoral scene on the riverbank with the shamisen player and the children – the film’s most peaceful moment – Kojurô sits down to drink with his other servant, Genta. A group of rambunctious samurai comes onto the scene, criticizing Kojurô for breach of decorum in allowing his servant to drink in a situation reserved only for samurai. Swords are drawn, and first Genta then Kojurô are killed. The contradiction between the two scenes – the utter stillness of the riverside and the brutal action at the site of the murder – is apparent. Hearing of the events, Gonpachi takes up his spear and rushes onto the scene. In a spectacular seven-minute scene of mindless rage and feudal devotion, Gonpachi brutally kills the entire group of samurai one by one with his spear in the courtyard, now turned to mud by sake spewing from great barrels punctured by Gonpachi’s spear. With the sake, pent-up romantic intensity is explosively released. A silence ensues, followed by a whimper made by the one surviving samurai, crawling in the mud. His rage unabated, Gonpachi lunges mercilessly to kill him. A longer, terrible silence follows as Gonpachi comes back to his senses, realizes the terror of what he has done, and falls at Kojurô’s side, weeping uncontrollably.
Hearing news that a lowly spear carrier has disposed of the entire group of samurai single-handedly, the local master claims the samurai do not belong to him, a final ironic twist in the feudal code that allows Gonpachi to go free. The last scene shows Gonpachi leaving the town alone, an ambiguous hero, the ashes of his master strapped over his chest. Yoshida reports that the original script included a voiceover as Gonpachi walks alone along the road away from the town. Tomu changed this final cut, inserting instead the heavy melody of Umi yukaba, a song in which the lyrics, taken from Japan’s Manyôshu, glorify death for the emperor. Umi yukaba is representative of the samurai ethos at the center of Japan’s war era.
Yoshida recalls that Amakasu gathered the staff of the Manchurian Film Cooperative – among whom he was highly respected – together for Saturday meetings that Amakasu invariably ended by leading the entire group in singing Umi yukaba.Yoshida writes, “At the end, Umi yukaba was Amakasu’s philosophy of life. . . . Amakasu was a realist, but more than that he believed in the emperor system – that is why he committed suicide.”39 Hirai notes that Umi yukaba was performed at Amakasu’s funeral.40 Tomu’s choice of the song for the film’s conclusion harks back to his previous enthusiasm for militarism and his respect for Amakasu, a man of action who died in his arms upholding the samurai ethic.41 Respect for men like Amakasu needed to be carefully dissected and re-examined, not just by Tomu, but by all Japanese survivors in the postwar period.
The power and beauty of the battle scene convey the seductive romantic potential for instances of power and beauty within the samurai ethic. In seeking to avenge his master’s death, Gonpachi acts in perfect accordance with the feudal code that binds him. His path is clear, the action not only sanctioned but required. While in action, Gonpachi moves beyond human codes into the realm known in Zen as Mu (nothingness, unconsciousness). However, once the intensity and beauty of the revenge scene are complete, the tragic results remain before our eyes like the mud in the courtyard. On thinking through the chain of events, we realize that, even though there were moments of individual unadulterated brilliance, it was the very code itself that set the tragic chain of events in motion to begin with, a realization that tempers admiration. Nevertheless, the film seems to suggest that, though the feudal frame may be flawed, the violence at the center of the samurai ethic of chugi (samurai loyalty) is an object worthy of conflicted respect if considered within the wider frame of sober criticism of the entire feudal system.
Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji is the work of a modern liberal with an understandable weakness for the tragic beauty inherent in the samurai ethic. Throughout the film, Tomu successfully injects his conflicted ideological experience on the Continent into Japan’s postwar mass culture. Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji thus functions as a field on which to sort out the charisma and the limitations of the feudalistic romanticism that led Tomu to Amakasu and Manchuria, and that led Japan to Manchuria and into the Second World War.
Anderson, Joseph, and Donald Richie. The Japanese Film. (Princeton University Press, 1982).
Chiba Nobuo. “Film: History and Psychology” in Showa Bunka (Showa Culture) 1945-1989. (Tokyo: Keiso Shoten, 1990).
Hirai Yo, Manshu eiga kyokai no kaiso (Remembering the Manchurian Film Cooperative) inEigashi kenkyu (Film History Research). No.19, 1984.
Satô Tadao. Chanbara eigashi (Chanbara Film History). (Tokyo: Hoga Shoten, 1972).
Satô Tadao. Nihon Eigashi (Japanese Film History) vol.3. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1996).
Suzuki Naoyuki. Shisetsu – Uchida Tomu den (From My Perspective – Uchida Tomu’s Story). (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1997).
Yamaguchi Takeshi. Manei: Maboroshi no kinema (Manei: The Lost Cinema). (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1988).
Uchida Tomu. Eigakantoku gojûnen (50 Years as a Film Director). (Tokyo: Sanichi Shoten, 1968).
Yoshida Sadasugu. Interview “Manei kara Jinginaki Tatakai made” (From Manei to Battle without Honor) in FB, No. 3, 1994.
- Manchuria was known in the non-Japanese world as Manchukuo. [↩]
- Officially named Manshu eiga kyokai (often referred to in the shortened version Manei), the Manchurian Film Cooperative was established by the Japanese in the Manchurian capital of Xinjing (the Japanese reading for the Chinese characters Xinjing is Shinkyo; the characters mean “New Capital”), present-day Changchun in Northeast China, in 1937. Controlled by the Japanese, the Cooperative hired Chinese staff to produce “acceptable” popular commercial films in the Chinese language. [↩]
- All Japanese names are cited in Japanese order, i.e., family name first. The Chinese names for people and places are written using the modern Chinese pinyin romanization. [↩]
- Inoue Kintarô wrote the script for Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji. [↩]
- Suzuki Naoyuki. Uchida Tomu den, watakushisetsu (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1997), 42. [↩]
- The other two films are Jinsei gekijo – Seishunhen and Hadaka no machi. It appears that none of these four films has survived. Suzuki notes that the National Film Center in the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo has a shortened and poorly preserved version of Tsuchi that was found in East Germany 18 years after its production. The print may have been shown at the Venice Film Festival. Nearly one hour had been cut from the original 2.5-hour version. When Tomu saw this fragment after the war, he was reportedly dissatisfied, saying the film was not the one he had made (87). [↩]
- The period from 1868 to 1912. [↩]
- Suzuki, 89, 93. [↩]
- Yamaguchi Takeshi. Manei:Maboroshi no kinema. (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1988), 232. [↩]
- Suzuki, 98. [↩]
- Uchida, 121. [↩]
- Hirai Yo, “Manshu eiga kyokai no kaisô,” in Eigashi kenkyu. No.19, 1984, 79. Hirai devotes an entire section of his report to “Memories of Amakasu.” A second possible reading for Hirai’s first name is “Hiroshi.” [↩]
- Uchida, 131. [↩]
- Uchida, 140, 155-6, 170. [↩]
- Hirai, 78-9. [↩]
- Uchida, 171-2. [↩]
- The reading for Yoshida’s given name could also be “Teiji.” The author was unable to verify this. [↩]
- Yoshida Sadasugu. Interview “Manei kara Jinginaki Tatakai Made” in FB, No. 3, 1994, 59-149. Quoted from 89. FB is the name of a Japanese film studies journal published sporadically by an influential group of film scholars based in Kyoto. [↩]
- Suzuki, 138. [↩]
- The Japanese term used by Tomu to refer to contradiction is mu jun. [↩]
- Uchida, 187-8, and Yoshida Sadasugu “Manei kara Jinginaki Tatakau made” in FB. No. 3: 1994, 92. According to Yoshida, Tomu repeatedly described his philosophy of filmmaking in this way. [↩]
- Suzuki notes that Daiei worked to produce films that would be hits in Tokyo’s low-class entertainment centers exemplified by the Asakusa area in Tokyo, rather than target crowds that would frequent Tokyo’s more sophisticated Ginza area. 140. [↩]
- Ibid., 169. [↩]
- Ibid., 155. [↩]
- Satô Tadao. Nihon eigashi vol.3. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1996), 59-60. [↩]
- Anderson, Joseph and Donald Richie. The Japanese Film. (Princeton University Press, 1982), 241,245. [↩]
- Suzuki, 272. [↩]
- Ibid., 160. [↩]
- Satô Tadao. Chanbara Eigashi. (Tokyo: Hôga Shoten, 1972), 203. [↩]
- Chiba Nobuo. “Film: History and Psychology” in Showa Bunka 1945-1989. (Tokyo: Keiso Shoten, 1990), 252. [↩]
- Ibid., 240-1, 253. [↩]
- Satô, Chanbara, 210. [↩]
- Tôkaidô is the name of the main overland artery connecting Kyoto to Edô during the samurai era. [↩]
- Yoshida, 110. [↩]
- Satô, Chanbara, 204. [↩]
- Suzuki, 247. [↩]
- Tomu greatly admired Ishikawa’s work. Tomu’s third film after his return from Manchuria, Jibun no ana no naka de (1955) was based on Ishikawa’s fiction. Also, Tomu includes a picture of Ishikawa in his autobiography. [↩]
- Kinema Junpô, November 21, 1936, cited in Yamaguchi, 231. [↩]
- Yoshida, 83-84. [↩]
- Hirai, 79. [↩]
- Suzuki mentions that Tomu used memories of Amakasu as the basis on which to construct characters in his later films. His 1964 masterpiece Kigakaikyo is the story of a man who lives for years with guilt buried inside for an undiscovered murder. Amakasu paid similar penance for his murder of Ôtsugi. Amakasu reportedly slept with a gun at his side on a regular basis, and refused to accept visitors on the anniversary of his murder of Ôtsugi. [↩]