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Comedy, Countries, Genres, Japan, Reviews

“Bakumatsu Taiyoden” (1957, dir.Yûzô Kawashima)

large_bakumatsu_taiyo-den_blu-ray_08When I purchased the Masters of Cinema blu-ray of this film, I had no idea what to expect from it. I knew that it was a highly regarded period comedy film, but I knew next-to-nothing of the story. The title (apparently) roughly translates to “A Sun-Tribe Myth from the Bakumatsu Era” and the setting is just prior to the ending of the Shogunate. I am, to be quite honest, ignorant of this period in Japanese history and so cannot speak much regarding the film’s context. However, suffice it to say this: the movie is very funny.

Bakumatsu Taiyoden revolves around three main stories with some background noise going on at all time. I imagine that this is sort of the Japanese answer to the American screwball comedies (things like Duck Soup and His Girl Friday). The film’s setting is a brothel in the Shinegawa district (apparently a famous Red-light district). The main plot involves two prostitutes competing to earn the most income from their clients before the end of the month. Secondly there is a man who shows up at the brothel intending to have a good time but lacks any of the funds to do so and slowly weasels his way from debt to practically running the place. Meanwhile, as those two plots play out in the foreground, a background large_bakumatsu_taiyo-den_blu-ray_05plot involving the Westernization of Japan and a plot to blow up a boarding house for foreigners simmers in the background.

The film takes some serious turns, mainly with the bombing plot line (but even that is handled in a very frantic, His Girl Friday sort of manner), but always recollects itself and ends up being none-too-serious. One particularly great moment in the film involves one of the prostitutes, living with no money and constantly being bothered by men she can’t stand, decides to commit suicide with a client she doesn’t like. The only problem is the man is a chicken and tries to back out at the end only to end up being shoved into the sea just as she changes her mind. Later he returns to the brothel dressed plays a prank on her trying to make her think she actually killed him.

This extremely light-hearted and funny take on the woes of prostitutes seems like a disaster waiting to happen, and in many respects it is (in a good way: just like Bringing up Baby), but the black and white photography is brilliant, the scripting of the comedy is very large_bakumatsu_taiyo-den_blu-ray_04much on point, and across the board the film features strong characters and great performances. People zip around the sets, cross paths, talk over each other, appear in-and-out of scenes and plot lines, and eventually everything ends up one giant mess.

Bakumatsu Taiyoden is an interesting contrast on the (much better known in the west) Kenji Mizoguchi films which deal with the same subject matter, but in a totally different way. Mizoguchi told focused and heart-breaking stories about the oppression women faced in Japanese society (both modern and period), but this film uses that same circumstance to build frantic levels of plot, comedy, and characterization.

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About Andrew Bacon

A home school student turned filmmaker. A filmmaker turned film-blogger. A film-blogger who wants nothing more than to be a filmmaker. Mostly though, I just like movies.

Discussion

2 thoughts on ““Bakumatsu Taiyoden” (1957, dir.Yûzô Kawashima)

  1. Hey buddy. How goes thee? I miss chatting with you… you are bright and talented and have your head on strait. I admire what you are doing and I admire your breadth and scope of the film you elucidate. Myself, I have my trunk filled to overflowing and there is only one release that I want, which is Rebel Samurai 60’s Swordplay. I watched “KILL!” on HULU and “Sword of the Beast…” I forgot his name but he might be my favorite acting dude. What he says with his eyes is so much even more than Isabelle Hupert whom I used to find a goddess but now all I see in her eyes in sulking where “his” are on fire and add… he adds… so much life to any film he is in. I watched a Jean Cocteau today- Eternal Return- and it made me want to barf it is so syrupy and disgusting as Cocteau is wont to be (Beauty and the Beast) however the Orphic Trilogy as art and a Surrealist experiment was is at the top of Surrealist film. These days… as you can recall… it is hard for me to watch anything but Japanese and I have fallen in love with Hulu as I can watch one literally on a daily basis. I’ll have to go through my history and let you know which ones I have braved through… nothing contemporary mind you… gets weird. One film I did just buy from CC is “The Naked Island.” I am sure you know what a small but monumental film it is. I appreciate Japanese, and Eastern in general, because the universal philosophy speaks to all of us- the humanity of the human condition has eternal relevance- too bad too many who don’t appreciate, or have little understanding or empathy and simply cannot relate, do relate to the “spectacle” and they cannot get past the foreign aspect they see- the difference- and an older black and while that is beautifully paced… thus no lessons learned from these remarkable cultures and films. Your taste is out a’ sight and again, I appreciate and admire what you do. I was in the hospital last summer… I took a year off and my health… I am me… the best I can be… for the first time in my life so if you right me a note I am eager to know how you be and I won’t call you rude names or insult you ;) Be well my friend, all the best to you and yours. I hope to hear from you. Ehren ehrenclark@gmail.com peace out

    Posted by Ehren E. Clark MA “Italy and the Classical Tradition” University of Reading, England 2004 | May 27, 2016, 7:50pm
    • Hey, man! Yeah, everything’s good. As of late I’ve been super enamored with silent film (especially anything from Eastern Europe), as I’ve grown tired of “talking heads” as Hitchcock called it. I made a short silent film last year and am working on a new project now. Other than that it’s just same-ole same-ole. Mainly I find myself on a quest of trying to discover what cinema is and how it should be used.

      Posted by akb_TheProjectionBooth | May 27, 2016, 11:36pm

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