I just got a DVD copy of this film and watched it. It haunted my dreams. It's a very low-key rendering. The director structured the film very carefully. But not in an obvious "art house" way, he just let events happen as they did. It's an "ensemble" film, starring a host of characters who live in an urban slum in Edo (which is now Tokyo). It begins with the investigation of a suicide, an impoverished, elderly ex-samurai who had hanged himself because -- having pawned his real sword blades and replaced them with bamboo; this was done for him not to starve to death -- he had been unable to perform the samurai ritual of seppuku (ritual suicide, done with a sword piercing the stomach). The slum residents react by having a "wake" for the dead man, which is actually an excuse for them to drink up and make as merry as they can. There are two main characters, Shinza a barber and Matajuro, a ronin who once was a samurai serving a clan but lost his position with this clan. At the beginning, while Shinza and the others are celebrating, Matajuro looks on, an obvious outsider among the commoners. The others invite him to join, but he tells them that he "doesn't drink." Shinza is a barber who really strives to be something else, though he's not really sure what he wants to do; he wants to break out of the rather petty niche that he's found himself in. He finds himself in trouble with the local gangsters for operating a gambling party without their permission. He is defiant toward the gang boss and wishes to get back at him. Matajuro lives with his wife right next door to the barber. His wife Otaki supports the couple by crafting paper balloons to sell; we see her sitting in the house doing her artistry. It seems that Matajuro lost his position with his clan because of his drinking sprees. Now he has given up drinking in order to "regain his health" and hopefully regain his position. He clings to a letter that his late father had written that he is sure will get him his position back. He spends most of his days struggling with the temptation to drink and pursuing the clan official who would be responsible for reinstating him to his position; he humbly begs him just for a word and to read his father's letter. This is a Japanese period film that features a samurai as one of the main characters. But there is no sword fighting in the film; the most action we get to see is a bunch of gangsters beating up on a helpless Matajuro; they had been sent by the clan official whom Matajuro had been trying to meet. Some call this film "pessimistic." I'm not so sure that it's pessimistic as it is simply sad and tragic. One thing for sure. It will haunt the viewer for quite a while and it will demand to be seen over and over.
Humanity and Paper Balloons
Humanity and Paper Balloons
The lives of two slum neighbors, one of a happy-go-lucky gambler and the other of a poor ronin, converge when the two get involved with the affairs of a powerful samurai official and his gangsters.
November 11, 2020