Director: Teinosuke Kinugasa
Production: Kinugasa Motion Pictures Association and Shochiku; black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: about 80 minutes; length: 7 reels. Released 11 May 1928. Re-released 1976.
Producer: Teinosuke Kinugasa; screenplay: Teinosuke Kinugasa; photography: Kohei Sugiyama; art directors: Yozo Tomonari, some sources list Bonji Taira; lighting: Masao Uchida and Kinshi Tsuruta.
Junosuke Bando (
Rikiya, the brother
); Akiko Chihaya (
); Yukiko Ogawa (
O-une, woman of Yoshiwara
); Ippei Soma (
Man with the Constable's stick
); Yoshie Nakagawa (
Woman who sells women
); Misao Seki (
); Myoichiro Ozawa (
Man who quarrels
); Teruko Sanjo (
Shinobu Giuglaris, Marcel de, Le Cinéma Japonais , Paris, 1956.
Anderson, Joseph, and Donald Richie, editors, The Japanese Film: Art and Industry , New York, 1960; revised edition, Princeton, New Jersey, 1982.
Cinémathèque Français, Invitation au Cinéma Japonais , Paris, 1963.
Klinowski, Jacek, and Adam Garbicz, Cinema, The Magic Vehicle: A Guide to Its Achievement: Journey One: The Cinema Through 1949 , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975.
Anderson, Joseph, "Seven from the Past," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1957.
McVay, Douglas, in Films and Filming (London), June 1960.
* * *
After the commercial disaster of the experimental Page of Madness (1926), Kinugasa's independent production company made its last film, Jujiro , in 1928. Thus freed somewhat from the pressure of maintaining the company's image (and solvency), everybody in the staff decided to explore whatever he wanted in the company's swan song. The result was this unique avant-garde jidaigeke (period film): Kinugasa completely eliminated from this film swordplay, which was then the norm, and concentrated on the depiction of the characters' psychology, thus creating a new style in this genre.
Visually, the film is one of astonishing effects and powerful images. Because of financial limitations, old boxes and wood used in the previous films were collected, painted and deliberately reused to create a bizarre atmosphere of poverty. The whole set design is based on unbalanced and distorted images, which happen to be similar to those of German Expressionism. Parallel lines are carefully avoided in the shapes of roofs, at the window lines and in the interior architecture.
The strong contrast of light and shadow is also expressionistic. Particularly skillful is the highlighting of characters' dramatic emotion by exploiting a heightened effect of counterlight. Raindrops are captured dripping from the hair of the doomed sister and brother, shining in the strong counterlight. The grotesque and nasty face of the man with the constable who is trying to make advances to the helpless sister is illuminated from behind in the dark as he ascends the stairs to the attic. The chiaroscuro photography, by then the young and ambitious Kohei Sugiyama, is exquisite.
The upstairs room is symbolically presented as the only sanctuary from the lower world of evil and malice. The tragedies of the sister and the brother both originate in credulous mistakes (she believes the false identity of the man with the constable; he believes that he committed a murder which in fact never took place). This theme is conveyed by the numerous scenes of fantasy and dream, as well as by the use of the flashback and flash-forward techniques. The boundary between reality and imagination is left ambiguous in mesmerising effects created by camera movements, such as quick tracking shots, quick panning shots and numerous superimpositions.
An especially sophisticated sequence is the scene in which ashes are thrown in the brother's face dazzling him. Interrupting the fight sequence is a sequence of black- and white- designs, used to create a flickering effect: there then follows a close-up shot of the brother's agonized face within the image of a storm of falling ashes. This is followed by a shot of him staggering, frames with black- and white-lightning-like shapes, and then the shot of an object accelerating toward the camera. Finally, the camera tilts almost 90 degrees and captures the tottering brother crashing into objects. This complicated process of mixing the establishing shots and close-up shots of him staggering with images from his subjective point-of-view succeeds in conveying his despair and disorientation.
The recurrent spinning image is prevalent throughout the film. It is suggested by the image of targets at an archery shop that employs the hero's love interest. This shop is surrounded by other round and spinning images such as umbrellas and lanterns. The pattern of the woman's kimono suggests playfully those targets and arrows (relevant to the theme of stalking of a love partner). At the house of the brother and his sister, there is a big spinning wheel in the upstairs room; the downstairs is filled with round objects such as mats and straw hats.
The image of the crossroads is strikingly simple: only a few naked trees along the white roads in the dark. This set conveys artificiality, yet it also successfully suggests the helplessness and desperation of the sister finally waiting alone in vain for her brother.
Kinugasa's ambitious film was received far more appreciatively in Europe than in his home country. The re-release of Jujiro in Japan in 1976, however, created an excitement appropriate to the rediscovery of an avant-garde classic.