Saturday, October 15, 2011


by Yoji Yamada, Japan: 1991

The Japanese Yoji Yamada is not an inventor or a renewer. He is a master in recycling of pictures and cliches - even such which can be called worn-out. MUSUKO reminds not only in the plot but also in  more or less clear visual quotations in some films of Yasujiro Ozu. Older films Yamadas like KAZOKU or SHIWASE NO KIROI NO HANKACHI were romantic Road Movies, Escapes from the narrow modern city life to the small populated northern island Hokkaido. The links between the changes of landscapes and that of the characters  had possibly more to do with the films  of John Ford, the novels of Jean Gionos or maybe even with Eichendorffs "Taugenichts" than with the poetry of the everyday tristesse of Ozu.

MUSUKO tells about a family, which is resident, some members live in the countryside, others in Tokyo. The dreams of Utopia outside of the narrow net of the industrial society seem to be given up completely. What is important in MUSUKO is the here and now. When we found in earlier Yamada-films euphoric moments of Happiness, in Musuko relocate them only in little niches, for example in the love story between the youngest son and the deaf girl or in scenes in the village of the father which reflect the lost shine of at least imaginable harmony of intact social bands.

Tokyo is representing itself as a stone desert in humid  summer heat. The oldest son, an employer runs every morning like a hunted animal to his office. The worry about the fragile body of his old father drives him to the macabre comparison with a "time bomb". An old embittered truck driver daze his frustrations about a disappointed life with alcohol and porno videos. Old men escaping into the supposed  soldier´s companionship. During a reunion of veterans, the father recognize an officer, who had beaten him during war very hard. Enmity against Strangers in a Fast Food restaurant, in which japanese and foreigner are paid in different salaries. The disappointed expression in the face of the daughter in law, who manage only with a big exertion to play the role of a nice housewife. MUSUKO were almost a pessimistic film, if there would n´t be these moments of happiness and Yamada´s heartwarming humor. Both are integrated in the film like we put flowers on a window in an ugly big city.
Yamada´s poetry can be also described as a help for surviving.
At the end there is once again a disturbing moment, unusual for Yamada.: After the beautiful moment of the reunion between the father and the youngest son, the old man returns to his native village. Now, it is winter, to use the paths is not possible without big exertion. Arriving his house, there comes a sudden spot of light on his face. The whole family is reunified, like before many years when his wife was alive. A strange artificial light, a seeming dissonance in a film which follows the tradition of the subtle shomingeki genre. But it is just an uncanny hallucination, which could be more associated as a psychosis than as a nostalgic memory. The vision has disappeared, the old man lights his oven. A view from outside to the house, a yellow shine from the inner of the house which seems to be resident against the monotone grey of the winter. For a film of Yamada, it is a bitter final scene. In his older films, the characters were often at the end of these films at the place of their wishes; in MUSUKO the old man is simply at the end of his life.
MUSUKO is not a collection of Ozu-quotations in a simple way. Yamada varies directly Ozu quotations (which are often at the beginning of a scene) and develops it to very personal interpretations of the Japan in the Nineties. He is reflecting about a special view to the men and the things, which is possibly only present in the genre of japanese family dramas. This view to the men and things is in danger to disappear in the high-tech giant Japan like natural landscapes disappear in the industrial age. The collecting and recycling, or better called the rediscovering of old "cinema values" can be an eminent personal affaire.

Rüdiger Tomczak
(Filmwärts Nr. 27, Autumn 93, and shomingeki No.20, Summer 2008)

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