Eclipse Series 38: Masaki Kobayashi Against the System (The Thick-Walled Room, I Will Buy You, Black River, The Inheritance) (Criterion Collection)
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One of the most important filmmakers to emerge from Japan's cinematic golden age, Masaki Kobayashi is best remembered today for his 1959 epic The Human Condition, but that is just one of the blistering films he made in a career dedicated to criticizing his country's rigid social and political orders. He first found his voice—rebellious, angry, engaged—in the fifties, following his life-altering experiences as a soldier in World War II; the four films collected here, made in the same period as The Human Condition, reflect Kobayashi's coming into his own as an artist. He fought to get these powerful dramas made at a studio more oriented at the time toward quiet family melodramas; they are unforgettable pictures of a postwar Japan troubled by identity crises and moral corruption on scales both intimate and institutional.
FOUR-DVD SET INCLUDES:
THE THICK-WALLED ROOM (1953
Even early on in his directing career, Kobayashi didn't shy away from controversy. Among the first Japanese films to deal directly with the scars of World War II, this drama about a group of rank-and-file Japanese soldiers jailed for crimes against humanity was adapted from the diaries of real prisoners. Because of its potentially inflammatory content, the film was shelved for three years before being released.
I WILL BUY YOU (1956
Kobayashi's pitiless take on Japan's professional baseball industry is unlike any other sports film ever made. An excoriation of the inhumanity bred by a mercenary, bribery-fueled business, it follows the sharklike maneuvers of a scout dead set on signing a promising athlete to the team the Toyo Flowers.
BLACK RIVER (1957
Perhaps Kobayashi's most sordid film, Black River is an exposé of the rampant corruption on and around U.S. military bases following World War II. Kobayashi spirals out from the story of a love triangle that develops between a good-natured student, his innocent girlfriend, and a coldhearted petty criminal (The Human Condition's Tatsuya Nakadai, in his first major role) to diagnose a social disease that had Japan slowly succumbing to lawlessness, devolving into gangsterism, violence, and prostitution.
THE INHERITANCE (1962
On his deathbed, a wealthy businessman announces that his fortune is to be split equally among his three illegitimate children, whose whereabouts are unknown to his family and colleagues. A bevy of lawyers and associates then begin machinations to procure the money for themselves, enlisting the aid of impostors and blackmail. Yet all are outwitted by the cunning of the man's secretary (The Makioka Sisters' Keiko Kishi), in this entertaining condemnation of unchecked greed.
Top customer reviews
The first film is the one I consider the best. 'The Thick Walled Room' (1953 - released 1956) is about a group of WW2 soldiers imprisoned for war crimes. The irony is that the more serious (Class A) war criminals were released already due to negotiation with the Japanese government, but the less serious war criminals were forgotten. Kobayashi wanted the Japanese public to take notice of this oversight. The film actually takes place partially through flashbacks of the events leading to the soldiers' incarceration. We see that these soldiers were merely put into situations where there was little recourse but to follow orders and carry out inhumane actions. In fact, in one instance, the commanding officer gives the order for one of his soldiers to kill a civilian he suspects is working for the enemy (this after the man gives them food and drink in his hut). The soldier does not want to and even argues with his superior, but he carries out the task regardless. In the trial, his superior turns the tables and tells the tribunal that he actually tried to talk his subordinate out of the task and hence the commanding officer is set free.
The second film, 'I Will Buy You' (1956) is like an older 'Moneyball'. A Japanese college baseball star is preparing to enter the big leagues. The film centers around the agents trying to entice the player into playing for their team (one agent in particular) and the player's personal 'coach' or 'leech' as the agents call him. The film is an obvious outrage against the wanton spending of the baseball teams and the exorbitant salaries that these players were starting to command in Japan in the 1950s (and during the end of the post war recession in Japan).
'Black River' (1956) is less notable now, but in the year it was released caused a huge uproar. The film is very important because it was Tatsuya Nakadai's first major role. The film warns about the corruption on US bases in Japan during the occupation and the steady rise in crime as a result. I felt the first half of the film was uneven, but that it built steadily, showcasing the plight of the working class. The themes are very Socialistic. The landlady and the real estate developer are portrayed as tyrants, but the remainder of the cast seems to be pretty self serving as well. Even when asked to give blood to save a neighbor's life, the tenants all claim to be neither A nor O blood types. The final few scenes, once we start Joe the Killers birthday party are the best. The ending is a triumph and makes the previous hour well worth it.
'The Inheritance' (1962) is a film about a man's inheritance being split between his three illegitimate children. The film is later than the previous, and was filmed and released after 'The Human Condition', but it still shows much of his earlier style. Obviously another outrage against capitalist greed.
So there you have it. Four films, not much in the way of special features, but that is what one expects with the Eclipse Series releases. This is another amazing collection of Japanese post war cinema and deserves a spot in any film lover's library, especially fans of post war Japanese film and films with a very leftist view.