Title: 瀧の白糸 (Taki no Shiroito)
English Title: The Water Magician
Release Date: 1933 (Japan)
Directed by: Mizoguchi Kenji
Starring: Irie Takako, Okada Tokihiko
There are not a great number of pre-war, Japanese silent films which have survived to this day. Furthermore, I imagine that one would be hard pressed to find easily accessible copies of the ones that do still exist. I was lucky enough to find this excellent Mizoguchi Kenji film through the Japan Foundation Library in Tokyo.
Although titled a “silent” film, there is music throughout the movie. Furthermore, a distinguishing characteristic of Japanese silent films was the benshi. A benshi was a narrator who spoke during the movie, giving explanations, as well as voicing lines of some of the actors and actresses.
The movie gets its title from the profession of one of the main characters – she performs tricks, somewhat akin to magic, with bursts of shooting water on stage. This might be a bit difficult to visualize not being accustomed to such an act, thus it might help to think of someone juggling, to music, while also using stylized movements.
The story of The Water Magician is simple, yet profound. The woman performer, known as Shiroito, falls in love with a man who has had the misfortune of having to drop out of school after his parents died due to lack of money. Shiroito, who is completely taken by the man, Kin’ya, offers to pay for him to go back to school.
After some years of funding his education – he is studying to become a judge – Shiroito and her friends, the other performers, fall on hard times. Shiroito’s friends, who are in even more dire straits than she, repeatedly ask for money, or sometimes just outright take it from her. Eventually Shiroito is left with nothing and is forced to borrow money from a loan shark. Immediately after borrowing the money, she is robbed by masked men, later discovered to be none other than the troupe boss. Feeling that she now has no way to support Kin’ya, whom she has longed so dearly to meet again, she goes back to the loan shark, supposedly to explain what has just happened. Instead, he mistakes her intentions and tries to attack her. In the hustle, she accidently stabs him. Making matters worse, she runs off with more of the loan shark’s money.
Now charged with murder, Shiroito is brought before the judge, who is none other than Kin’ya. Only now, in these circumstances, does she receive the grace of seeing the one she so longed to see. Kin’ya is torn and mistakenly afraid that the money he received to support his education came from this murder. Taking the action he sees to be just for the role of a judge, he condemns Shiroito to death. Consequently, she bites off her tongue. The next day, the torn Kin’ya kills himself.
Shiroito in The Water Magician is a perfect example of a courageously loyal, just, and kind person who, because she is a woman, faces repeated hardships and sufferings, usually at the hands of men. Despite her sufferings, things do not turn out better for her, as she is eventually sentenced to death. The love and the sense of justice that she maintains to the end, make the story all the more tragic, and the audience feels the plight of this woman, up against all obstacles that her society throws at her.
Itself influenced by an Izumi Kyoka play, The Water Magician shares elements with many later movies, some of which were doubtlessly influenced by Mizoguchi’s film. One that comes to mind would be Villion’s Wife.
Title: 東京大空襲：第一夜 - 受難 (Toukyou Daikuushuu: Daiichi Yoru - Junan)
English Title: Tokyo Air Raid
Directed by: Ueda Nobuhiro
Starring: Horikita Maki, Fujiwara Tatsuya, Eita, Shibamoto Yuki
“Can you imagine it? What we’re looking at now, all burned. Houses, parks, cars…men and women…children too.” – Tokyo Air Raid
As I step out of the National Diet Library and inhale the cool, crisp autumn air I am almost in disbelief that the events of Tokyo Air Raid took place not far from where I now am. It is difficult for many people now to envision the events of March 9th and 10th, 1945 – the Tokyo Firebombing, in which at least 100,000 people lost their lives to a sea of fire from U.S. incendiary bombs.
Tokyo Air Raid focuses on a group of people, many of whom are working at a hospital, during the war in Japan. Here we are introduced to patients who are struggling with, or recovering from, various illnesses, as well as young men and women coping with the loss of loved ones, while at the same time growing closer to each other. The movie especially follows Haruko (Horikita Maki) a nurse, and Hiroto (Fujiwara Tastuya), a patient, at the hospital.
The unfortunate conclusion, which the audience is more or less informed of from the beginning, is that all of these characters are doomed to a tragic fate, caught under the bombs of the night of March 9th, 1945. In this aspect, the movie shares something in common with, for example Titanic, in that we know things aren’t going to turn out well, yet we are still drawn into the story and develop a connection with the characters.
While the majority of the movie is devoted to developing the characters – especially the relationship between Haruko and Hiroto – and reenacting the actual scenes of the bombings, it also lightly touches on other issues that were present during wartime Japan. The lack of concern by the military elites for the publics’ welfare is one notable example. Hiroto’s father, a police officer, is distraught when the military issues orders prohibiting anyone from fleeing Tokyo or taking refuge in the case of a major bombing. Essentially, this is a death sentence for the citizens of Tokyo, who are granted only a token sense of security by the regular fire drills they are forced to practice. Other examples of citizens suffering at the hands of the military are apparent in one of the opening scenes of an officer harassing a group of women about their “lack of patriotism”.
Relationships between Japanese, Americans and Koreans are also brought up and, while the movie briefly eludes to racist attitudes toward the perceived “other,” it is not to the extent that it probably could have. When a shot down American fighter pilot comes to the hospital, many of the staff and patients wish for the doctor to let him die. However, their opinions change once they get to know the pilot. Later, we discover that one of the nurses is in love with a Korean man. Her father is at first opposed to them getting married, not on the grounds that he himself dislikes Koreans, but rather that he doesn’t want to see them suffer at the hands of others who, supposedly, would not be as tolerant. All of the characters display a surprising amount of tolerance which, considering the violent prevalence of racism at the time, is impressive to say the least.
On the whole, Tokyo Air Raid does an excellent job of portraying a historical event that deserves more attention, and gives an interesting look at wartime Japan. While some might be a little let down if they are expecting George Lucas-style special effects, the terror and tragedy of the firebombing nonetheless comes across quite clear. Director Ueda Nobuhiro deserves a great amount of credit for attempting to make the history of the Tokyo Fire bombings accessible to a modern audience, even to those who are learning about the event for the first time.