Thursday, October 07, 2010

Shingun / [Marching On]

[In marcia] (Shochiku, JP 1930) D: Kiyohiko Ushihara; P: Shiro Kido, Tomojiro Tsutsumi, Osamu Rokusha; ass. D: Hiromasa Nomura, Kazuo Ishikawa, Tokiro Miyata, Akihiko Kitamura, Eijiro Nagatomi; SC: Koga Noda; DP: Bunjiro Mizutani; aerial cinematography: Kenji Ochi, Isamu Aoki, Iyokichi Takahashi, Kinya Ogura; aerial cinematography art advisor: Shigeyoshi Suzuki, Rin Masutani; AD: Yoneichi Wakita; cast: Denmei Suzuki (Koichi Shinohara), Hideo Fujino (Shosaku, Koichi’s father), Utako Suzuki (Otoki, Koichi’s mother), Kinuyo Tanaka (Toshiko Yamamoto), Haruo Takeda (Hiroyuki, Toshiko’s father), Minor Takada (Shiro, Toshiko’s brother), Eiji Oshimoto (Owada, the pilot), Tokuji Kobayashi (Chui Kobayashi), Dekao Yoko (Kumakichi Kushiki), Mariko Aoyama (Oshima-chan), Eiran Kikawa (chauffeur), Shoichi Kofujita (boy in the village), Hisao Yoshitani (postman), Takeshi Sakamoto (Soldier A), Atsushi Watanabe (Soldier B); 35mm, 3253 m., 142' (20 fps); from: National Film Center, Tokyo. English intertitles on the print.
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (GCM) with e-subtitles in Italian and John Sweeney on the grand piano, 7 Oct 2010

ALEXANDER JACOBY & JOHAN NORDSTRÖM in the GCM Catalogue: "Shingun, known variously in English as The March, Marching On, and The Army Advances, is unquestionably the most prestigious film on which Ushihara worked, as well as the most famous of his collaborations with the actors Denmei Suzuki and Kinuyo Tanaka. Made to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Shochiku’s entry into film production, this epic war movie and romance took more than a year to film, and cost the equivalent of several billion yen in today’s money.
The film tells the story of Koichi Shinohara, who has set his heart on becoming an aviator, and of his romance with Toshiko, whose brother Shiro is a military pilot. Ushihara elegantly dovetails the hero’s romantic travails as he seeks to win his girl with his efforts to master the skills of aviation. Ultimately, war breaks out with an unnamed country, and Shiro, Koichi, and his romantic rival Kobayashi all head to the front for the film’s spectacular action climax.
The inspiration of two classics of the Hollywood war film, King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925) and William Wellman’s Wings (1927), is apparent, but the film marked a new departure for the Japanese silent cinema. The ambitious large-scale battlefield scenes of the film’s second half seem to have been unprecedented in Japanese film history. They were made possible by the co-operation of the Imperial Japanese Army, which mobilized aircraft and tanks in order to allow the scenes at the front to be staged. Shochiku drew on the skills of all the cameramen of its Kamata studio, who created what is considered the first-ever aerial footage in Japanese film. Although this genuine footage was intercut with model shots, the film nevertheless made a significant contribution to the evolution of Japanese film technique. Kinema Junpo’s critic Shigechika Ikeda, reviewing the film on 1 April 1930, wrote that “the content, the colour, the technique, etc., are unique traits typifying the style of Ushihara’s cinema.”
Shingun prefigures the subject matter of the war movies of the militarist years, and the unnamed enemy country is widely assumed to be China. But the film’s production in the years before the Manchurian Incident allowed it to sustain a humanist ethos which would later become untenable. As Peter High writes, Shingun “fails to conform to the patterns that would quickly fossilize into clichés in the host of military features produced during the Manchurian and then the China Incidents”. Despite the visual grandeur of its battle scenes, it remains ultimately a humane and touching piece of cinema. – ALEXANDER JACOBY & JOHAN NORDSTRÖM.
(The National Film Center restored and made the 35mm internegative in 1967 from a nitrate print which had been returned to Japan from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.)."

Modest visual quality in the print with a duped look from a source full of scratches. I saw the first forty minutes of this aviation saga which begins in the countryside where an airplane lands on a field. Koichi (Denmei Suzuki) is an aviation enthusiast who builds miniature airplanes for the children of the neighbourhood. There is a clash between the arrogant automobilist and the farmers whose hen is killed by the car. Koichi and Toshiko (Kinuyo Tanaka) meet during the conflict, and soon Koichi gets to rescue Toshiko whose horse has bolted. A film worth seeing in its entirety, but I needed a break.

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