Thursday, October 10, 2013

Otome shirizu sono ichi hanamonogatari fukujuso / [The Scent of Pheasant's Eye: An Episode from the Tale of Flowers] in benshi performance with Ichiro Kataoka

National Film Center, Tokyo
OTOME SHIRIZU SONO ICHI HANAMONOGATARI FUKUJUSO (Fukujuso) [Il profumo dell’adonide gialla: un episodio dai Racconti dei fiori / The Scent of Pheasant’s Eye: An Episode from the Tales of Flowers] (Shinko Kinema, JP 1935) D: Jiro Kawate; story: Nobuko Yoshiya; SC: Jiro Kawate, Raizo Hagino; DP: Asakazu Kanai; M: Saburo Date; C: Naomi Egawa (Kaoru Sakamoto), Ginko Hanabusa (Kimiko, compagna di scuola/Kaoru’s schoolmate), Kimie Hayashi (Tsuyako, compagna di scuola/Kaoru’s schoolmate), Kazuo Hinomoto, Mitsue Hisamatsu (Miyoko, moglie di Mitsuo/Mitsuo’s wife), Ruriko Hoshi (Masako Kinoshita), Junko Kimura, Mitsuhiko Okazaki (Mitsuo, fratello di Kaoru/Kaoru’s brother), Yôyô Kojima (insegnante/schoolmaster), Mineko Komatsu, Aiko Matsuyama, Eirô Niimi, Joe Ohara, Keiji Oizumi (padre di Kaoru/Kaoru’s father), Choji Oka (nonno/Grandfather); 35 mm, 6016 ft, 67' (24 fps); print source: National Film Center, Tokyo. Japanese intertitles, with English subtitles. Benshi commentary: Ichiro Kataoka; M: John Sweeney, Frank Bockius. Viewed at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone), with e-titles in Italian, 10 Oct 2013

Johan Nordström: "When Kaoru’s sister-in-law Miyoko arrives at the family home, tender feelings start to grow between the two. However, the initial happiness that Kaoru finds in the company of her beautiful sister-in-law is frustrated by her brother Mitsuo, Miyoko’s husband, who intervenes in their budding passion. Full of unspoken words, deeply suggestive mise-en-scène, and forbidden glances, Fukujuso is a compelling melodrama that surprises with its potent homoeroticism, especially considering its year of production."

"Made by the production company Shinko Kinema, active between 1931 and 1941, Fukujuso was originally released categorized as a saundo-ban (silent film with pre-recorded music); however, the surviving version of the film is silent."

"Fukujuso is based on a story by Nobuko Yoshiya (1896-1973), a lesbian Japanese novelist active in the Taisho and Showa periods of Japan, who was also involved in the Bluestocking (seito) feminist movement. Yoshiya, a “New Woman”, was one of modern Japan’s most commercially successful and prolific writers, specializing in serialized romantic novels and adolescent girls’ fiction (shojo shosetsu). She was acutely aware of contemporary sexual mores as well as being a pioneer in Japanese literature of the “Class S” genre, about intense emotional relationships between young girls, usually of school age, that often carried lesbian connotations."

"Fukujuso can be said to be an example of a Class S genre film focusing on strong emotional bonds between young women. Yoshiya’s stories were considered “respectable” texts, suitable for consumption by girls and women of all ages, due in part to the contemporary understanding that same-sex love was a transitory and “normal” part of female development leading to heterosexuality and motherhood. Nevertheless, Class S stories were eventually banned by the government in 1936, one year after the release of Fukujuso. However, the legacy of Class S fiction has remained strong in Japanese popular culture, as seen in the form of modern-day shojo and yuri (love between women) manga."

"Fukujuso was presented at the 18th Tokyo International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in 2009 to great acclaim, at two events with live benshi narration, first by Midori Sawato and then Ichiro Kataoka. Its Pordenone showing is believed to be the film’s first international screening." – Johan Nordström

AA: A sad tale of love between women in the patriarchal 1930s society. The brother is mean and takes what belongs to the sister. The old men plan the next generation's marriages while playing board games. There are tears in the young women's eyes when they realize what is going to happen to "my dream sister".

A flower called pheasant's eye (adonis vernalis, fukujuso, in Finnish kevätruusuleinikki) is the central image of the forbidden love. They exchange rings. "Keep two flowers as a souvenir". The woman who stays behind gives her private diary to the newly married woman on her way to Manchuria. "All my feelings are there". She feels the scent of the flower in the garland with pheasant's eyes.

There are inspired moments in the visual storytelling. The subjective camera introducing the community from the viewpoint of the councellor riding his bicycle. The romantic night with paper lanterns. The emphasis on subjective camera, the surprising framing solutions (only feet seen).

There is true tenderness in the love story between the women, and an original sense of humour in the scene of posing for the camera by the stream.

A nice print based on a source with occasional marks of damage (water or nitrate). The benshi intervened in the film very strongly.

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