Sunday, June 26, 2016

Karumen kokyo ni kaeru / Carmen Comes Home (2012 digital restoration by Shochiku)

Hideko Takamine in Carmen Comes Home

カルメン故郷に帰る / Carmen torna a casa. JP 1951. D+SC+story: Keisuke Kinoshita. Cinematography: Hiroshi Kusuda. ED: Yoshi Sugihara. AD: Motoji Kojima. M: Chuji Kinoshita, Toshiro Mayuzumi. C: Hideko Takamine (Okin Aoyama / Lily Carmen), Shuji Sano (Haruo Taguchi, il compositore cieco), Kuniko Igawa (Mitsuko Taguchi, la moglie di Haruo), Chishu Ryu (il preside) Keiji Sada (Mr. Ogawa, il giovane insegnante), Toshiko Kobayashi (Maya Akemi, amica di Okin), Takeshi Sakamoto (Shoichi Aoyama, il padre di Okin). PC: Shochiku. [The film was not released in Finland]. DCP. Col. 86 min
    Music selections (show songs): "My Sweet Home", "A Modern City Girl", "I Love You", "New Look Skirt", "What A Night In Monte Carlo"
    Music selections (villagers): songs sung and/or played by the blind organist, schoolchildren, and Chishu Ryu
    Music selections (Schubert): "Forelle", "Heidenröslein", "Lindenbaum", "Ständchen", "Ave Maria", and other tunes.
    Music selections (other): "Auld Lang Syne"
    2012 digital restoration by Shochiku
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Richness and Harmony. Colour Film in Japan (part two)
    Introduce Alexander Jacoby, Johan Nordström and Hisashi Okajima
    English subtitles on DCP, e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 26 June 2016

Maya (Toshiko Kobayashi) and Carmen (Hideko Takamine) in Carmen Comes Home

Alexander Jacoby, Johan Nordström (Bologna catalog): "Kinoshita’s first colour film was also Japan’s first full-length feature in colour utilizing domestic colour film stock and shot in the indigenous Fujicolor process. Hideko Takamine stars as a stripper who returns from Tokyo to her hometown in rural Nagano Prefecture. The mountain setting of the film was dictated by practical requirements, since the colour process was judged likely to produce a better image quality in natural light, and certainly the exquisite mountain landscapes are one of the film’s highlights."

"Ironically, outside major cities few Japanese actually saw the film in colour at its premiere; the process of creating a print for screening was so expensive and time-consuming that only a few colour prints were struck, and at first it was shown in colour only in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kyoto. Most rural cinemas screened a black and white version shot simultaneously. Accordingly, scenes were first shot in Fujicolor, and thereafter repeated and shot in black and white. Brian Carr writes, “This may also have necessitated the constant re-application of makeup, as early Fujicolor stock is said to have required actors to wear reddish make-up in order for their skin tones to register naturally on film, and red tones would surely have played havoc with black-and-white filming. Because Maya and Carmen were prone to showing skin, [Toshiko] Kobayashi and [Hideko] Takamine had to apply this pore-clogging greasepaint not only to their faces but also to their entire bodies for certain scenes. As the latter wrote: ‘At one point, I really thought that this film would kill me’”. In addition to revealing an unexpected comic talent on Takamine’s part, the film also contains a rather touching performance from Takeshi Sakamoto, ‘Kihachi’ from Ozu’s late silent period, as Carmen’s father."
– Alexander Jacoby, Johan Nordström

AA: A comedy, a musical, a pioneering Fujicolor film, a contemporary film about the Japanese countryside after WWII.

Watching Carmen Comes Home I was thinking about contemporary 20th Century-Fox musicals with June Haver, Soviet kolkhoz musicals by Pyriev and Alexandrov, and the great popular Indian films with their ubiquitous song and dance numbers. But I was also thinking about my earliest childhood memories from the countryside in Pohjanmaa in the 1950s. In my memories of childhood people were always working and often singing.

It is the period of reconstruction and culture shock in Japan. Carmen comes back to the mountains to visit her childhood home again, bringing with her her friend Maya. They are strippers from Tokyo, and they keep defining themselves as artists. Which they may well be. We remember how André Bazin admired the strip-tease artists of Paris. Carmen and Maya's clothes and make-up are in jarring contrast to the harmonious pastoral colour world of the mountains - juicy material for the first Fujicolor movie.

The legacy of the devastating war is embodied in the character of the blind composer who has lost his eyesight on the battlefield. His wife now has to work for both. The composer has also fallen into debt and lost his organ to Maruju the transportation magnate who is also the conductor of the village band.

There is an optimistic feeling about the future. The opening credit sequence is based on children's drawings. Children's songs, plays, and sport contests are prominent.

A first central sequence is the village festival where Carmen and Maya for the first time attract everyone's attention although they are only spectators. They then decide to mount a show of their own - an all-out strip-tease act which will end without a stitch on. The strip-tease aspect of the movie is directed by Keisuke Kinoshita so discreetly that we do not get to see anything.

Hideko Takamine had already a distinguished career in films by Mizoguchi, Naruse, Kurosawa, and Ozu, among others, before starring in Carmen Comes Home. She was about to become a key actress for Kinoshita and also for Mikio Naruse, especially in his cycle of Fumiko Hayashi films. She was truly versatile, as her role as Carmen proves. She is a brunette but her character has an affinity with the "dumb blonde stereotype" of American cinema.

Carmen's father (Takeshi Sakamoto) is ashamed of his daughter, but even more importantly, he feels pity for her. "Livestock can go around naked", not people. "She got kicked by a cow. Seems it made her head all funny", is the father's assessment of his daughter.

We witness the hard work of the villagers on the mountains. The goofy presence of Carmen and Maya is in colourful contrast to it all. Maybe their act is art after all. It is a counter-image to the daily work. It is a reminder of another way of life. "La beauté est la promesse de bonheur" (Stendhal).

There is a happy ending. The showgirls leave the revenue from their show to the father who donates the sum to the headmaster of the school. Maruju returns the organ to the blind composer who finally gets to perform his paean to the village which the girls' appearance had interrupted. Carmen and Maya embark on a train back to Tokyo.

Carmen Comes Home is a light entertainment film with an undercurrent of gravity and a sense of the stamina for reconstruction after a period of devastation.

The digital restoration conveys the bright colour shock impact of the movie very well.

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