Friday, December 07, 2018

Chibusa yo eien nare / The Eternal Breasts

The Eternal Breasts. Tanka poet Fumiko Shimojō (Yumeji Tsukioka) and her best friend Kinuko (Yōko Sugi).

The Eternal Breasts. The journalist Akira Ōtsuki (Ryōji Hayama) and Fumiko. The poet experiences the first and last love of her life on her deathbed.

乳房よ永遠なれ / Pechos eternos / Maternité éternelle / Груди навсегда
    JP 1955. PC: Nikkatsu. P: Hideo Koi. D: Kinuyo Tanaka. SC: Sumie Tanaka. Cin: Kumenobu Fujioka. PD: Kimihiko Nakamura. M: Takanobu Saito. S: Masakazu Kamiya.
    C: Yumeji Tsukioka (Fumiko Shimojo), Ryoji Hayama (Akira Otsuki), Junkichi Orimoto (Shigeru Anzai), Hiroko Kawasaki (Tatsuko), Shiro Osaka (Yoshio), Toru Abe (Yamagami), Masayuki Mori (Mori), Yoko Sugi (Kinuko), Kinuyo Tanaka (neighbour's wife), Choko Iida (Hide), Bokuzen Hidari (Hide's husband), Yoshiko Tsubouchi (Ms. Shirakawa).
    Premiere: 23 Nov 1955.
    35 mm print with English subtitles by Tadashi Shishedo from Japan Foundation.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Woman in the World of Cinema), 7 Dec 2018.

I see the hills
looking like the breasts I have lost
In winter, let them be decorated
by withered flowers
– Fumiko Nakajo

I have a past
to be opened by a surgical knife
My fetuses are
kicking each other in darkness

– Fumiko Nakajo

With no hesitation on her part,
your wife's tears 
proudly announce to all
the depths of her misery.
– Fumiko Nakajo

Seeing her publicly
crying over his remains,

socially acceptable simply because she is his wife,
I can only envy her social status.
– Fumiko Nakajo

The Eternal Breasts is based on the life of the tanka poet Fumiko Nakajo (1922–1954), in the film called Fumiko Tsujioka and interpreted with refined passion by Yumeji Tsukioka.

For the first time in Finland a film directed by Kinuyo Tanaka was screened. Tanaka, one of the greatest film stars in Japan (from the 1920s until the 1970s), was also a talented film director.

Tanaka was the heroine of Kenji Mizoguchi's pioneering series of pre-feminist films in the 1940s and the 1950s. The Victory of Women (1946) was about a female lawyer, The Love of Actress Sumako (1947) about a pioneer of modern theater, and My Love Has Been Burning (1949) about Japan's first fighter for women's rights. It is disappointing to read that Mizoguchi not only failed to encourage Tanaka as a director but actually tried to prevent her.

Fumiko Tsujioka is languishing in marriage hell, albeit with two lovely children. Divorce does not make life easier. Poetry is Fumiko's refuge, oasis and rescue. Fumiko participates in a tanka circle, and thanks to its recommendations her poems get published nationwide.

She is frankly and daringly autobiographical in her poetry, discussing her marriage crisis and the catastrophe of breast cancer.

This tale of a poet is frankly realistic in its account of mastectomy and its after-effects. In the shadow of death Fumiko meets a sensation-seeking journalist. The encounter transforms into an unexpectedly profound love affair, spiritual and carnal.

Kinuyo Tanaka's touch as a director is matter-of-fact in this character-driven film. Fumiko's husband is disappointing but the aspiring poet meets also supportive men (Mori played by Masayuki Mori), and the final encounter with the journalist is transformative.

Tanaka conveys a warm and tender family feeling, and her account of mortal illness and death is unflinching. Tanaka does not wallow in morbid detail, but her sober look brings dignity to the tragedy.

The film is set in Hokkaido. There is a pastoral approach to the account of the life in the countryside in this tale alternating between the country and the city. The four seasons are relevant to the film, fittingly for a film about tanka / waka poetry.

The main instrument in the score is the accordeon played with a wistful sound.

A very nice print from Japan Foundation.


Senses of Cinema
Kinuyo Tanaka’s The Eternal Breasts (1955)
Gwendolyn Audrey Foster
March 2018
Cinémathèque Annotations on Film
Issue 86

Based on the life story of tanka poet Fumiko Nakajo (1922–1954), Kinuyo Tanaka’s Chibusa yo eien nare (The Eternal Breasts, 1955) is a remarkably feminist film in many respects. The film’s director, Kinuyo Tanaka, was a major Japanese star from the late 1920s onwards, breaking through to leading lady status in Yasujirō Ozu’s Daigaku wa detakeredo (I Graduated, but…, 1929), and appeared in Japan’s first sound film, Heinosuke Gosho’s Madamu to nyōbō (The Neighbor’s Wife and Mine, 1931). By the late 1930s, Tanaka was so popular that her name was often used as part of the film title, in such films as Gosho’s Joi Kinuyo sensei (Doctor Kinuyo, 1937) and Hiromasa Nomura’s Kinuyo no hatsukoi (Kinuyo’s First Love, 1940).

By the 1940s, Tanaka began appearing in more challenging films, such as Kenji Mizoguchi’s Naniwa Onna (A Woman of Osaka, 1940). Tanaka soon realised that she wanted more than anything else to direct, but it was nearly impossible for a woman to direct at this time in Japan. Tatsuko Sakane (1904-1975), Japan’s first female director, cut her hair and dressed as a male in order to fit into the male-dominated film industry. Sakane was able to complete only one feature film for which she is credited, Hatsu Sugata (New Clothing, 1936). Unable to secure financing for features, Sakane directed a series of documentaries made in Manchuria. She later worked as a script clerk, and as an editor on several of Mizoguchi’s films, but he did little to help her advance as a film director.

Tanaka, meanwhile, appeared as an actor in many of Mizoguchi’s most accomplished films – including Saikaku ichidai onna (The Life of Oharu, 1952), Ugetsu monogatari (Ugetsu, 1953) and Sanshō dayū (Sansho the Bailiff, 1954) – but, much to her shock, when she applied to the Directors Guild of Japan to direct a film of her own, Mizoguchi actively campaigned against her nomination, blocking her on the grounds that a woman had no place as a film director. Like Sakane, however, Tanaka was highly driven and fiercely determined, and, despite industry sexism, in 1953 she directed the feature film Koibumi (Love Letter), a popular romance that screened at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival. This was followed by Tsuki wa noborinu (The Moon Has Risen, 1955), and then Tanaka’s most famous and controversial film, The Eternal Breasts.

 In the film, Fumiko Shimojō (Yumeji Tsukioka), a thinly disguised version of Nakajo, is unhappily married, with two young children, to a lazy, adulterous husband, who neglects her and does nothing to help her career as an aspiring poet. Just as she is beginning to develop as a writer and has joined a poet’s circle, she is diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoes a double mastectomy. After the operation, which is shown in remarkably clinical detail, Fumiko pursues her work in poetry with a vengeance, sheds her hair and the ways of a dutiful wife, and writes poetry that is critical of patriarchal society. She is transformed by the experience of the operation, especially in her new-found sexuality and self-confidence as a poet.

Fumiko’s poems are published in the Toyko Daily News and attract favourable attention, as well as the admiration of a young reporter, Akira Ōtsuki (Ryōji Hayama). Fumiko and Akira soon strike up a relationship, based at first on sheer exploitation – her plight with cancer makes for sensational newspaper copy – but gradually Akira becomes romantically and sexually involved with Fumiko, and he becomes an advocate for her poetry. Fumiko’s illness progresses rapidly, and even as her work as a poet blossoms, her body begins to lose the fight against the disease. Instead of quietly passing away, she takes charge of her life and her legacy as a poet, leaving her children (and the viewer) a final poem to remember her after her death.

The visual style of The Eternal Breasts is decidedly feminist and auteurist. While there are touches of Ozu’s rigorous formal style – especially towards the beginning of the film, when Fumiko is trapped in a disastrous traditional marriage – as Fumiko becomes more assertive and independent, so does the camerawork of the film. Tanaka’s fluid camera takes on the subjective point of view of the poet, as she becomes more and more daring and nonconforming in her manner of living. Facing death, she no longer attempts to be likeable or submissive. Her behaviour often shocks others, particularly when she sexually conquers the newspaper reporter, finding romance for the first time in her life.

The Eternal Breasts is breathtaking in its honest portrayal of the female body – not only during the mastectomy sequence, but also later in the film when Fumiko defiantly displays her scarred chest to a female friend, Kinuko (Yōko Sugi). Though the camera angle blocks our view, we can see from Kinuko’s expression that she is profoundly shaken by what she sees. Clearly, Tanaka was ahead of her time.

During her career, Tanaka acted in over 180 films – the last being Yasuzō Masumura’s Daichi no komoriuta (Lullaby of The Earth, 1976) – and directed a total of six feature films, completing her last film as director, Ogin-sama (Love Under the Crucifix), in 1962. Tanaka served as a goodwill ambassador shortly after World War II, and famously met with Bette Davis, who told Tanaka that she referred to herself as “the Kinuyo Tanaka of America”. In newsreels of the era, Davis accepts a gift of a kimono from Tanaka, a gesture designed to ameliorate the ill will between the United States and Japan after the war.

In Japan, Tanaka was criticised by some for seemingly “selling out” to Hollywood, but she continued to work almost until her death. Tanaka is the subject of a posthumous film biography, Kon Ichikawa’s Eiga joyū (Actress, 1987), a frank depiction of her work with Mizoguchi and Gosho and her marginalisation as a female director within the hierarchy of 20th century Japanese cinema.

Ultimately, The Eternal Breasts stands out as a surprisingly feminist film made in a culture dominated by men, both within and outside of the Japanese film industry. Like Ida Lupino, another actor-turned-director who tackled controversial subjects in her independent films of the postwar era, Tanaka proved herself as an independent director with a strong feminist voice. Tanaka’s six films as a director stand as a testament to her determination to tell stories that reflect female experiences and desires from an authentic female point of view.

Chibusa yo eien nare (The Eternal Breasts, 1955 Japan 106 minutes)

Prod Co: Nikkatsu Prod: Hideo Koi Dir: Kinuyo Tanaka Scr: Sumie Tanaka Phot: Kumenobu Fujioka Prod Des: Kimihiko Nakamura Mus: Takanobu Saitō

Cast: Yumeji Tsukioka, Ryōji Hayama, Junkichi Orimoto, Hiroko Kawasaki, Shirō Ōsaka, Tōru Abe, Masayuki Mori, Yōko Sugi

No comments: