内田吐梦晚期主力拍摄[[东映]]映画的大型时代剧电影系列， 如《[[大菩萨岭]]》三集、《[[宫本武藏]]》五集， 以及毕生巨作《[[饥饿海峡]]》。
The incident is extremely well staged, with imaginative use of offscreen sound: a technique that Uchida used more than once to convey a sense of a wider society in complement to the specific preoccupations of the onscreen characters. A Hole of My Own Making, Uchida’s other 1955 film with a contemporary setting, is similarly creative in its use of sound; the bleak drama of conflict within a family is underscored by the repeated noise of construction work, or the scream of American jets overhead. In fact, the assertions of one character that Japan has now become an American colony are among the film’s weaker aspects: there is too little to justify them in a work which remains, primarily, a study of destructive emotions. The motif of construction work is a metaphor for the decline of Japanese traditions as focused through the disintegration of one family. With the father dead and the son bedridden, authority in the family is divided between the two women, daughter Tamiko and her stepmother, who, as so often with Uchida’s protagonists, are locked together in irreconcilable and almost inexplicable hatred. The mechanics of the relationship are opaque; Uchida offers too little psychological background to make them immediately comprehensible. Tamiko’s jealousy of her stepmother and of her relationships with Tamiko’s own suitors hints at Freudian motives: we may suspect that she hates her stepmother for taking possession of her father. More generally, Tamiko’s paranoia and suspicion are a response to her powerlessness, as a woman, within the structures of Japanese society. Marriage seems the only route to financial security, but she does not really desire it. The film’s limitation is its failure to suggest any positive option for its heroine; in consequence, it ultimately comes close to the nihilism of which Uchida is sometimes accused. Yet Tamiko makes her own decisions, and as the English-language title suggests, she carves out her own prison. In the last scene, with her brother dead, her lovers gone and her stepmother banished, she seems the exemplar of Uchida’s self-destructive protagonists.
Uchida’s other major ’50s film with a contemporary setting was The Outsiders (a descriptive but inaccurate translation – the Japanese means “Festival of Lakes and Forests”), which tackled the controversial topic of discrimination against the country’s racial minorities. The focus is on the Ainu, indigenous peoples of Hokkaido. Of all Uchida’s films, it is this which most resembles the work of Anthony Mann, both in its muscular action scenes and in its expressive use of landscape. Intriguing comparisons could be made between The Outsiders and the slightly earlier pro-Indian cycle of Hollywood Westerns spearheaded by Mann’s own Devil’s Doorway (1950), and developed most famously by Delmer Daves in Broken Arrow (1950) and White Feather (Robert Webb, 1955; produced by Daves). Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, functions in film as the nation’s Wild West; pre-war films (for example, The Reclaimed Land of Bears [Shigeyoshi Suzuki, 1932]) stressed the heroism of the pioneers, and the Ainu, when they appeared, were presented as destructive savages (see the climax of the much-remade Futari Shizuka [Gengo Obora, 1922]). The Outsiders belatedly takes a sympathetic view of Ainu culture and supports their claims to equality. The pro-Indian cycle of Westerns was inhibited by Hays Code prohibitions of miscegenation, which dictated a tragic ending for the interracial romance in Broken Arrow; miscegenation is the subject of The Outsiders, which boldly confronts taboos relating to Japanese assumptions of racial purity. The militant hero, Ichitaro, challenges the owner of a fishing concern to admit his own Ainu heritage and retract his hypocritical refusal to employ Ainu. But a later revelation proves that Ichitaro himself is not pure-blood Ainu, but mixed-race. The film’s theme is the impossibility of sustaining the Ainu as a race apart, and thus the inevitability of miscegenation. In the last scene, after Ichitaro’s disappearance, the Japanese heroine is left carrying his child; that child may uphold Ainu heritage, but he is only quarter Ainu by blood. (That this child is conceived through rape is admittedly something of a lapse in taste; Uchida’s sexual politics are not the most progressive feature of his work). Less than 50 years after the film’s production, it appears prophetic: only a few hundred pure-blood Ainu remain; the customs and festivals that Uchida portrays are now preserved largely for tourists; and the majority of Ainu have integrated into Japanese society.
Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji
These forays into contemporary drama rank among Uchida’s most distinguished post-war films, but he was most highly honoured in Japan for the period films which formed the bulk of his later output. In these films, he consistently raised generic expectations only to subvert them. Donald Richie has described his first film on returning to Japan, Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji (1955), as “a ‘real’ samurai film with pre-war motivations (loyalty to the master)”, and indeed the film reveals the influence of the great pioneer director of samurai films, Daisuke Ito, who assisted the film’s production (8). If anything, though, the spirit of the film is closer to that of the pre-war master of comic jidai-geki, Mansaku Itami, partly in its detail of characterisation, partly in its repeated delaying of generically anticipated swordplay. Also reminiscent of Itami is the focus on unglamorous characters: here, the drama centres on the servants, while the master, Kojuro, is a fool and drunkard. The comic device of a servant cleverer than his master is not uncommon, but here it is used to call into question the hierarchical structures of Japanese society. As the film proceeds, Kojuro’s encounters with the common people and his perception of social injustice, lead him to challenge his own values. The climax of the film is tragic: Kojuro is murdered by a group of samurai who mock him for inviting his servant, Gonpachi, to drink with him at the same table. Gonpachi is obliged to kill them in turn. In doing so, he discharges his feudal duties while challenging feudal hierarchies. The irony, however, is subdued: the abiding sense is one of tragic waste, for which the imagery of the final battle, fought in the courtyard of an inn where sake leaches to the ground from barrels breached by spearpoints, seems the perfect symbol.
Uchida’s later period films were also critical of feudal strictures. The Horse Boy (1957) is a small masterpiece tracing the events following from the birth of an illegitimate child to a lady of the court; when she is forgiven and promoted to be wet nurse to a newborn princess, she is forced to give her own child up for adoption. Again Uchida’s target is the inflexible class system, inflected through a study of the disintegration of a family. Here, unlike in A Hole of My Own Making, all the pressures come from outside. The film is difficult to analyse: its impact depends on the excellence of the performances, and especially the intensity of child star Motoyuki Uehara’s responses to his experiences. Once again there’s very little swordplay, though the brief climactic scuffle is superbly realised in a single, long travelling shot. The real climax, however, is an emotional one: the suicide of the father in restitution for the theft by his son of a dagger, intended as a wedding gift for the princess’ marriage. Uchida plots a savage indictment of values which give symbolic objects more value than human life, and finds a positive alternative to the feudal outlook in the humane relationship which develops between the adopted boy, his surrogate mother, and the man who does not yet know to be his real father. These scenes, set in a country town, are directed with a vitality and wit that contrasts with the oppressive formality of the scenes at court.
By the 1960s Uchida’s period films were less successful overall, though there are none which fail to contain brilliant moments. The Drunken Spearman (1960), in particular, has a magnificently subversive first half. A hot-headed young samurai, Kurodo, threatens to commit public seppuku in response to the humiliation meted out to his family by the Shogun. Again Uchida shows how feudal obligations overwhelm family affections: the hero’s elder brother at first instructs him to complete the suicide, then tells him to obey the shogun’s messengers when they forbid his death, then, after the shogun’s own death, instructs him to commit suicide after all – each as honour demands. Subversively, Kurodo rejects his obligations and retires to the countryside with his wife.
The Drunken Spearman
But the film’s satire is aimed not only at the dehumanising ideology of another era; it is also a critique of its own audience. The hero’s decision to commit seppuku is widely publicised, and a substantial crowd gather to watch; Kurodo is offended by the party atmosphere, “as if,” he says, “they’d only come to look at the autumn leaves.” Uchida slyly satirises the chambara audience, who go to the cinema for the cheap thrills of dramatised violence and bloodshed, and poses the perennial question of whether the portrayal of violence on screen desensitises its audiences to violence in life. In the light of this, alas, the film’s ending seems dishonest; the climactic bloodbath may be ironic in intention, but it feels as though Uchida is finally yielding to audience expectations and commercial pressures. The visual rhetoric overpowers any sense of tragedy: in this case, Uchida’s flair for action undermines his message.
Uchida’s other period film of 1960, Killing in Yoshiwara, though one of his best known works in the West (it led David Shipman to declare him “the equal of Mizoguchi and Kinugasa”), is ultimately one of his most conventional (9). The tragedy of a wealthy silk merchant exploited by a heartless whore, it dovetails his fall and her rise; despite the elegance of the dramatic construction, the emotional effect is finally a little monotonous. The violent climax is, once again, directed with breathtaking assurance; it is, in fact, perhaps the single most brilliant scene in Uchida’s oeuvre. Even so, it lacks the gravity of similarly explosive endings in Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji, The Outsiders and The Horse Boy. So academically perfect is the narrative development that the bloodshed, when it comes, seems less tragic than perversely satisfying.
In contrast to the rather academic classicism of this film, it’s worth stressing that there is a modernist (even post-modernist) dimension to Uchida’s art. His plots were often derived from kabuki and bunraku; while some of these adaptations, like Killing in Yoshiwara, were as naturalistic as Mizoguchi’s Crucified Lovers (1955), others point up their own artifice. Chikamatsu’s Love in Osaka (1959) places Chikamatsu, the author of the original play, as a character in the drama. Relatively classical at first, the film grows increasingly self-conscious as it proceeds. Chikamatsu, initially an observer taking inspiration for his writing from the events he views, begins eventually to intervene in events, saving the heroine from suicide, substituting a gentler ending for the tragedy which seems likely. The last scene is not performed by actors at all; instead, Chikamatsu watches bunraku puppets play out his climax on stage.
The Mad Fox
Fascinating in summary, Chikamatsu’s Love in Osaka is not ultimately as successful as its premise might suggest, if only because the realisation of certain scenes is slightly pedestrian. The Mad Fox , on the other hand, is a notably complete success as an avant-garde retelling of a Heian-era folk tale. Again some scenes are shot on theatrical backdrops; others unfold against painted sets reminiscent in style and colour of medieval screen paintings. The film is a fable of wish fulfilment: the hero loses his wife in a courtly plot, is driven mad by grief, and then meets her double – actually a fox that can take human form. Dispensing with naturalism completely, Uchida uses his sets and colour schemes in expressionist fashion to convey the shifting states of mind of his protagonist. The film’s wild and fabulous artifice makes Kobayashi’s Kwaidan (1964) seem a lot less original by comparison.
In general, the last years of Uchida’s career represented a certain falling-off in quality. He devoted much time to the five-part serial, Miyamoto Musashi, remade a past success along contemporary lines in his mediocre yakuza film, Hishakaku and Kiratsune (1968), and died halfway through the making of his last film, Swords of Doom (1971). It may be assumed that the sort of film with which Uchida was associated was becoming old-fashioned, and that by the mid ’60s it would be difficult to work in such a manner with distinction. Yet Straits of Hunger is a definite attempt on his part to essay the modernist style and subject matter then being mined by such as Imamura (whose work in my opinion it surpasses). By this time Uchida worked invariably in colour; for this film only, the grainy look of ’60s black and white ‘Scope was aped and intensified by the decision to shoot on 16mm before blowing up to 35. The film is the story of a criminal, Inukai, who escapes justice after a theft which caused the destruction of a Hokkaido town. A brief encounter with a prostitute leads her to become romantically obsessed with him; years later, seeing his photograph in the newspaper, she goes to look for him, only to be killed by him when she threatens to betray his now hidden past. The narrative construction is masterly. The film is divided into three segments, each of different timbre: the first, an action-packed account of Inukai’s flight; the second, a bleak and realistic study of the life in Tokyo of the lovelorn prostitute; the third, an account of the psychological duel between cop and criminal. The drama moves, with geographical symmetry, from the strait dividing Hokkaido from Japan’s main island of Honshu, through northern Honshu to Tokyo, then northward again to conclude at the strait. The symmetry gives the film a sense of inevitability, as the past exerts a controlling influence on the present.
Described by Donald Richie as a “working out of karma”, it’s also something of a reworking of such novels as Crime and Punishment and Les Misérables in its study of a man pursued by an obsessive cop and haunted by guilt from the past (10). As a novelistic drama, the film actually doesn’t quite work; where a novelist could dramatise and explain the criminal’s state of mind, the camera leaves a little too much to the viewer’s imagination, with the result that Inukai’s final suicide seems insufficiently motivated. Yet, as a study of various elements of post-war Japanese society, the film is remarkable. The struggle for material survival, the gradually growing wealth of the nation, the situation of women, the banning of prostitution are all concerns, and the film weaves a remarkable tapestry of the development of Japan in the post-war era. It could be argued, indeed, that the war is the repressed subject of the film: it opens in the late 1940s with a violent cataclysm, which might seem to stand in for the war; moreover, Inukai’s whereabouts and occupation in the war years are left deliberately uncertain. The criminal who conceals his past to go straight and achieve success as a businessman might be interpreted as a personification of his country, achieving material success after military defeat. May we infer that war guilt is the repressed which returns to destroy the protagonist?
Such an interpretation would not be implausible, as Uchida’s cinema had often imbued personal drama with political resonances. His best work is both straightforward and subtle, combining the visceral impact of explosively staged action scenes with underlying complexities of attitude and implication. Neither the loss of much of his early work, nor the decline of his last years, should blind us to the general quality of his output in the decade 1955–65. So far, only a small proportion of his films have been made available outside Japan, and that only in a handful of venues. But Uchida remains a minor master, and it is time that Western audiences were given the opportunity to see for themselves.
- [An Anorexic’s Case Against Tomu Uchida]
- [Blood Spear, Mt Fuji: Uchida Tomu’s Conflicted Comeback From Manchuria]
- [The Outsiders]
- [Rediscovering the Work of Uchida Tomu]
- [Tomu Uchida at Tokyo FILMeX 2004]