by Andrea Grunert

When I first watched Sekigahara (Japan, 2017), I was intrigued by its great formal beauty, complex structure and the many outstanding performances. Harada Masato’s film brings to life a crucial moment in Japanese history; and its main protagonists become real human beings of flesh and blood. The battle that took place on 21 October 1600 near the village of Sekigahara on the western edge of Mino province (1) was the crucial event in a campaign that had started in July of that year (2). Its outcome changed the course of Japan’s history, achieving unification and marking the beginning of about 250 years of Tokugawa rule – 250 years of peace based on a complex bureaucratic system and a strict military regime. The battle was a confrontation between two rivals for supremacy in Japan – Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), played in the film by Yakusho Kōji, and Ishida Mitsunari (1563-1600), played by Okada Jun’ichi. At that point in history, Ieyasu was the richest and most influential daimyō (3) in Japan. He was the lord of the eight provinces of the Kantō region in the east of the country and one of the five regents (tairō) for five-year-old Hideyori, the son and designated successor of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), the general who is regarded as the second unifier of Japan following more than hundred years of civil war (4). Mitsunari was one of the members of the go-bugyō, the council of five magistrates in Hideyoshi’s government, and he defended the young heir’s interests during the Sekigahara campaign.

Narrative complexity meets aesthetic beauty
Adapting for the screen Shiba Ryōtarō’s novel Sekigahara, published in 1966 (5), was clearly a tremendous challenge; and the film reduces the several hundred characters in the three-volume epic to around 50. It depicts the battle as the culmination of a complex series of events that are traced back over several years. Harada’s account of some of these precursors to the final confrontation near Sekigahara reveals the desire for power and revenge, the shifting alliances and the hatred at the core of the conflict.
The focus in the film is on Mitsunari, defeated in the battle, who had previously been belittled for a long time as a mere bureaucrat. Anthony J. Bryant describes Mitsunari as an “inveterate schemer” (6), which is also how a number of films had presented him, including Tanaka Kinuyo’s Ogin-sama (Love under the Crucifix, 1962) and Kumai Kei’s Ogin-sama (Love and Faith, 1978), both adapted from Kon Tōkō’s novel Ogin-sama (7), and Teshigahara Hiroshi’s Rikyū (Japan, 1989), based on the novel Hideyoshi to Rikyū (8) by Nogami Yaeko. In all three films, Mitsunari is depicted as a villainous and treacherous character (9), but this is a view that Harada disagrees with.
After a first brief sequence set on the plain near Sekigahara on the eve of the battle, a series of flashbacks outlines the political context and Mitsunari’s role as Hideyoshi’s confidant. The flashbacks start in 1573, when Hideyoshi, who was to become the most powerful man in Japan a few years later (10), meets Mitsunari for the first time. According to a famous legend, 13-year-old Ishida Mitsunari – then called Sakichi – served tea to the thirsty general, who was taking a rest in a temple near Nagahama Castle in Ōmi province (11). Mitsunari’s origins are obscure, but a remark in the film suggests that he was a peasant. Hideyoshi takes a liking to the boy – perhaps because he reminds him of his own humble background. The following scenes refer to various events showing Mitsunari as a grown man who has distinguished himself in the service of Hideyoshi and has become one of his most trusted collaborators. After Hideyoshi’s death, he kept his position in the council of the bugyō, but real power was exercised by the five regents, the most important of whom was Ieyasu.
The series of flashbacks reaches its narrative climax in 1595 with the execution on the Sanjō riverbank in Kyoto of the wives, concubines and children of Hideyoshi’s adopted son Hidetsugu, who has been accused of treason. This key scene, in which Mitsunari tries in vain to save the life of Princess Koma (11), brings together several of the film’s main characters, namely the samurai Shima Sakon (Hira Takehiro), the daimyō Kobayakawa Hideaki (Higashide Masahirō), Ōtani Yoshitsugu (Ōba Yasumasa), and the ninja Hatsume (Arimura Kasumi), a fictitious figure (12). The sequence on the riverbank reveals Mitsunari’s compassionate nature and at the same time his ultimate powerlessness against the wishes of his benefactor Hideyoshi, thus challenging the rumours that Hidetsugu’s downfall was the result of one of Mitsunari’s schemes. It also provides some clues to the complex relationships between the five characters. The young Kobayakawa Hideaki accuses Mitsunari of having failed to save Koma and the other women. Shima Sakon says that the killing of women and children will bring disgrace on Mitsunari, Hideyoshi’s loyal collaborator Sakon is disgusted by Hideyoshi’s perfidy but Mitsunari nevertheless succeeds in persuading Sakon to serve him (i.e. Mitsunari) despite his alliance with Hideyoshi. And he also saves the life of Hatsume, the ninja woman who becomes his faithful servant.
The sequence on the riverbank combines distance shots and swift action with close-ups and medium close-ups that reveal Mitsunari’s inner torment, his hectic movements emphasizing his inner turmoil. Not unlike a Noh play, Sekigahara switches between movement and stillness, the emptiness of large rooms contrasts with shots packed with human bodies in the fighting scenes and silence contrasts with the noise of the battle. The symmetry of the Japanese architecture and the choreography of the sophisticated movements in accordance with official etiquette is challenged in the battle scenes and also at other moments in which violence erupts among the constantly brawling samurai. Great attention is paid to detail and to authenticity with regard to architecture, costumes, objects and customs, and this is also true for the portrayal of the main protagonists. In one scene in which Ieyasu leaves his bath half-naked, the camera reveals his enormous belly, recalling that this first Tokugawa shogun is generally described as a man with a paunch. The scene in which an excited Ieyasu observes a battle from the balcony of his quarters while dining is described by several historians and other writers (13). It is also reported that while Ieyasu was studying Kobayakawa Hideaka’s movements during the Battle of Sekigahara, “he chewed nervously on his fingernails” (14), a gesture performed in the film by Yakusho, revealing Ieyasu’s emotional involvement while observing the course of events on the battlefield from his quarters.
Harada’s shots of interiors reveal the complexity behind the apparent simplicity of Japanese architecture, with pillars and paravents fragmenting almost empty spaces. This sophisticated spatial structure is mirrored in the episodic style of the narrative, which shifts between events centring around the two main characters and on the ten or eleven other important figures such as Hatsume and Shima Sakon. A number of shots from the sequence at the beginning of the film reappear, now integrated into the chronology of events in the scenes just before the battle. The battle scenes are magnificently filmed, combining choreographed movements of troops and the chaos of violence and death (15). There are also variations on a single motif: Mitsunari, on the eve of the battle, putting a Jizō statue (16) he finds lying by the roadside back in its place in a small shrine and Ieyasu doing the same thing when he inspects the battlefield after his victory. The execution scene in the first part of the film is also echoed at the end of the film, with Mitsunari on his way to the same execution site on the riverbank.

Ishida Mitsunari
Harada has commented on Shiba Ryōtarō’s approach to Ishida Mitsunari: “The author did a certain justice about recreating Lord Ishida. as a rational, logical person, unlike any other Japanese historical character. His way of thinking is more of contemporary Westerners. and thus, I understand Ishida’s character quite well.” (17) The film challenges widespread view of Mitsunari as an arch-schemer, presenting the bugyō as a man courageous enough to challenge Hideyoshi, who is eager to conquer China. However, when asked why he is “loyal to that tyrant”, he simply replies: “That tyrant made me.”
Emphasizing Mitsunari’s modesty and seriousness, the sombre colours of his kimono and hakama – dark blue and black – contrast with Hideyoshi’s gold-coloured attire and Ieyasu’s less flamboyant clothes with their elaborate design but dominated by shades of yellow, green, beige and brown. Harada depicts Mitsunari as an idealist whose credo “dai ichi, dai man, dai kichi” (roughly translated as “one for all, all for one, everyone happy”) is written on his family crest and who declares: “I want to change the unjust world.” Recalling that Mitsunari once sent back a hostage (18), Maeda Toshiie (19) comments: “You go all the way for what you care. That is also your weakness. You assume that the object of your affection will reciprocate. You may be too pure to become a general of generals”.
However, as the simplicity of his costumes suggests, Mitsunari is presented as an austere figure not interested in the brawling of the other Toyotomi allies – his stern attitude being perhaps a further aspect of his character which distinguishes him from the other daimyō. As Shima Sakon puts it: “You are hard on your allies and soft on your enemies.” Mitsunari’s moral standards and intransigent nature create hostility towards him as Sakon realizes when he reminds him of an incident with Ieyasu, a man Mitsunari mistrusts. When Ieyasu picked up a stick that Mitsunari had dropped and gave it back to him, Mitsunari failed to make even the simplest gesture of acknowledgement. The film suggests that these traits of his personality – his loyalty and moral behaviour close to stubbornness – may have contributed to his defeat at Sekigahara and the defection of over the third of his forces (20). He clings to his battle plan, unable to adapt to new conditions, and right up to the last moment he expects Kobayakawa Hideaki to remain loyal (21). Following historical sources, the film presents the Toyotomi allies as a “disjointed and quarrelsome coalition of rival lords” (22) who pursued their own goals instead of fighting for Hideyoshi’s young heir.
The traditional view of Mitsunari is as a mediocre military leader and magistrate, but Harada sees him as a loyal servant of the Toyotomi family. The focus is on Mitsunari as an altruistic human being rather than on his political achievements. Shima Sakon is depicted as the perfect samurai, who is courageous and selfless, and Mitsunari, critical of himself, says of Sakon: “I retained a samurai who has all the qualities I lack”. Sakon chooses a spectacular death by explosives, killing not only himself and his loyal soldiers but also many of his enemies. It is Shima Sakon who persuades his friend Mitsunari to flee after the battle. In doing so, Mitsunari does not act like the conventional samurai, but far from representing him as a coward, the film implies that he surrenders in order to save the life of the peasant who gave him shelter. Moreover, he stoically endures the humiliations and beatings while he is Ieyasu’s captive, and in the final shots, on his way to the execution site, he is shown as a man who faces death with pride and serenity. He explains to Kobayakawa Hideaki that he decided not to kill himself because he wanted to live a little longer to see what became of the people he cared about. On the way to his execution, he sees Hatsume, whom he believed dead, for one last time. The young woman repeats her master’s credo “Dai ichi…” when he passes by, expressing the hope that Mitsunari’s ideals will survive. Hatsume is one of the people Mitsunari cares about, treating this ninja as a human being and not as a dog, which is how she regards herself. His empathy makes him more understandable for contemporary audiences, but the modernity of his character lies mainly in the way he expresses self-doubt and inner contradictions, and here, Mitsunari’s inner torment is marvellously expressed by Okada’s restrained and sensitive acting.
These characteristics of Mitsunari’s stand out very clearly as they contrast with those of Ieyasu, depicted as an arch-manipulator but also as a pragmatist and a brilliant strategist who has the self-confidence and authority his opponent lacks. Lord Tokugawa is the opposite of the austere Mitsunari and a man who enjoys life – an energetic, pleasure-loving and sensual man played by Yakusho in a most vivid and original way. His Ieyasu is an elemental force, shouting and laughing, and he celebrates a victory by behaving like a football fan in a stadium. He can also behave like a child, when, wearing a hōrō (24) on his back, he cavorts round his room, imitating a galloping and neighing horse. However, when he learns that Mitsunari has left his quarters, he immediately stops his playful activity and returns to his main concern: the quest for power.

Past and present
There is one sequence which breaks with the film’s historical setting, and it shows Shiba Ryōtarō as a child, resting and drinking tea in the same temple in which Mitsunari first met Hideyoshi. From the off, the voice of the adult Shiba explains how close he felt to Mitsunari at that moment. Harada also has an affinity with his main character: “I feel like Ishida Mitsunari is a totally misunderstood character, like how I am misunderstood by some of the Japanese. We fought the same kind of battle, a mental battle against society, and so I sympathize with his character.” (24) Connecting the story of the Battle of Sekigahara and Mitsunari with contemporary Japan, the filmmaker explains his intentions: “Well, actually, most of the Japanese youth, they don’t know what the Battle of Sekigahara was all about. And they certainly have no idea who Ishida Mitsunari was. So, I wanted to do some kind of justice about what Lord Ishida contributed, and what if he won the battle? The Japanese could have been different. Or what if we have a politician with Ishida’s mind? Japan would be much, much better today.” (25) Whatever the answer may be, Harada re-creates a highly significant moment in Japanese history in a most memorable film.

NOTES

(1) Mino, one of the historical provinces, is today part of Gifu Prefecture.

(2) See Anthony J. Bryant, Sekigahara 1600: The Final Struggle for Power, Oxford, Osprey Publishing, 1995.

(3) This term designates Japan’s magnates and lords in a feudal system that existed from the 10th century until 1868.

(4) Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) was the first unifier of Japan. He was succeeded by his general Hideyoshi. Tokugawa Ieyasu completed the process of unification.

(5) The numerous historical novels written by Shiba include books about Hideyoshi (Shinshi Taikōki, 1968) and Ieyasu (Haō no ie, 1973).

(6) Bryant, op. cit., p. 17. However, views on Mitsunari are contradictory. Stephen Turnbull calls him “a fine general in his own right but one who lacked the political skills needed to bind the alliance in a genuine commitment to the cause of Hideyori.” (Tokugawa Ieyasu, Oxford, Osprey Publishing, 2012, p. 17). In recent years, more attention has been given to Mitsunari as the loser of the battle who had apparently often been neglected by both historians and writers of popular novels in Japan.

(7) Published in 1956.

(8) Published in 1962.

(9) Ishida Mitsunari, also known as Ishida Kazushige, was the inspiration for Ishido Kazunari, the arch-villain in James Cavell’s novel Shogun (1975).   

(10) The historical province Ōmi comprises today’s Shiba Prefecture. A monument  commemorating the first meeting between Hideyoshi and young Ishida Mitsunari stands in front of Nagahama train station. 

(11) The 15-year-old Koma was not even officially recognized as Hidetsugu’s concubine when she was executed together with all the members of his family. 

(12) Among the many figures in the film, there are also strong female characters, especially the Iga ninja Hatsume, who wins Mitsunari’s heart, and Shima Sakon’s wife Hanano (Nakagashi Noriko), who runs a frontline hospital near the battlefield. In an interview, Harada explains that the information about Hanano was the result of his research on the battle and its historical background. See “Sekigahara director Harada Masato on filming history through a modern eye”, an interview conducted by Diva Vélez at the New York Asian Film Festival, 15 July 2018. https://screenanarchy.com/2018/07/new-york-asian-2018-interview-sekigahara-director-harada-masato-on-filming-history-through-a-modern.html

(13) Stephen Turnbull, op. cit., p. 40.

(14) Bryant, op. cit, p. 72.

(15) The representation of the battle is inspired by a variety of battle scenes in film history, including a combat scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky (USSR, 1938). Another important reference is to the great battle scene at the end of Kurosawa Akira’s Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai, Japan, 1954). See “Sekigahara director Harada Masato…”, op. cit. The soldiers moving in the background of one shot, framed as mere silhouettes against the horizon, are reminiscent of the first shots in Kurosawa’s masterpiece.

(16) In Japan, a Jizō is a highly venerated bodhisattva – any person who is on the path to enlightenment –  mainly as a protector of the souls of children. There is a link here between the scenes with the jizō statue and the idea of protection that permeates the whole film.

(17) “Sekigahara director Harada Masato…”, op. cit.

(18) At that time, it was common practice among the daimyō in Japan to give hostages as a means of guarantee used to secure treaties or wartime commitments.

(19) Maeda Toshiie (1538-1599) was a daimyō and a member of the go-tairō, the council of regents. In the film he is played by Nishioka Tokuma.

(20) Bryant, op. cit., p. 84.

(21) Lord Kobayakawa, often represented as a mere traitor, is depicted as a more complex character who is forced by Ieyasu’s men to abandon Mitsunari, and at the end of the film he says to Mitsunari, with tears in his eyes,: “I failed to requite your good faith. (…) I succumbed to injustice.”

(22) Bryant, op. cit., p. 84.

(23) A hōrō is a cloak or garment put over a framework (oikago) of wicker (as in the film), bamboo or whalebone which was attached to the back of the armour of a samurai and had a protective function. As Ieyasu explains in the film, the term means “mother’s covering” and is modelled on the placenta.

(24) “Sekigahara tells the forgotten stories of the battle”, an interview with Harada Masato at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival, 16 June 2018, http://nikkeivoice.ca/sekigahara-tells-the-forgotten-stories-of-the-battle/

(25) “Sekigahara director Harada Masato…”, op. cit.

by Andrea Grunert

Ginrei no hate (Snow Trail aka To the End of the Silver Mountain, 1947) is a film rarely shown but one that deserves more attention – not only because of its importance in film history as it marks Mifune Toshirō’s screen debut but also because of some of its dramatic and aesthetic aspects, to which Mifune’s amazing performance makes a significant contribution. It is also the first full-length feature film directed by Taniguchi Senkichi, with whom Mifune continued working, making ten films altogether (1). Like his friend Kurosawa Akira, Taniguchi started working in the Japanese film industry as an assistant of Yamamoto Kajirō, who also became a kind of mentor to the young actor Mifune (2). The script was co-written and allegedly also co-edited by Kurosawa. Ginrei no hate is a thriller revolving around the flight of three bank robbers into a remote mountain region in the Japanese Alps. Nojiri (Shimura Takashi), Eijima (Mifune) and Takasuji (Kosugi Yoshio) become trapped in a snowbound mountain pass. The police are hard on their heels and the elderly Takasuji is killed by an avalanche, but his two accomplices find refuge in a ski lodge run by Harukō, an adolescent girl (Wakayama Setsukō), and her grandfather (Kōdō Kokuten). Taniguchi makes use of the hard-boiled thriller to explore human attitudes and universal values, and the wintry landscape (3), an unusual setting for the genre, takes on a variety of dramatic and symbolic functions. 

The ideal of home

Nojiri is introduced as leader of the gang, someone who does not hesitate to impose his authority with a gun. The sunglasses he wears at the lodge where the robbers stay at the beginning of their flight contribute to the aura of danger that emanates from him. His self-control and authority contrasts with Eijima’s aggressiveness and agitation and with Takasuji’s nervousness and fearfulness. Takasuji’s death early in the film leaves the focus on Nojiri and Eijima. From the very beginning, Eijima is represented as evil, casting angry glances at the waitress who refuses to give him the bottles of sake he requires. At gunpoint he forces the experienced mountaineer Honda (Kōno Akitake) to lead him and Nojiri over the snowy mountain. Honda, a friend of Harukō and her grandfather and a guest at their lodge, saves Eijima’s life during their attempt to climb the mountain. A series of alternate shots show Eijima hanging helplessly on his rope and the exhausted Honda – whose arm is broken – with Eijima shouting furiously: “Hey, stop being lazy. Pull me up!” A little later and despite this rescue, the young bank robber is prepared to leave Honda behind. And suspecting possible betrayal, he secretly kills Harukō’s beloved carrier pigeon. His cold comment when the dead bird is buried by the tearful girl is: “What a waste! It should have been roasted and eaten.”

Unlike the ruthless Eijima, Nojiri is capable of empathy. And unlike Eijima, he cares about their older accomplice Takasuji when the latter is unable to keep up with them as they leave their temporary refuge in a hut. Nojiri is also genuinely saddened by Takasuji’s death whereas Eijima’s only regret is the loss of Takasuji’s share of the booty. Nojiri gives Harukō and her grandfather a helping hand in the lodge whereas Eijima is disrespectful and constantly complains, on one occasion remarking: “Hey, do the guests have to bathe after the family in this house?” It is Nojiri who, at the end of the film, carries the helpless Honda back to the lodge, where the police are already waiting. Nojiri accepts his fate, giving priority to the life of another person over his own freedom. 

The bank robbers’ flight into the forbidding mountain region is depicted as an inner journey for Nojiri whose humanity emerges through his contact with the three friendly people in the ski lodge and its homely atmosphere. Eijima is incapable of change and dies fighting Nojiri, who is trying to protect Honda. Nojiri is deeply affected by the hospitality offered by the people at the lodge and he enjoys the peaceful atmosphere there. This harmony is reflected in the theme music associated with the lodge, written by composer Ifukube Akira. The film starts with a series of very brief shots that include shadowy human silhouettes robbing a bank safe, the police setting out on their hunt for the criminals and a train passing through an empty landscape. Ifukube’s haunting music, anticipating his score for Gojira (Godzilla, 1954, Honda Ishirō), matches at this point the dynamism of the sequence and its inherent violence. Menacing, hammering sounds accompany the departure of Honda, Nojiri and Eijima on their doomed journey over the mountain, and when Eijima dies off-screen, the music rises to a crescendo. A slower and low-register variation of the tender melody associated with the small lodge returns at the end of the film when a shot of the mountains and a close-up of Nojiri, looking at them from the train which is taking him to prison, overlap in a dissolve. Nojiri was part of the violence but has turned from tough guy into responsible human being, the music commenting on his transformation. Music also plays a significant role in the sequence in which Nojiri shares moments of happiness with his hosts and Honda, listening to a record of “My Old Kentucky Home”. For him, the song is the link to the lodge where he found harmony and inner peace, and it is heard again when he is led away by the police, where it suggests hope at a moment of despair.

The tiny ski lodge, half buried in the snow, symbolizes home and is a place which is real as well as symbolic. It is tinged with melancholy as it apparently evokes what Nojiri’s present life lacks. However, he must serve his sentence before he can return to and enjoy a peaceful life. Ginrei no hate is a film about the possibility of redemption, expressed in a series of shots of Nojiri’s illuminated face when he listens, his head lowered, to the American song. Unlike Eijima, he becomes part of the small community in the lodge, and when he returns, the semi-conscious Honda on his back, his face reveals an inner struggle before he finally throws away his revolver – a significant gesture on his path to redemption – and continues walking towards the ski lodge.

The only information given in the film about Nojiri’s previous life is the mention of his daughter, who died when she was of Harukō’s age and who is for him a haunting absence-presence. Harukō is still a child, mourning the death of her pigeon and welcoming the two robbers with a cheerful “Yoo-hoo!”. Nojiri’s encounter with the girl, who reminds him of his own daughter, is also a reminder of long-forgotten human relations and a harbinger of hope. She represents joy and purity, the purity Nojiri and Eijima have lost. 

On a visual level, it is the whiteness of the snow that is a reference to purity. In Buddhism, white is also associated with self-mastery and redemption, topics that are addressed in the film through the characters and their actions. Snow symbolizes the fragility of human life and its evanescence, an important Buddhist motif that permeates Japanese culture and in particular film culture. According to Buddhist cyclical thinking, evanescence also embraces hope. In the film, the idea of rebirth and renewal is expressed verbally by the characters looking forward to the upcoming spring and by the motif of the “Rosenmorgen” (4) mentioned by Honda – that moment at sunrise when the snow takes on a pink tinge. The film is shot in black-and-white, so it is up to the viewer to imagine the shades of colour. However, the landscape shots convey perfectly an impression of great beauty. “Views of Honda, filmed against daylight, recall paintings by Caspar David Friedrich. Not unlike the works of this German artist of the Romantic period, the cinematography transforms the landscape into an emotive subject, capturing man’s reunion with his spiritual self while contemplating nature.” (5) 

The human condition

Eijima, unable to understand Honda’s feelings, mocks them, spitting his words out scornfully. While the others are enjoying a moment of leisure, he is busy counting his share of the booty – money is the only thing he is interested in – and he is constantly on his guard. The swift and sudden movements in Mifune’s acting are a perfect expression of Eijima’s changing mood. Much is in the gaze – suspicion, indifference, boredom as well as contempt for his hosts and Honda, but also for Nojiri, whose sudden tender feelings he cannot share or understand (“It seems that you have got senile since yesterday”). He rejects all the values cherished and shared by the others in the lodge, his face expressing his disdain for everything around him there. In the communal bedroom with its bunks, he says angrily: “This is like a prison cell in a foreign movie”. His meandering gaze, his energetic body language and his glowing eyes reveal Eijima’s almost constant agitation. In one shot, he walks back and forth in the bedroom, reminiscent of a caged animal. 

Cynical and irritable, Eijima is the typical young man in rebellion – a rebellion against Nojiri – a kind of surrogate father – against family and, implicitly, against the new order imported from the United States. Home, as represented by the ski lodge, is linked via the American song to the values of the occupying forces in Japan (6). Ginrei no hate presents a family, but one that is dysfunctional, namely a young girl living with her grandfather. The fate of the absent parents is not mentioned, but the viewer can presume that the family was separated by the war and/or that Harukō’s parents are dead, and that Nojiri’s daughter was also a victim of the war. The film mentions neither the war nor the occupation but contains enough allusions to connect its characters with Japan’s recent past (7). 

Values of family, group solidarity and harmony are part of Japanese culture and were instrumentalized by the wartime military government. In Taniguchi’s film, the vision of home as a haven of peace has a more sentimental dimension that is reminiscent of Hollywood productions (8). However, this sentimentalism is still far from kitsch and it cleverly supports the film’s message of humanity. Nojiri is surprised that Honda saved his life in the mountains, but Honda explains: “That’s the rule of the mountain. You never cut the rope under any circumstances. The rope that ties humans can never be cut for any reason. I just followed that rule.” (9). The film associates this mountaineers’ code of conduct with universal topics and reflections on the human condition. The breathtaking beauty of the snow-covered landscape, shown in a great number of general shots, and also the danger that lurks in this natural environment, exposes the pettiness of Eijima’s moaning and quarreling.

The human being is at the core of this film, an aspect supported by the frequent close-ups of faces and their great variety of expressions. Ginrei no hate deals with individual responsibility, a key topic in the intellectual discourse in Japan after the war. It points to the need for healing – both for the individual and for society. The film underwent censorship and was apparently acceptable in the eyes of the Allied censors, who in general wanted positive endings with the punishment of the culprits and a positive representation of the police. However, the desire for harmony and peace was not only something imposed by the victors but was presumably genuine and also shared by many viewers at that time. In this film, the ideal of harmony is extended to include the occupiers, with music becoming a unifying force and “My Old Kentucky Home” moving Nojiri deeply. After Honda has explained the significance of Kentucky and the content of the song (“The song is about a place dear to someone’s heart”), Nojiri says: “I see. There is no difference in human feelings between the West and Japan.”

Rebellion

A highly suggestive shot/reverse shot sequence juxtaposes the lodge’s homely interior with Eijima lying in his bunk in the bedroom, his gaze and body language showing his growing irritation. The idyll in the main room of the lodge is destroyed by the sudden appearance of the wild-looking Eijima, who emerges from the shadows and angrily demands that the music stop. A feeling of fear and danger emanates from this sombre figure who darts angry glances at the others and from the expressionist lighting, which matches his dark character perfectly. In feeling provoked by the song, Eijima’s implicitly rejects the American values. His rebellion targets the ideal of home, of harmony and also of solidarity, even rejecting the film’s message of humanity. His egoism is a form of individualism opposed to the individual responsibility that the film advocates. 

Eijima embodies evil but is also a lost soul. His constant mistrust excludes him from the human warmth of the group. He is jealous of the happiness of the others, a feeling that he does not seem to know or at least has not experienced for a long time (10). His materialism hints at the loss of humanity in post-war Japan, but Eijima is also the representative of a betrayed young generation, sacrificed by the military regime during the war years. The prototype of a disoriented youth, this character in the film provokes to reflections on masculinity. In the sequence in which he leaves the bathroom in the first lodge, Eijima, wearing only a fundoshi (11) struts like a peacock, showing off his muscular body. However, this kind of manliness is questioned in Ginrei no hate, which shows that it relies on the power of the gun. Eijima’s arrogance is a mask behind which he hides feelings of insecurity and also the fear of emasculation that many Japanese men had to come to terms with after defeat in the war.  

Mifune plays the brutish Eijima with an intensity which was unusual in Japanese cinema (12). Eijima is a somewhat one-dimensional character, but Mifune’s acting gives it considerable depth. In his performance, he skillfully reveals and explores this character’s potential and its many facets (13). His Eijima is defiant, arrogant, and unbending, but also possesses an indomitable hunger for life. This energetic approach to the role reveals how much acting contributes to the message of a film, in this case also making the character attractive to the audience in post-war Japan. Eijima expressed what “many in the audience yearned to show the world but didn’t dare” (14).

NOTES

1 – These films include Jakoman to Tetsu (Jakoman and Tetsu, 1949), Fukeyo haru kaze (Blow! Spring Wind aka My Wonderful Yellow Car, 1953), Kunisada Chūji (Chuji, The Gambler, 1960) and Kiganjō no bōken (The Adventure at Kigan Castle, 1966). 

2 – See Kurosawa, Akira. Something Like an Autobiography, New York, Vintage Books, 1983, p. 160-161.

3 – Although set in the Japanese Alps, the film was shot on the island of Hokkaido

4 – The film makes use of the German term “Rosenmorgen”, which can be translated as “rose morning”.

5 – See also Grunert, Andrea. “An Inner Journey in a Wintry Landscape (Snow Trail, 1947)”, http://www.thebigpicturemagzine.com, 29 November 2016. The landscape shots evoke films by German mountain film pioneer Arnold Fanck (1889-1974), known for Die weiße Hölle von Pitz Palü (White Hell of Pitz Palu, USA, 1929, co-directed by G.W. Pabst) or Stürme über dem Mont Blanc (Storm over Mont Blanc, Germany, 1930). Fanck directed the first German-Japanese co-production Atarashiki tsuchi (The Daughter of the Samurai, 1937). 

6 – The Allied occupation of Japan after World War II was led by the United States of America. It ended on 28 April 1952.

7 – This absence of the war topic can be explained by the strict censorship of the Allies, which was not lifted until 1949.  

8 – Hollywood’s influence on Japanese cinema started long before the occupation, having inspired Japanese filmmakers since the 1920s. 

9 – The fact that Taniguchi himself was a mountaineer explains the setting of Ginrei no hate in which the director describes a milieu he was familiar with. 

10 – The homecoming soldiers were often rejected, treated as stray dogs by their fellow Japanese. Seaton, Philip A. Japan’s Contested War Memories: The “Memory Rifts” in Historical Consciousness of World War II, London/New York, Routledge, 2007 and Igarashi, Yoshikuni. Homecomings: The Belated Return of Japan’s Lost Soldiers, New York, Columbia University Press, 2016. 

11 – A fundoshi is a traditional Japanese undergarment for male adults, a loincloth made from a length of cotton which covers the private parts but leaves the buttocks exposed. It was more and more replaced by western style men’s underwear after 1945.

12 – See Kurosawa, op. cit., p. 161.

13 – Mifune presumably drew on his wartime experience. In several interviews he referred to the war, recalling how much his rebellious behaviour and his wilfulness caused problems with his superiors, who already felt offended by his deep voice. The challenge to authority is a key theme in many films with Mifune in which he played rebels and outsiders, for example in his third film, Yoidore tenshi (Drunken Angel, 1948, Kurosawa Akira). 

14 – Satō, Tadao. Kurosawa Akira no sekai (Tokyo, 1970, p. 121) quoted in Keiko I McDonald. Reading a Japanese Film: Cinema in Context, Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press, 2006, p. 263, note 6. 

This year, we celebrate the 100th birthday of Toshirō Mifune (1 April 1920 – 24 December 1997). His grandson Rikiya Mifune kindly accepted to answer a few questions about his famous grandfather and his legacy as well as about events related to his centenary.

Andrea Grunert – You were nine years old when your grandfather died. What is the first thing which springs to mind when you think of him? Which memories do you value most? 

Rikiya Mifune – By the time I was born Toshirō was already semi-retired, so he was pretty much an ordinary grandfather figure. I have scattered memories of him taking me to places such as aquariums, but I still remember the times where we would sit together on the couch at home watching kids shows. He would sit still with great posture like a Samurai and would speak to me in his bold and manly voice. At this point I had no clue that I was sitting next to a man with such an extraordinary life.

Andrea Grunert – It seems to me that much has happened on the website of Mifune Productions in the last three or four years. It became so vibrant. Is this due to your commitment?

Rikiya Mifune – I guess activities have become more international since the production of the first feature documentary film on Toshirō – “Mifune: The Last Samurai” – which was directed by Steven Okazaki in 2016. From that point on, one thing led to another and this year, being Toshirō’s centennial, more opportunities to celebrate his legacy have surfaced.

Andrea Grunert – How do you contribute to keep your grandfather’s memory alive? 

Rikiya Mifune – I try to find as many opportunities for his films to be presented in theaters both domestically and internationally. This year, we digitalize Toshirō’s first international film “Animas Trujano” [a film, Toshirō Mifune made in Mexico with director Ismael Rodriguez], which has not been presented in Japan ever since its original release in 1961. 

Andrea Grunert – What kind of commemorations are held in Japan for his centenary?

Rikiya Mifune – The National Film Archive of Japan is currently hosting a special screening program consisting of 27 of Toshirō’s films, along with a “Rashomon” exhibition celebrating its 70th anniversary. We are also developing a special television documentary about Toshirō for the end of the year.

Andrea Grunert – Until today Toshirō Mifune is an icon of world cinema. What makes him so outstanding? 

Rikiya Mifune – He was an actor who could physically express both dynamic and sensitive human emotions. I think being born in a foreign country as well as his traumatic experience as a survivor of the war broadened his horizons as an actor.

Andrea Grunert – How is he remembered in Japan? How important is he for young moviegoers?

Rikiya Mifune – I think young people have heard the titles of his films, but never actually seen them. As Japan heads towards a more international direction, I believe that Toshirō’s accomplishments will be rediscovered again. 

Andrea Grunert – Toshirō Mifune could be called saigo no samurai. But wasn’t he much more than that? I have the feeling that his versatility is not fully recognized by film critics and film historians.

Rikiya Mifune – To avoid this kind of fixed image, Kurosawa [Akira] purposely gave Toshirō diverse roles but I guess the image of the samurai remains strong. However, when Toshirō worked with international directors, he wouldn’t hesitate to challenge and correct the depiction of the Japanese people. The way that he fought for honor and respect may been comparable to a samurai.

Andrea Grunert – Your family still has the coat Toshirō Mifune has made of an army blanket. Can you tell the story of that coat?

Rikiya Mifune – After the war, when the military was discharged, all the soldiers received 1 yen and 50 sen along with a thick military blanket. Toshirō sewed this blanket into a jacket and pants with pockets, belt loops and stitches in an extraordinary tailor quality. The precise details reflect Toshirō’s sensitive personality.

Andrea Grunert – Is your grandfather also a model in everyday life? I learned from people who met him or worked with him how modest and generous he was. And I am impressed by the importance given to societal issues such as poverty or inequality which the films and series produced by Mifune Productions in the 1970s and 1980s address. 

Rikiya Mifune – There is a lot to respect, but his qualities are nor simple or easy to follow. He was a man of perseverance, self-sacrifice and extraordinary effort.

Andrea Grunert – What are your personal projects for 2020, other than related those the centenary?

Rikiya Mifune – One day I hope to produce a Toshirō Mifune memorial museum to preserve and pass on his legacy. 

Tokyo (Japan)/Hilden (Germany), 11 October 2020