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

Kikyo-01

by Andrea Grunert

Kikyō (Kikyo – The Return, 2019, a television film) is a film about the homecoming of an old gambler, Unokichi, called “Funeral Uno” and played by Nakadai Tatsuya. It is Nakadai’s third collaboration with director Sugita Shigemichi, the two others being Yūshun (1988) and Hatashiai (A Duel Tale, 2015, a television film). Kikyō is a jidai-geki set in the yakuza milieu in a provincial town in the first half of the 19th century. The rather slow pace is appropriate to the film’s contemplative narrative of an inner journey, which is supported by carefully framed landscape shots, beautifully lit interiors and close-ups of faces that reveal a wide range of human emotions. Frequent shots of the moon or of the mountains connect the world of human being with nature and with its aura of majesty and eternity. This spiritual dimension of the film is also conveyed in the gentle piano music composed by Kako Takashi.

Kikyō is a film about death as well as about life and how a man can live a decent life. In the first shots, an old man is spitting blood. Addressing the reflection of his face in a receptacle filled with water, he says: “Funeral Uno is dying. You are dying.” This aging yakuza has returned to his hometown Kiso-Fukushima (1), where he learns that he has a daughter, born a few months after his departure thirty years ago. Flashbacks to Unokichi’s painful past, which continues to haunt him, interrupt the linearity of the narrative. Memory is reconstructed in fragments and only gradually reveals the old man’s trauma. In a recurrent nightmare he relives a night in a dilapidated temple where he and his mistress had once found shelter. Every time he awakes from this horrible dream, his hands are outstretched, and the significance of this gesture does not become clear until the end of a series of flashbacks that reconstruct little by little what happened in the temple that night. A different flashback reveals that Unokichi and the woman ran away together after Unokichi had killed her enraged husband – a friend of his – in a fight that ensued when the friend discovered his wife’s adulterous relationship.

There are several fight sequences in the film, showing that Nakadai – born in 1932 – is still in great physical shape. The gush of blood in the scene when the boss (Nakamura Atsuo) of the Kyuzo family is killed creates an intertextual link in Nakadai’s acting career. It has been a standard feature of jidai-geki and chanbara since Kurosawa Akira’s Tsubaki Sanjurō (Sanjuro, 1962), in which blood spurts from Hanbei’s (Nakadai’s) breast in his final duel with Sanjurō (Mifune Toshirō).

Unokichi’s confrontation with his past is also a confrontation with the present, in which the past still lingers. He learns that Oaki, the woman he had wanted to marry, died heartbroken many years ago. Obeying the orders of his clan, Unokichi went to Edo (today’s Tokyo) as a young man, but instead of returning home after three years as planned, he became a drifter after he had killed his mistress’s husband. Thirty years later, the discovery that he has a daughter – Okuni (Tokiwa Takako) – brings back a wave of memories. Kikyō portrays the difficult relationship between a man and his daughter who has grown up with hatred for her absent father. In a long sequence, Okuni vents her anger and her despair, but finally she takes on the task of caring for the old man.

The topic of the dysfunctional family is also central in other films in which Nakadai has been cast during the last decade – Haru to no tabi (Haru’s Journey, 2010), Hatashiai and Umibe no Ria (Lear at the Shore, 2017). Kobayashi Masahiro, who directed two of these (Haru to no tabi and Umibe no Ria), wrote the script for the third (the jidai-geki Hatashiai) and is also the co-scriptwriter of Kikyō. In Haru to no tabi, Hatashiai and Kikyō, all connected by the motif of a journey, the elderly protagonists have to come to terms with misdeeds and bad decisions in their lives for which they desperately seek reconciliation. At the end of his life, Unokichi takes on responsibility for others, not unlike the haya-zumi (freeloader) Sanosuke in Hatashiai, who sacrifices his life for the freedom and happiness of a young couple. In Kikyō, Unokichi is determined to prevent Okuni’s husband Genta (Ogata Naoto) from being killed by his (Unokichi’s) old rival, the boss of the Kyūzō clan, who not only wants to take control of the territory of Unokichi’s former clan but also tries to seduce Okuni and wants her as his mistress. Both Unokichi and Sanosuke fight their old enemies, who represent a menace to the younger generation. Unokichi is determined to kill the yakuza boss in a duel and insists on doing so alone. He says to Genta, who planned to kill Kyūzō himself: “Don’t waste your life. Life should be used for people.” This advice, repeated at the end of the film, emphasizes the importance attached to individual responsibility, a topic that is at the core of many films with Nakadai, including those directed by Kobayashi Masaki, Kurosawa Akira and Gosha Hideo. Nakadai himself continues to take on roles in films which offer critical statements on social and humanitarian issues, addressing social injustice and celebrating human feelings.

Both Hatashiai and Kikyō are set in a social environment determined by rigid codes of behaviour – the world of the samurai (Hatashiai) and that of the yakuza are similar with regard to questions of honour and obedience. Moreover, Kikyō and also the three other films with Nakadai that are mentioned above deal with universal themes such as guilt, remorse and the desire for redemption. Unokichi says that since the killing in Edo he has lived “a dead life” and that he and his mistress have travelled on “a hellish road”. The protagonist’s inner torment is conjured up in the recurring nightmare sequences in which two things figure – a painting that represents a Buddhist vision of hell and a candle suddenly extinguished by a draught. At the end of the film, Unokichi is ready to face his past. A flashback reveals exactly what happened in the temple. Past and present are connected via the editing. The final shot in this flashback shows not young Unokichi whose hands have killed once again, but Unokichi as an old man. In the next shot, twenty-eight years later, Unokichi, is looking at his outstretched hands, those of a strangler, before folding them in praise of Amida Buddha.

Despite the advanced stage of his illness, Unokichi is still strong in body and mind, repudiating the claim by one of the gamblers who, with no respect for the elderly, says that an old man will not be of any use in a battle between the two yakuza clans. Unokichi demonstrates his swordfighting skill on several occasions in the film. His strength and quickfire reactions are almost superhuman when he fights a man who has molested Okuni. In his accomplished acting, Nakadai shows what people of his age are still capable of. His presence and performance – as always outstanding and very personal – contribute greatly to this film’s multifaceted portrait of its aging protagonist, infusing Kikyō with a particular charm and forcefulness. Close-ups of his face reveal the intensity of the protagonist’s emotions. He beams when he sees Okuni for the first time, unaware at that moment that she is his daughter but surprised by her resemblance to the woman he once wanted to marry, and then, when he learns that he has a daughter, his face becomes expressionless as if he has put on a mask. There are several monologues delivered by Unokichi – some of them off-screen – which highlight Nakadai’s complex skill with his voice, a voice that is sometimes sharp and commanding in tone and sometimes sad and bleating, for example when after killing his old nemesis, Unokichi says to himself: “Bastard Kyūzō. Everyone is dead. How lonely …”.

Not unlike the yakuza Nakadai played in Gosha Hideo’s Kagerō (Heatwave, 1990), who is tormented by his inner demons after murdering a fellow gambler in full view of the man’s little daughter, Unokichi is consumed with guilt, a guilt that only his death can atone for. When he leaves his hometown for a second time, Unokichi’s smile is that of a man in harmony with himself who has accomplished his task, calmed the spirits of the dead, and can now die peacefully. The final shots are those of the old yakuza disappearing into the landscape while chorale-like Western style music is heard and the sun’s rays seem almost otherworldly, reminiscent of religious images in both Asian (Buddhist) and European (Christian) traditions. The strong suggestion of redemption is supported acoustically (by the music) and visually (by the photography) conveying a message of redemption that is universal.

Kikyō – The Return. Japan, 2019. Director: Sugita Shigemichi. Screenplay: Sugita Shigemichi and Kobayashi Masahiro, based on the novel Kikyō by Fujisawa Shuhei. Actors: Nakadai Tatsuya, Tokiwa Takako, Kitamura Kazuki, Ogata Naoto, Nakamura Atsuo, Tanida Ayumi, Satō Jirō, Hashizune Isao, Tanaka Misato, Maeda Aki, Mita Yoshiko and others. Produced by Jidai-geki Senmon Channel/TBA

1.Kiso-Fukushima, located in today’s Nagano Prefecture, is an ancient post town on the Nakasendo Highway, which connected Edo with Kyōto.