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Monday, August 3, 2009

ARIGATO-SAN / MR. THANK YOU (1936)

‘Talkies’ came late to Japan and this modest, but charming ‘road movie’ is actually all dubbed, made before synch-sound was used on location in Japan. The story follows some locals as they take the bus over a rural mountain road driven by Japan’s most congenial driver, the eponymous Mr. Thank You. Without making much fuss about it, helmer Hiroshi Shimizu keeps us largely inside the bus, gathering bits of information on what turns out to be a microcosm of depression-era Japanese society. There’s camaraderie and a bittersweet tone to all the little story fragments, with pleasurable comeuppances for some & lots of serendipitous connections for the worthy. (The film must be as nostalgic for Japanese film-goers as Frank Capra’s IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT/’34 is in the States.) But the most intriguing character is a remarkably modern & assertive young woman, who finds no place within this little community. She’s a natural outsider who daydreams of joining these common-folk, but knows she would never stay put. One oddity for a Western audience is the use of a light jazz band for underscoring. The music rarely seems to fit the action; especially one memorable tune that’s all but lifted from George Gershwin’s ‘OH, GEE!-OH JOY!’/’28.

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