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Monday, May 26, 2014

KABE ATSUKI HEYA / THE THICK-WALLED ROOM (1953;'56)

This early work from Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi plays on issues of wartime guilt & responsibility he’d return to in his HUMAN CONDITION Trilogy/’59-‘61. Controversial in its day (its release was held up three years), the film looks like apprentice work and isn’t helped by poorly preserved elements. But it shares many of the shortcomings of his more fully achieved work, with too many dramatic pointers marking the path. The story follows a group of convicted war criminals stuck in the Japanese prison system years after the end of the war. But just how culpable are they? Kobayashi sticks to men below officer class, and in a series of flashbacks shows them ‘just following orders.’ No doubt, true for many, even most, but his choices end up obscuring rather than revealing cause & character. In the most interesting flashback sequence, outraged locals on some tropical isle revolt against the burial on their land of three executed Japanese soldiers, and for a brief moment, the move toward moral complexity denies easy closure. But then it’s back to prison for more pickled drama, an 'honor code' story as one of the men gets a 24-hr pass for his mother’s funeral which leads to a face-to-face meeting with the exonerated officer whose original order & courtroom lies put him behind bars.

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