Those who know the gently satiric post-war Ealing Studio comedies (e.g. KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS/’49; THE LAVENDER HILL MOB/’51) will recognize tropes & tone in this bit of wartime escapism, yet still find the Japanese orientation a little jarring. A smoothly run debut for director Keisuke Kinoshita, out in ‘43 when the war seemed to be going well, no doubt explaining the relatively modest patriotic elements. It’s is a standard farce set-up about a couple of con men who land on an underdeveloped island where they ingratiate themselves before raising a syndicate to restart the old shipyards with shares bought by trusting locals. Naturally, they’re planning a hasty escape with the cash before any work starts, but plans go awry when love enters the picture along with an unknown ‘relative’ and worst of all, when war is declared! !Bonsai! (Hey, it’s a Japanese war pic, Pearl Harbor is celebrated.) Suddenly, their bogus plans take a practical turn as ship building is not only a boon to the community, but also patriotic & profitable.* The playing leans to the broad side and some transitions are abrupt, but there’s more than just historical interest here. Especially with a cast that features fistfuls of actors soon seen in works from Ozu and Mizoguchi. Kinoshita continued making these wartime quickies, now collected in a Criterion set, and more prestigious fare later. But his films never really broke thru Stateside so that even his BALLAD OF NARAYAMA/’58 is better known in Shohei Imamura’s Cannes’ prize-winning version of 1983.* More reports on these wartime efforts to come.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Sure, it’s WWII Japan, but we might well be watching a sequel to THE MUSIC MAN or THE PRODUCERS.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *The heavy-weather subject matter of NARAYAMA (voluntary death in the forest for seniors) was D.O.A. in the Matthew McConaughey/Gus Van Sant SEA OF TREES/’15.