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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

RIKUGUN / ARMY (1944)

Keisuke Kinoshita’s fourth film was another wartime special, designed for the changing fortunes of 1944 and apparently commissioned by Army authorities. Something of a pep talk and a recruitment vehicle, if with a rather downbeat edge, it’s a multi-generational portmanteau pageant that begins in the battle-scarred midst of an 1866 war for supremacy between warring Japanese factions. Notably, the family arc we follow, with stops every decade or so for a fresh war, is on the losing side. After about four of these vignettes, the second half settles down to concentrate on a more modern story as a father, disappointed in own his war record, sees small hope for military advancement coming from his eldest son, a weakling and a bit of a sissy. Instead, the father leads a youth military-prep group in-between escalating comic fights with the factory owner who funds the organization. He hardly notices how his son has grown up, winning a fine army commission after all. Kinoshita gives us much of the war drama via commentary from non-participants, avoiding the action we hear discussed. An odd directorial choice, perhaps dictated by budgetary concerns. But it all leads up to a final sequence of real power, as the son heads to his deployment in China amidst thousands of marching troops in a festive citywide celebration to send them off. The film’s focus shifts to the mother, at first avoiding the spectacle, but then drawn to it in an increasingly desperate try to see her son in the big parade before he leaves. Kinoshita builds this sequence into an exceptionally strong set piece, as the mother struggles thru crowds for what could be a final look.*   It’s like an OTT silent film set piece from King Vidor, like the one in THE BIG PARADE/’25 where the French girl can’t bring herself to let go of her soldier boy as he’s being driven out of town. Here, it’s so effective, you have to think twice to remember the horrors perpetrated by the Japanese during the Chinese Occupation; leaving a sour taste to this historically interesting film.

DOUBLE-BILL: The complete Kinoshita WWII films are on Criterion/Eclipse - Series 41.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *John Ford gets a similar effect (in 20 seconds & a handful of shots) as Claudette Colbert moves to higher & higher ground for a last look at husband Henry Fonda as he marches off to face the British in DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK/’39.

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