sábado, 7 de março de 2009

On Humanity and Paper Balloons

(Ninjo Kami Fusen, 1937)

By Aoyama Shinji

How many filmmakers try to make a film by learning only from American cinema? Possibly none. The economic gulf between American cinema and its conterparts in the rest of the world has been so irretrievably deep and wide as to discourage us from iniciating them. Yet this has not always been the case. In the 1920s and 1930s, among the film directors around the world who considered American cinema as the textbook, or rather believed it was only way to make a film, we may count Yamanaka. To be exact, Yamanaka was a genius, the greatest representative of this tendency that I know.
Yet just three Yamanaka talkies still exist. All are later works: The Million Ryo Pot (Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo, 1935), Soshun Kochiyama (Kochiyama Soshun, 1936), and Humanity and Paper Balloons (Ninjo Kami Fusen, 1937), which proved to be his last. All but these three were lost. Lost by allowing bombardament to destitute our land during the war in which the 29-year-old Yamanka died? Or simply because of the careless handling of materials by production companies? I do not know, but in deep sorrow and terrible regret, we find these existing films to be miraculously vibrant, as if D.W Griffith, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh, or King Vidor had made a film in Japan. Every time we watch them, we are excited; we feel moved, tears trickling down our cheeks. Yamanaka's films are divinely innocent and at the same time desperately cruel. As a director, when I watch them, I wish from the bottom of my heart that I could shoot a snow scene like this, a rain scene like this, and the brilliance of human life like this. It is the same when I watch Griffith, Ford, Hawks and others.
As I already mentioned, Humanity and Paper Balloons was Yamanaka's final film. Its sad, sorrowful story depicts the lives of Ronin and the lower classes during the Edo period. It may reflect the horror and darkness of the Great Depression, which had broken out in the years preceding the film, and the concerns that lead Japan to war. Yet, at the same time, it does so through contradistinction, embodied in the die-hard toughness and visual vibrancy with which Shinza the barber-gambler lives his life. We feel the pulses of "Iki" and "Inase": gallantry and élan vital to Japanese style of that period. It possesses a pleasing vibrancy, which beautifully evokes that of Walsh's city films; and I declare Shinza's figure to be more beautiful than that of Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath (1940).
In Humanity and Paper Balloons, Yamanaka, who had created films only by watching American cinema, took a small step towards originality. He was offered another oppurtunity to collaborate cinematographer Akira Mimura (aka Harry Mimura), who had gained experience as a cameraman in America, but Yamanaka died before this further collaboration could come about. His death is one of the greatest losses cinema has suffered. If he had survived, the world might have respected him more deeply than Mizoguchi Kenji; might have loved him more greatly than Ozu Yasujiro; might have marveled at his films more often than those of Kurosawa Akira. Yet these existing films are surely valuable enough for those whole world give due respect, love, and cry with marvel. These three films surely prove that Yamanaka is a treasure of world cinema, just as Jean Vigo is.

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