Not Forgotten

Aaron Gerow gerow
Wed Nov 7 21:06:06 EST 2001

Here's my review of Not Forgotten.  I think the general opinion here was 
also that the "two parts" to the movie did not fit well together, but I 
do want to stress that Shinozaki, whom I've talked and travelled with 
many times, does like old Hollywood B-movies alot.  Action is not beyond 
his grasp.


              (NOT FORGOTTEN) 

              Dir: Makoto Shinozaki 

              Cast:Tatsuya Mihashi, Minoru Oki, 

              Tomio Aoki, Keiko Utsumi, Akiko Kazami 

              One of the characters in Makoto Shinozaki's long-awaited 
new film, Wasurerarenu Hitobito (Not Forgotten), at one point asks, "What 
happens to our memories when we die?" 

              The easy answer is that they either fade away or live on in 
the memories of those they have told them to. But Shinozaki, whose 
acclaimed debut feature Okaeri (1996) delicately evoked our torturous 
inability to access other peoples' minds (even when it is a loved one who 
is going insane), cannot accept such an easy response. 

              Wasurerarenu Hitobito centers around a wartime memory that 
is impossible for people to forget. But instead of simply relating it, 
Shinozaki argues, with both power and gentleness, that we must connect 
the past and the present in our lives today. 

              The focus of the film is three old men nearing the end of 
their lives. Kimura (Tatsuya Mihashi) is a former yakuza who now plows a 
small farm near the sea; Ito (Tomio Aoki) is a retired dandy who has his 
eye on a beautiful elderly lady named Koharu (Akiko Kazami); and Murata 
(Minoru Oki) runs a small drinking establishment with his wife (Keiko 
Utsumi), whose days are numbered. 

              What joins the three is their shared memory of horrors 
experienced on Peleliu Island, Indonesia, during World War II. Not only 
did most of their fellow troops die or commit suicide, they had to 
abandon a buddy, Kaneyama, who was wounded but still alive. Kimura in 
particular is still haunted by this memory, and even now carries with him 
the harmonica Kaneyama gave him. 

              Reliving that memory, in the vein of those well-meaning 
social films declaring that we must not forget the war, is not the focus 
of Not Forgotten. Each of these characters is still living and facing new 
challenges. Ito is eagerly pursuing a new love, while Murata is fearfully 
facing the prospect of losing his love, who has taken care of him all 
these years. 

              Only Kimura, it seems, without a wife or children, has the 
time to remember the past. But he does not tell anyone of his nightmares 
of the Peleliu battle; and when he tries to give the harmonica to 
Kaneyama's granddaughter Yuriko (Masumi Sanada), she eventually returns 
it, confessing it belongs more with him. Finally, he promises to give it 
to a mixed-race boy upon his death. 

              The film naturally moves toward Kimura's inevitable end, 
but how it does so is somewhat shocking. What is a quiet movie in the 
vein of Okaeri, suddenly shifts tones halfway through as Hitoshi, 
Yuriko's boyfriend, joins a powerful cult-like company that uses any 
means, from surveillance to trickery, to swindle old people. 

              When Koharu, who herself has horrible memories of losing 
her child in a fire during a wartime bombing, is defrauded and driven 
insane by company members taking advantage of her guilt, Ito tries to 
fight back, only to get killed. With nothing to lose, Kimura and Murata, 
whose wife has died, head off to confront the killers of their wartime 

              This shift in genre, from an art flick to a yakuza-like 
tale of revenge, may be too extreme for some, but it's not inconceivable 
for Shinozaki, who is as much a fan of U.S. B-movies as art cinema. 

              More importantly, the company in many ways is made to 
represent present-day Japan. Playing off of genuine discontent over the 
moral vacuum of postwar society, it promises a utopia where people are 
willing to die for one another. In that, they sound like a lot of today's 
right-wing revisionists who take advantage of social unease to call for a 
Japan its subjects are willing to die for. 

              Kimura and his friends, however, know from experience that 
dying for one's country is in no way good, that living is the best thing 
for them. Against an enormous power that denies their memories--or, even 
worse, misuses them--Kimura and Murata choose to fight not for society, 
but for Kaneyama (in the form of his granddaughter's boyfriend), for Ito, 
and for themselves (Kimura shares a name with the boyfriend: Hitoshi). 
Theirs is a struggle not to recall the past, but to keep it apart from 
everyday life and to right previous wrongs. 

              If Kimura and his friends try to reconnect past and 
present, so does Shinozaki. What is not forgotten in this film is not 
just the wartime past, but also Japanese entertainment history. The leads 
are all veterans: Mihashi of Akira Kurosawa and other Toho movies, Oki of 
Toei yazuka films, Aoki of Yasujiro Ozu and Nikkatsu action, Kazami of 
Mikio Naruse and Tomu Uchida, and Utsumi of the manzai stage. Viewing 
them brings back memories, but it also reminds us of their present-day 

              Wasurerarenu Hitobito arose in part from Shinozaki's 
encounter with Aoki, who played a small role in Okaeri. He was not only 
the silent era's Tokkan Kozo, he was a survivor of Peleliu Island. Thanks 
to this film, even when he dies, some of his memories will have been 
enacted and remolded in contemporary cinema, and will not be forgotten. 

              The movie opens Sept. 15. 

Aaron Gerow
Associate Professor
International Student Center
Yokohama National University
79-1 Tokiwadai
Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama 240-8501
E-mail: gerow at
Phone: 81-45-339-3170
Fax: 81-45-339-3171

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