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
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
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.
International Student Center
Yokohama National University
Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama 240-8501
E-mail: gerow at ynu.ac.jp
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