Re: Tenkô in Japanese film ?

Michael McCaskey mccaskem at
Sat Aug 25 16:07:52 EDT 2007

Dear Mathieu,

Exactly so. As Prof. Tsurumi explained it, and from what I learned elsewhere, Japanese suspected of being "leftist" or "radical" would be arrested, and usually kept in a holding cell inside a police station--sometimes for a very long period. The police would often start with verbal bullying, and then become more and more violent over time if the person didn't give in.

They might start off by telling the person how his "crime" was a shame to his family and neighbors. In the case of Kobayashi Takiji, they ended up beating him to death--though maybe that's what they'd planned anyway. In the case of Miyamoto Kenji, detained from 1933-1945, they abused and beat him on and off, trying to get him to confess to the murder of a police spy. He never confessed, and they were legalistic enough not to simply murder him,

In many cases, I think, people detained in more routine ways would give in, and become pro-fascist and pro-militarist. Some writers and artists switched to creating pro-Japanese war propaganda. After the war, many of them simply switched over to supporting the postwar authorities.

It may be that in his film Kurosawa's hero was a sort of synthesis of Kobayashi Takiji and Miyamoto Kenji. Kurosawa always seems to have thought of himself as a leftist.

This Waga seishun ni kuinashi film has reminded me of Roberto Rossellini and the making of Roma, città aperta/Open City (1945). Rossellini and the cast switched very quickly from making films for the Mussollini Regime to making extremely anti-Fascist films--Rossellini maintained this postwar political stance for much of the rest of his life.

Kurosawa and the Waga seishun cast had just recently been making war propaganda films (some of good quality), and as in Italy, switched rapidly over to the left, when there were no longer political police to lock them up. But the postwar developments in Japan were different from Italy, and many people stopped making leftist films in Japan by 1950, or even sooner, under pressure from the postwar authorities. (For more information, see the book "Mr. Smith Goes To Tokyo," by Hirano Kyoko--Jasper Sharp did a fine review of it.)

It seems to me that someone could write a very interesting study comparing the film  industries in Japan and Italy ca. 1930-1950.

Please feel most free to disagree.

Best Wishes,

Michael McCaskey
Georgetown Univ. 

----- Original Message -----
From: Mathieu Capel <mathieucapel at>
Date: Saturday, August 25, 2007 10:03 am
Subject: Re: Tenkô in Japanese film ?

> Yes Michael you're right, tenkô in Kurosawa's Waga seishun ni kuinashi
> is some kinda of "fake" : Susumu Fujita's character dies anyway in
> jail - but does not this character seem to be designed from this
> question of tenkô ? By the way, Okochi Denjirô's character may be
> considered as an example of tenkô - but his tenkô is slightly depicted
> (but anyway, to be depicted as something quite natural, or "normal",
> is something which theoritically matches the idea of tenkô, isn't it
> ?).
> Mathieu Capel
> Paris

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