Ani to sono imoto / A Brother and His Younger Sister (1939)

13 02 2013

One is left wondering what might have become Yasujiro Shimazu had he not been succumbed to lung cancer in 1945. He was diagnosed in 1935 and his output suffered afterwards, up until his death. This film comes a little bit after his prime, which would have been the early to mid 30s. This is still a wonderful film, but it does represent Shimazu going outside of his usual territory. This is a still domestic drama, but he’s moved up from the usual lower middle class family to one that seems perfectly fine financially. Considering the social status of the protagonist, one can’t help but note a similarity with Ozu’s films of the 50s and 60s, especially when Ozu himself was still working with lower class families.

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Keisuke works late hours at his job where he doesn’t get the attention he feels he deserves. He comes home very late to a house that he and his wife share with his younger sister, Fumiko. Fumiko is a perfect modern girl, who supports herself with a job as a typist. One day at work, she is confronted by a man who has obvious romantic intentions. She resists them, but the man stays active, sending her flowers on her birthday. Keisuke’s boss tells him of his nephew and his intentions to marry Fumiko. Keisuke is expected to pass along the marriage proposal, which his boss expects will be accepted, but Keisuke knows his sister better than that.

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While this film does anticipate Ozu’s latter works in content, it’s very different in form. While Shimazu keeps most of  the action indoors, either in the home or the office, he doesn’t do it with Ozu’s rigor. In fact, Shimazu seems to lack a close aesthetic companion, being efficently low-key in most situations but has some more artsy flourishes, including some restrained tracking shots. While the camera movements aren’t exactly Mizoguchi (it might be worth mentioning that Mizo’s most technically accomplished film, Zangiku monogatari came out in ’39 as well) there’s still some impressive cinematography, which unfortunately tainted somewhat by the print’s conditions.

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The biggest draw here might be the performances, though. Shin Saburi is pretty excellent, and there aren’t many opportunities to see him in a role where he’s this young but still has a larger role. The same goes for Chishu Ryu, who has a small cameo as a family friend. Kuniko Miyake’s role isn’t large, but her presence further contributes to the similarity with Ozu, as she appeared in a great deal of his work in the 1950s. Her role is ultimately a passive one, with much of the film’s material coming from the professional lives of Fumiko and Keisuke.

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Michiko Kuwano is excellent here as Fumiko, laying out the framework for the “modern girl” type that became an important part of post-war Japanese fiction. Her independence is somewhat stunted by her admiration for her brother, and she’s apprehensive in telling him that she’s uninterested in the marriage proposal. She’s aware this might be costly for him, but he ultimately becomes the good guy. He immediately accepts her rejection, which ends in him getting fired. The film concludes with the family being sent off to Manchuria, and Fumiko mentioning that she won’t be courting anyone until her brother is in a comfortable financial position. She feels guilty about her brother being fired, but it hasn’t made her regret her decision to not get married. If anything, it has reinforced her resistance to the institution itself.

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2 responses

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