One might think that a comedy would be the perfect thing to correct Kinoshita’s usual problems. Unfortunately, this is not really the case. This particular film is considered a satire, but it’s so painfully didactic that its attempts at humor are undermined by, among other things, Tsumaburo Bando’s hammy performance as the stubborn father. His behavior quickly resembles that of a tyrant, which is where the “satire” is meant to come from. I mean, this is what I’m guessing. The overwhelming sentimental touches that would come to characterize Kinoshita’s most popular work. It’s an easier viewing since he seems to be going for something light-hearted, but that doesn’t make the film any closer to being something special.
Gunpei Tsunda is the patriarch of the family, and he doesn’t want any of his six children or his wife to forget this fact any time soon. He frequently requests his children to do work that isn’t necessary, especially considering the fact that the family’s wealth enables them to replace the maids that leave because of Gunpei’s strict attitude. Meanwhile, his eldest son, Taro, can’t stand the pressure anymore and leaves the family business to start up his own music box company. To make matters worst, Akiko is rebelling against the marriage Gunpei has arranged for her, instead shifting her energy to Nonaka, an artist who she meets on a bus.
I’ll give Kinoshita something of a break: I’m more than willing to admit that he and I don’t exactly see eye to eye in terms of comedy. Most of the material here is childish silliness, which doesn’t automatically make it worthless but the film seems to working towards some important statement about family relations. Most of the humor comes from Gunpei just acting like a complete jackass, which might not have been entirely unrealistic considering the time but Tsumaburo Bando’s performance is simply too much. If you aren’t able to comprehend that he’s far too controlling, Kinoshita throws in the bizarre detail that when Gunpei shouts, he makes a gesture that greatly resembles the Nazi salute.
It’s worth mentioning that Kinoshita had some help with his script, and it comes from Masaki Kobayashi, who I actually think even less of. Oddly enough, the directors seem to suffer the same problems, though their issues aren’t as noticeable here. Again, this is a comedy, so the films flows with an energy that isn’t present in the later work of either Kinoshita or Kobayashi. The idealism and sentimentality of Kinoshita, on the other hand, is at the same volume as it is in his latter films, which makes the film’s conclusion seem both unearned and illogical.
Gunpei is the least likable character in the film and fittingly enough, the least interesting. The film greatly benefits from the sequences where he’s absent from the screen. Akiko’s interactions with Nonaka are charming, even as they have that particularly problematic brand of Kinoshita romanticism. Towards the film’s conclusion, Gunpei’s family has left him and they are completely justified. They’ve escaped from what is, in reality, a very scary case of domestic abuse. However, we get Gunpei suddenly realizing what he’s done wrong and he’s filled with remorse. The rest of the family accepts him back into the fold. He will now serve as a consultant at Taro’s new company. Heartwarming music swells and we’re supposed to feel the warmth of family unity.
It is a sequence like the one described above that details the problem with Kinoshita’s sentimentality. It’s not simply that he is sentimental, that’s at least a part of it, but it’s also that these feelings are completely unearned. We learn just before Gunpei’s big revelation that he frequently beats his wife, but after two weeks she is more than willing to forgive him. There are cases of abused spouses welcoming their abuser back into their life, I’m not contesting that. However, it shouldn’t be such an overwhelmingly happy moment. In reality, Gunpei would likely hurt his wife again, but the warm, manipulative music is there to help you hopefully forget the real life danger of such a relationship. Everyone forgives and is happy in the end, but they should be a lot more cautious.
With all this said, there is still some positive things to take away from this film. Masayuki Mori is great again as a leading man in a Kinoshita film as Taro and Toshiko Kobayashi is very charming as Akiko. Not to go back to basing, but it is a shame she didn’t work with too many directors other than Kinoshita. As this is the case, I still have some reason to continue with his filmography. Here’s a (non) surprise: the film’s cinematography from Hiroyuki Kusuda. There’s a few impressive pans, but the most notable sequence seems to be a long(er) static shot where Akiko and Nonaka finally embrace. Toichiro Narushima, who would later serve as a cinematographer for Oshima and other New Wave filmmakers, served (uncredited) as an assistant director. While the film is still very much Kinoshita and grounded in something more traditional, it does have some visual flourishes that anticipates the next generation.