Morisaki Azuma’s Postwar: A Talk with Yamane Sadao, Ueno Kōshi and Fujii Jinshi

Luke Cromer

Morisaki Azuma’s Postwar: A Talk with Yamane Sadao, Ueno Kōshi and Fujii Jinshi

Morisaki Azuma no sengo. 20:10 – 21:10. 2013/11/22 – Kinohaus Shibuya, Tokyo.

Luke Cromer

In November 2013, the Auditorium in Shibuya screened a selection of Morisaki Azuma films in conjunction with the release of Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days (Pekorosu no haha ni ai ni iku, 2013) and the publication of Morisaki Azuma tō sengen! Azuma Morisaki: Films of Laughter, Tears, and Anger, which is a text of interviews with and writings on the director edited by Professor Fujii Jinshi of Waseda University. I managed to attend the screening of Country Detective: The Phantom Kamikaze (Inaka’deka maboroshi no tokkōtai, 1979) and the following panel discussion with prominent film critics Yamane Sadao, Ueno Kōshi, and Fujii. 

Since most of Morisaki’s films have yet to be made available to English audiences and are therefore lacking in attention outside of Japan­—some including The Phantom Kamikaze are not even available within JapanI felt compelled to write my reflections on the screening and the following discussion in order to introduce another intriguing director to the cast of regular players frequently noted among Western scholars for their postwar socio-political fervor (Ōshima Nagisa, Wakamatsu Kōji, Imamura Shōhei, Masumura Yasuzō, et al.) Alas, as is the case for many essential titles receiving accolades locally here, only one of Morisaki’s films, his contribution to the Tora-san (Otoko wa tsurai yo) series, is available with English subtitles (however, the forthcoming DVD and Blu-ray release of Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days does have English subtitles listed). This could be due to the period in which most of his work was made, with English discourse on the Japanese cinema of the 1970s tending to concentrate on the demise of the studio system, independent documentaries and art-house films, and themes of violence and sex such as the jitsuroku (realism) yakuza genre and Roman Poruno (Nikkatsu’s soft-core pornographic) films. The kigeki (comedy) labels Morisaki’s films often bear appear to have been neglected by international scholars and audiences and perhaps this has caused him to slip through the cracks.

Although he cannot simply be labeled a kigeki director, for not all his films are comedies, as we shall see below, and those that are involve elements of higeki (tragedy) and fūshi-geki (satire) aimed at social and political issues. I find the gap of Western academic inquiry into kigeki surprising, as it is within the comedy genre—from slapstick and gags through to satire—that we can discover many socio-political undercurrents that are a rich source for the film researcher and historian alike. I would argue that many kigeki labeled films—especially those from Morisaki—transcend the simple purpose of comedy for laughs or pleasure and often find themselves in the realm of satire and social criticism. Of course the value of researching all forms of the comedy genre should be emphasized, and perhaps one day we shall see an abundance of English texts on kigeki similar to the discourse on the early American comedians of the silent film era, the talkies of the 1930s, and the Hollywood comedy of the 1950s. My intentions, therefore, in this report are to introduce the work of Morisaki Azuma through a brief analysis of the special screening of Country Detective: The Phantom Kamikaze and to inform the reader of some of the issues discussed at the event as well as of other titles appropriate to the discussion. In addition, I would like to encourage deeper research of his films and the kigeki genre in general in order to gain a better understanding of the methods and functions of the Japanese style of this form. Finally, above all, I wish to see more of these films subtitled and circulated for a global audience.  

Firstly, to be clear, Country Detective: The Phantom Kamikaze is not a feature film; rather it is an episode in the Country Detective telefeature series which screened on July 7, 1979, as the Saturday night Wide Gekijō (theatre) drama on TV Asahi. Furthermore, it is not a kigeki: although the series star is none other than Atsumi Kiyoshi who plays the bungling peddler Tora-san from Yamada Yōji’s Tora-san series, the feature would be more comfortably labeled as a “Saturday night murder mystery” drama, with a few goofs and gags from Atsumi.

Morisaki began his career writing scripts for Yamada and, as noted above, was also granted a chance to direct an episode of the series, Tora-san: His Tender Love (Otoko wa tsuraiyo: Fūten no tora, 1970), which had a North American release with English subtitles. After working with Yamada, he then made twelve of his twenty five feature films for Shōchiku but was fired in 1975, with Shōchiku citing his failure to stay within budget on his third film, Men Are Charming (Kigeki – Otoko wa aikyō, 1970) as the reason. Yet according to the director this was just their official version. In an interview with Shirai Yoshio in March 1981, Morisaki states that the firing was due to disagreements with Kido Shirō, then the Shōchiku president, and to his own anger at being forced to move to the Ōfuna studios when the Kyoto studio closed. In the interview they discuss Shōchiku and the studio’s avoidance of any conceptual and political material in films, and they note it was a studio that concentrated on comedy for the masses (shomin kigeki). The trouble with Kido and the dismissal was a shock to Morisaki as the two once had a close relationship. Morisaki recalled that Kido took an interest in him, and once came to the studio during the shooting of Men Are Charming and grabbed him saying, “Hey, there’s my pupil!” (Oo, ore no deshi!).[1] But he points out that back then his films were still in line with the Shōchiku tone of comedy. Shirai comments that, “It was a quite tepid studio that produced films for the petty bourgeoisie to enjoy during tea break.”[2]  Yet they also note that Shōchiku Ōfuna was once home to the conceptual and politically charged cinema of Ōshima Nagisa and the New Wave of the 1960s, with Morisaki recalling that he was shocked and impressed when films depicting the Anpo demonstrations[3] were produced there. Speaking about the closure of the Shōchiku Kyoto studios and his forced relocation, Morisaki thought that not only Shōchiku, but he too had betrayed the workers in Kyoto, and this also contributed to the tension with Kido. What’s more, he felt, “totally against, the calm, artistic mood of Ōfuna, where master Ozu walks below the cherry blossom trees”[4] and decided it was better to go it alone anyway. He also says that Kido told the workers that he was fired as a warning to all.[5] He went on, however, to make just two films, The Special Show: A Gigolo’s Paradise (Tokudashi himo tengoku, 1975) and The Love and Adventures of Kuroki Taro (Kuroki Tarō no ai to bōken, 1977), before returning to Shōchiku after a six-year hiatus from filmmaking in 1983 to direct The Antique Store Wife (Jidaiya no nyōbō).

The Phantom Kamikaze episode situates detective Sugiyama (Atsumi) in an investigation of a murdered schoolgirl found under a cherry tree in full-bloom. Some blossom petals are discovered in her hand and not far from the scene a hinomaru (Japanese flag) headband of the type famously worn by the Kamikaze pilots is spotted amongst the grass. The following scene greets us with a right-wing vehicle proceeding down the street with young supporters on top wearing similar headbands. The Japanese war song Hohei no honryō (Essence of an Infantryman) blasts from the speakers and this verse was included in the script; “The flowers of the towering cherry blossom tree, the color of our badge, blow in the storm at Yoshino. If you’re born a Yamato boy, you’ll fall just like the flowers at the front.”[6] Since the petals discovered in the girl’s hand do not match the tree where the body was located, the investigation sends Sugiyama’s partner Tōnoshita to Chiran in Kagoshima Prefecture where they are advised the matching tree can be found. The town is home to the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots (Tokkō Heiwa Kaikan) and upon arrival he is told that the cherry trees are next to the old runaways there. It is in Chiran where we find Fukasawa (Nishimura Kō) on his knees pleading with four men, “each one,” according to the script, “standing in front of the man like soldiers, giving him a beating.”[7] Meanwhile Sugiyama is in Osaka on the trail of an adult filmmaker who has been recording the same scenario every five to six years since the 1950s. It is a story of young maidens offering themselves to brave Kamikaze pilots under a cherry blossom tree on the eve of their departure. The pornographer is Fukasawa, and as the investigation continues we discover he claims to be a Kamikaze himself, and we learn that he too took part in the same sayonara ritual. However, to the dismay of his estranged partner who gave herself to him, and the daughter conceived from the event, the police reveal that he was never enlisted. Yet having lived by this fabrication for so long, Fukasawa is convinced that he was a Kamikaze. Finally evading Sugiyama’s pursuit he makes it to Okinawa, and in his own sacrificial gesture, he walks out into the sea. As a result, in 1979, some thirty-four years after the war, the phantom Kamikaze finally departs.[8]

One may think that the story simply follows a typical detective drama structure: clues are pursued, some subplots emerge, and the puzzle is pieced together. Yet this puzzle unfolds beyond the screen and directly into the personal history of the actor Nishimura Kō, who was himself a tokkōtai (Kamikaze) who never made it to battle. We can thank a mechanical failure in his aircraft just after take-off for preventing his glorious Kamikaze end and allowing him to play supporting roles in many Japanese classics such as The Burmese Harp (1956) and Yojimbo (1961). The opening of the episode is loaded with items that invite a symbolic reading of the mise-en-scène. We can suggest the murdered school girl works as a trope for the loss of innocent young lives in war—children betrayed by their country through the notion of kokutai (nation or national essence) indoctrinated through the Imperial Rescript on Education. Moreover, there are the discarded hinomaru and scattered blossom petals, not unlike the fallen pilots scattered across the Pacific. The war song following the scene further invokes this image with the words “Sanpeisen no hana to chiru” (fall/scatter just like the flowers at the front). Chiru also holds the meaning “to die a noble death.” Certainly Morisaki has made clear his criticism of imperial Japan, an entity which he holds responsible for taking the life of his older brother who committed ritual suicide, seppuku, on August 16, 1945, one day after the end of the Pacific War. A graduate of the Kenkoku University in Manchuria and also a tokkōtai trainee in the navy, his brother firmly believed in the ideals and supposed objectives of the East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and was thus devastated by Japan’s defeat. In an interview with Yamane in Fujii’s text, Morisaki praises his brother’s intellect, stating that he was not just some simple minded right-winger (tanjun na uyoku) and noting that his bookshelf was lined with texts by the likes of Trotsky, Bukharin, and Lenin. He laments that his brother would have become a fine scholar had he lived, and had Japan’s military not promoted such false hope which ultimately caused him to end his life.[9]

The panel discussion focused on this repeated theme of suicide, and how Morisaki has carried his anger through all his films, an anger that crystalizes in The Phantom Kamikaze and the ATG release The Love and Adventures of Kuroki Taro, a film that screened after the discussion. That film is a unique Morisaki statement complete with a war-returnee seppuku scene played by the legendary Mikuni Rentarō. The panel mentioned that this project was self-funded and discussed the incoherency of the film, agreeing that if the audience was not familiar with Morisaki’s background and the fate of his brother, it would have been difficult to follow. Also discussed was the repeated use of Okinawa within his films. Separated from Japan and under the control of the United States from 1945 to 1972, the islands were a topic of interest among the socially and politically aware directors of the postwar period, often becoming a setting for anti-war themes and issues of the Okinawan diaspora. Two obvious examples would be Ōshima’s Dear Summer Sister (Natsu no imōto, 1972) or Monuments of Star Lilies (Himeyuri no tō, 1953) from director Imai Tadashi.

It is this overpowering entanglement of personal life and point of view in Morisaki’s films that is the cause of some concern for critics here, however. During the panel discussion about Okinawa and Manchuria in Kuroki Taro, Fujii asked:

These are very big issues for Morisaki and I understand that, and of course all directors invest their lives into their films, but we can watch a film without having to know all that. In Morisaki’s films, things appear that would be incomprehensible unless we knew about him […] and that’s not what I want to see in a film. What is with all these personal issues appearing in his films? And now, how should we view these films? Are we all supposed to think about Morisaki’s problems together?

The final remark was somewhat sarcastic and induced a laugh from the audience. Yamane and Ueno both agreed that they too cannot understand some scenes in Kuroki Taro, prompting Fujii to conclude, “So what are those who want to watch his films supposed to do from now on? Should they study the life of Morisaki?” This prompted more laughter from the audience. Yet Yamane stated that that is not necessary: there is laughter and tears in Morisaki’s films, as well as questioning of Japan’s problems. At this point in the discussion I wondered if any harsh criticism was intended, and thought that perhaps this was the only way Fujii felt he could acknowledge these themes and introduce them to the audience. But I find this problematic and worthy of commentary. The implications of the questions and the manner in which they were delivered­—including the audience’s reaction—were quite surprising for me. I had assumed that this involvement of personal history and politics was part of the attraction of the films rather than a concern.

Further criticism on this topic can be found in Takahashi Hiroshi’s chapter in Fujii’s text that deals with what he calls a problem of ideology (kannensei mondai)[10] with regard to Morisaki’s use of abstract and philosophical statements. He quotes from the same above mentioned Shirai Yoshio interview with Morisaki regarding the latter’s remake of the Kurosawa film, Stray Dog (Nora inu, 1973). Shirai questions him as to why he changed the film into a work of “typical Morisaki idealism” (Morisaki no tenkeiteki na kannen shugi).[11] Before continuing it is important to note the problem of this term kannensei and the various interpretations it allows. It has the meaning “to be composed of subjective concepts” that is to say “conceptual” or “ideational”, and kannenshugi is translated as “idealism” or “German Idealism” in the philosophical aesthetic sense. Idealism may not seem the most appropriate translation here, and I think what most Japanese have in mind is simply “abstract” considering the term kannen shōsetsu which is commonly translated as the “conceptual novel”, but has also been known as “ideological novel” and “novel of ideas”.  And as the discussion on Morisaki opposes this to gutaiteki or “tangible” a translation to “conceptualism” or “abstractionism” may seem more appropriate. Essentially, however, this discussion criticizes the tendency for Morisaki’s ideological concepts to overpower the film, and further into the interview, Shirai does go as far as call Morisaki’s style “intellectual Stalinism”.[12] For this reason, I believe, a translation to “ideology” is a suitable fit in this case.

In the interview Shirai asks the director why the protagonist came to the capital from Okinawa with a group of young workers only to fail, and why he wanted to push his ideological (kannenteki) message from the outset instead of following the “criminal escaping the detective” plot first and subsequently inserting his own theme to appeal to the audience. As a drama loaded with the director’s ideals, he tells Morisaki that the film will not attract the interest of the public who are expecting the thrills and action of a detective film. Morisaki states that he didn’t just want to make a typical detective film and although he was deeply impressed by the original on his first viewing, his thoughts were with the protagonist during the second, and that is why these ideological and ethical themes are present. Later in the interview he states that these abstract concepts prevail over simply capturing his own experiences and working them into a tangible (gutaiteki) film. He points out, however, that this is just a result of his inabilities, that when coming up with ideas for films, if he does not have a tangible idea to work with, he relies on abstraction to cover that gap. Shirai thinks that answer is too simple, and to be so easy like that is betraying to the audience (anchoku ni yarareru to, wareware ha uragirareta).[13] His frustration is clear in the below excerpt:

Shirai: Well it comes down to this. Ideological messages should be delivered in a lecture hall. People don’t want to hear preaching in a film. Do you think late-night cinemagoers and the likes of your brother-in-law from out in the sticks find that kind of film interesting?

Morisaki: If the movie is that kind of film, then it’s a matter of concern. I too am worried about that, because it’s foolish and in bad form. I also want to make it look good. But while I am concerned about that, at the same time I’m worried that if I agree with you too much, I might get too drawn into [bringing spectators in through the action].[14]

The interview plays out in this tit for tat manner and reveals that Shirai’s problems stem from his disappointment in Morisaki who used to make films that he loved such as the farcical comedy Women Are Brave (Kigeki – Onna wa dokyō, 1969). He says that he felt betrayed by Morisaki and states, “Actually, you are a Kyoto University graduate who makes difficult and somber films, aren’t you?”[15] Laughing at this Morisaki says he is pretty far from that. The interview ends with Morisaki proposing that Shirai should become a producer. Shirai takes up the offer and suggests they should work together, and perhaps only then would there be a practical way to settle this argument.[16]

At the screening the panelists also discussed the fact that The Phantom Kamikaze was broadcast during primetime on a Saturday night. All agreed it was a fantastic feat for such an involved drama, one with story, cast, and crew all connected to the sensitive issue of disillusionment with the war. The panel noted how fitting Hayasaka Akira’s script was for Morisaki, considering that the suicide of Fukasawa, who is also a filmmaker, invokes a hint of the meta-film, a familiar trait further presented in the comedy Location (Rokēshon, 1984)[17] which follows the crew shooting a pink film that flips from fiction to non-fiction. In the film the wife of the assistant director is the star but she has attempted suicide for the third time and is no longer able to perform. A random replacement is found at one of the filming locations but the girl only agrees to the role if they shoot it in her hometown, Fukushima. Once there, the crew become obsessed with filming the story of the young girl’s past. As Fujii states in the filmography in his text, here we can see the influence of Imamura Shōhei’s A Man Vanishes (Ningen jōhatsu, 1967) on scriptwriter Kondō Shōji.[18]

The panel speculated as to whether Hayasaka and Morisaki communicated with each other before the director received the job for The Phantom Kamikaze, yet nothing was confirmed at the discussion. Also discussed was the use of vast open spaces and landscape shots, which they mentioned as uncharacteristic of the director, who is usually known for his settings inside tight, cluttered urban dwellings. A regular stylistic trait of Morisaki’s is to have a number of characters in the frame while two are in dialogue, often placing people in the background or foreground and confusing the attention of the viewer. Perhaps this evolved for purely economic reasons due to the confined set? Yet it might simply be due to his preference for a gocha gocha (messy) style, one present in most of his films along with other traits such as vulgarity, perverseness, and dirtiness, or notions of the Bakhtinian grotesque, common traits that are emphasized in the first chapter in Fujii’s text titled “Morisaki Azuma’s Bottom.” Here Ueno Kōshi discusses the frequent use of naked male buttocks (usually of chubby men), toilet scenes, and people stumbling or falling down. He states that this vector towards the ground stands in contrast with the climatic or revelational scenes that involve characters ascending, climbing mountains or rising from the dirt. He suggests that the displays of private parts and toilet scenes are simply gestures presenting everyday life; they exist therefore Morisaki shows them, and this further connects to his tendency towards the soil.[19]

These traits, I would further argue, illustrate the director’s commitment to the lower stratum of society. Indeed, the film “Live Life Like a Flower until You Die” Party Declaration (Ikiteru uchi ga hana na no yo, shindara sore made yo, tō sengen, 1985) utilizes the area known as the “Nuclear Ginza” in Fukui Prefecture as a setting to present these tropes. What begins as an absurd comedy with rebellious school kids kidnapping their teacher soon becomes a quite serious and moving film portraying the life of “gypsy” nuclear power plant laborers controlled by the local yakuza. Accentuated by frequent dark scenes at night with minimal lighting, red or green hues, and grey ghetto-like daytime backdrops, the film confronts the viewer with a dystopian aesthetic, exposing the issue of accident cover-ups and the horrendous conditions of migrant workers. However, maintaining the above mentioned tropes and absurdities keeps the film grounded in the realm of satire—criticism aimed directly at the proponents of nuclear power. Moreover, the film moves back and forth from Fukui to Okinawa, where the protagonists have travelled from, further infusing the film with politics through the theme of the Okinawan diaspora. I assume that this somewhat absurd treatment of such serious content was a cause for confusion and concern with some critics. Just to highlight this absurdity further, I could add that the film’s main ideological stance against the cover-ups at the nuclear power plant is presented in flashback, an exposition recounted in detail—right up to the secret disposal of bodies at night—recited by a worker involved in an accident who has been playing dead, hiding out in his own grave. His resurrection/marriage scene as I shall call it is truly a bizarre moment supported further by a warm and quirky dub-reggae soundtrack. Thus the question arises: would a much more straightforward realist approach be more suitable than non-direct, abstract messages? 

Live Life Like a Flower until You Die - Party Declaration

Figure 1: The schoolyard ghetto setting of the opening sequence.

Figure 2: A dark bar tinted in red shows a migrant worker blowing across a bottle, a superstitious gesture among the workers that is said to protect them from radiation accidents.

Figure 3: Rising from the grave.

Figure 4: A helicopter disposing of bodies at night.

One film that is not so top-heavy with the director’s philosophical concepts is his debut comedy Women Are Brave, although it does present another popular Morisaki theme of the giji kazoku (sham or pseudo family), a term used to describe his use of families in which the members are not biologically related. The protagonist is a young scholarly man conveniently named Manabu (a common name meaning learn or study), stuck in rut with his factory job and downtown working class family, who in the end learns that he is not related to his father. Here Morisaki works with the popular “dysfunctional family” comedy theme through contrasting characters: a studious son fed up with his family, a crude truck driving older brother Benkichi (Atsumi Kiyoshi), a lazy good-for-nothing father, and a mother who has given up and is quietly immersed in her side job. The film is more social satire than slapstick or farce, and rather than the shomin kigeki (middle class comedy) that Shōchiku wanted Morisaki to churn out, he has produced a work of kasō shomin kigeki (comedy of the lower-class masses) that presents us with a picture of lower-class society amid the socio-political problems of the late sixties. The jabs at politics and capitalism, for instance, are established early in the film via the large sing-a-long in a basement performance space to the explicitly satirical song “Kusokurae bushi” by popular left-wing folk musician Okabayashi Nobuyasu.  

Manabu’s interest in academics also clashes with those surrounding him who are only concerned with consumption, such as the father’s drunkenness and his and Benkichi’s interest in callgirls. Benkichi’s attitude toward academics and culture is exemplified when he takes a Goethe book of love poems into the toilet and drops it into the bowl. The book was actually a gift from Manabu to his girlfriend whom he had just proposed to, and how his brother managed to acquire it sets up the farce. Also, the family home is surrounded by the signs of consumerism. It backs onto a river separating it from Haneda Airport and is situated underneath a large Y.K.K. Zipper neon billboard. That joins other advertisements—such as for Canon, Sanyo, and Kanebo—lighting up the shoreline for the purpose of welcoming or sending off travellers. In fact, neon signs are abundant throughout the film, alluding to Japan’s commercial success and promotion of a capitalist society. We also see Benkichi working at a landfill site and are reminded of Tokyo’s expansion into the bay. Moreover, the noise and image of a plane taking off is often located in the background of scenes, inviting a notion of advancement that leaves behind this sector of society. The last scene beautifully captures this: the camera pans along the shoreline of advertisements and establishes the mother coming outside with the washing under the large Y.K.K. sign. Cut to a full shot from the opposite direction showing her hoisting the men’s underwear onto the line. And then the last shot in medium frame presents the pants blowing in the breeze with a plane ascending into the sky behind. This last image at first confirms the mother’s success in keeping the family together despite the all the trouble and, secondly, the ascending plane reminds us of Manabu’s marriage plans and his departure from the family. It is an impressive sequence that one could suggest is not only parodying Ozu—the master of shomin kigeki—and his classic shot of clothes drying on the line in Tokyo Story (1953), but also identifying this film as a satirical take on that genre. Furthermore, by situating the family in this environment, one contrasted with the neon glow of consumerism, this film, I would argue, works as Morisaki’s allegorical critique of material wealth and consumption, an attack on the high-economic growth period which began in the mid-1950s and accelerated in the 1960s owing to then Prime Minster Ikeda Hayato and his famous “income-doubling” plan. 

Women are Brave

Figure 5: The cine-scope widescreen format allows all the family to fit in this establishing shot.

Figure 6: The mother is left in front of the camera obstructing the conversation in the background.

Figure 7: The family home framed by advertisements.

Figure 8: The final shot.

Finally there is Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days. The film is an adaptation of a comic book portraying the story of a middle aged man known as Pecorossdue to his bald head that resembles the small pekorosu onion—looking after his elderly mother who is suffering from dementia (ninchishō). It deals with the problem of an ever-increasing aging population that Japan is faced with in a manner that is humorous and respectful towards the elderly. It is particularly concerned with memory, a notion highlighted in the NHK ETV tokushū (special) documentary on Morisaki and the making of the film that was broadcast on December 21, 2013. In the program the director states “Memory is love” (kioku wa ai de aru), a belief he has worked with throughout his career and which founds the emotional climax in the film. Although on the surface the film appears to be a typical heart-warming ninjō kigeki (human comedy), many of the familiar directorial traits are there, yet in a somewhat refined or subdued form. Ultimately it seems he has finally found a way to insert his subjective view by keeping it subtle to please the critics and to satisfy his fans at the same time. The result is a beautiful film, one that has touched a nerve and which was voted the best film of 2013 in the Kinema junpō and Eiga geijutsu (Film Art) magazine polls—another amazing feat as usually these two are polar opposites in their best ten lists. Sadly, during the making of the film, Morisaki, now eighty-six years old, also began experiencing memory loss. 

Indeed, the themes of suicide, war and Morisaki’s brother were prominent in The Phantom Kamikaze and in the discussion that followed the screenings in Shibuya, and can be further located, along with his other directorial traits noted above, in the films Women are Brave, The Love and Adventures of Kuroki Tarō, Location, and “Live Life like a Flower until You Die” Party Declaration. As stated at the outset, however, this piece is intended to be a mere introduction to the director; with twenty-five feature length releases and numerous script-writing for film and television, a thorough commitment to researching Morisaki’s career is required. And finally, with regard to the criticism he received for his so-called kannensei problem, I tend to feel that Morisaki portrays the hidden or repressed collective memories and lifestyles of the masses by coming to terms with his own memories and perception of Japanese history by means of the camera. This is not a bold and extreme stance that has not been taken before, thus I find it disappointing that the consensus on Morisaki and this topic seems to be that conceptual or abstract messages have no place in the cinema. For directors with much more on their mind than entertainment, the camera is a tool, as it is and has been for filmmakers all over the world asking questions and presenting problems since the first flickers of light hit celluloid. Therefore, to those critics who take issue with such a style and the Morisaki declaration, I’d like to borrow a title from another notably outspoken filmmaker of the postwar syndicate in saying, “Eejanaika![20]


[1] Shirai Yoshio, “Morisaki Azuma kantoku to no taishū eiga ni tsuite no ronsō,” Kantoku no isu (Tokyo: Hanashi no tokushū, 1981), 132.  All translations are mine unless stated otherwise.

[2] Ibid., 134.

[3] The Anpo demonstrations brought hundreds of thousands of students, workers, intellectuals and housewives together to protest against the extension of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty outside the Diet building in June 1960.

[4] Morisaki is quite candid in the interview therefore I have included the Japanese here: “Ōfuna satsueijo no motsu, aru ochitsuita geijutsuteki na fun’iki no naka de, sakura no shita o, meishō Ozu-san ga aruiteirasharu, to iu yō na kifū ni, shōjiki itte dai hanpatsu o kanjiten desu yo.” In Shirai, “Morisaki Azuma kantoku to no taishū eiga ni tsuite no ronsō,” 134.

[5] Ibid., 134.

[6] Banda no sakura ka, eri no iro/hana wa Yoshino ni arashifuku/Yamato onoko to umareba/ sanpeisen no hana to chiru. See Hayasaka Akira, “Inakadeka maboroshi no tokkōtai,” Dorama 1.2 (Tokyo: Ejiinsha, August 1979), 97.

[7] “[H]itorihitori ga otoko no mae ni tatte, guntaifū ni naguritsukeru.” In Hayasaka, “Inakadeka maboroshi no tokkōtai” 100.

[8] The actual title of the script is Inaka deka Sanjūyonme (the thirty fourth year, with Maboroshi printed above) no tokkōtai (田舎刑事三十四年目(まぼろし)の特攻隊). The telefeature title, however, is simply Inaka deka Maboroshi no tokkōtai.  

[9] Yamane Sadao, “Eiga wa mō hotondo sekai de aru,” in Morisaki Azuma tō sengen! Azuma Moriskai: Films of Laughter, Tears, and Anger, ed. Fujii Jinshi (Tokyo: Inscript Inc., 2013), 182-188. 

[10] Takahashi Hiroshi, “Morisaki eiga no namida to kannensei,” in Morisaki Azuma tō sengen! Azuma Moriskai: Films of Laughter, Tears, and Anger, by Fujii Jinshi (Tokyo: Inscript Inc., 2013), 44-45.

[11] Ibid., 44.

[12] Shirai, “Morisaki Azuma kantoku to no taishū eiga ni tsuite no ronsō,” 146.

[13] Ibid., 141-145.

[14] Ibid., 144. Here Shirai uses the phrase Heike no ochiudoburaku no giri no oniisan, referring to Morisaki’s brother in-law who the director says comes from one of the rural villages where members of the Taira clan fled to after being defeated in the Genpei War depicted in The Tale of Heike. Earlier in the interview Morisaki stated that he wanted to make films for his “brother in-law” a term he states could also mean “the public” or “the masses”.    

[15] Ibid., 145.

[16] Shirai Yoshio was senior editor of Kinema junpō from 1968 to 1976. He is very frank in his interviews with other directors about his dislike of their films that have any ideological or abstract messages, but is not quite as aggressive in his criticism of Morisaki’s remake of Stray Dog.  See Shirai, “Morisaki Azuma kantoku to no taishū eiga ni tsuite no ronsō,” 147.

[17] Unfortunately this film has not had a video or DVD release. I was lucky enough to view a copy recorded from the Japanese cable television channel, Nihon Eiga Senmon Channeru (Japanese Film Specialist Channel).

[18] Fujii Jinshi, “Filmography,” in Morisaki Azuma tō sengen! Azuma Moriskai: Films of Laughter, Tears, and Anger, edited by Fujii Jinshi (Tokyo: Inscript Inc., 2013), xxiii.

[19] Ueno Kōshi, “Morisaki Azuma no botomu,” in Morisaki Azuma tō sengen! Azuma Moriskai: Films of Laughter, Tears, and Anger, edited by Fujii Jinshi (Tokyo: Inscript Inc., 2013), 30-42.

[20] Imamura Shōhei’s Eejanaika! (Why Not!, 1981).

Posted 22 October 2014