by Allan Fish
(Japan 1953 108m) DVD2 (Japan only, no Eng subs)
Aka. Entotsu no mieru basho; Four Chimneys
The magic chimneys
p Yoshishige Uchiyama d Heinosuke Gosho w Hideo Oguni novel Rinzo Shiina ph Mitsuo Miura ed Nobu Nahata m Yasushi Akutagawa
Ken Uehara (Ryukichi Ogata), Kinuyo Tanaka (Hiroko Ogata), Hideko Takamine (Senko Azuma), Hiroshi Akutagawa (Kenzo Kubo), Chieko Seki (Yukiko Ikeda), Haruo Tanaka (Chuji Tsukahara), Kumeko Urabe (Kayo Nojima), Eiko Mayoshi (Ranko), Ranko Hanai (Katsuko Ishibashi), Takeshi Sakamoto (Tokuji Kawamura),
It’s probably the film that Heinosuke Gosho is remembered for in the west, winner of a special prize at the Berlin Film Festival in 1953, and yet it’s a film that remains extremely hard to find in an English friendly print. To many writers of the era, it was one of the most pivotal post-war Japanese films. Yet while the works from this era of Ozu, Naruse, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, even Kinoshita, can be tracked down quite easily, Gosho still remains in a holding cell with no sign of a parole.
The chimneys of the title belong to a factory inTokyo. There are four of them, but they are placed in such an odd cruciform pattern that, depending on which angle you view them from, there can seem to be three, two and even one chimney. Viewed from where Gosho’s film takes place three can be seen. It’s a rural, rundown little settlement near a bus stop on the main road intoTokyo. Ryukichi Ogata and his wife Hiroko live in a ramshackle building, letting out a side portion to one couple while letting the two upstairs bedrooms to a man and a woman respectively, Kenzo and Senko.
Ryuichi works in a low paid job and his wife – a war widow he married after the surrender – has been working, without his knowing it, at the local vélodrome. Senko works as a radio announcer with her friend Yukiko. Kenzo loves Senko, but can hardly bring himself to make a move on her, and hates his job as a taxman’s receiver. All four find their lives turned upside down when the visting Tsukahara, who turns out to be Hiroko’s one-time partner, effectively dumps a baby girl at their door.
That in itself is an old chestnut of a plot, but around it Gosho’s camera works wonders, observing every tiny detail. The chimneys of the factory become in their way a metaphor for the four main protagonists, and the chimneys’ alignment, depending on local geography, showing how the four are apart and, finally, together. Via Kenzo we observe life at the bottom, in the form of Tsukahara and his wife, who works in a lowly tavern in an even more squalid locale. Through Senko we observe the effect of the war on so many young women, as she recounts how, when her brother was killed in action and his wife died in childbirth, she was left to look after their child, only for it to die in infancy. Through Hiroko we see how her suppressed maternal instinct comes to the fore over the course of the baby’s stay, going from exasperation at her sleeplessness to her genuine concern over the baby’s health when it develops a fever.
Yet what makes Gosho’s film so affecting is not just the discretion and humour in his direction, or indeed the quality of Oguni’s script (though both are exemplary); it is in the perfect playing of his cast – and not just his principal quartet. Haruo Tanaka and Ranko Hanai as the baby’s parents go beyond their potential stereotypes and create characters whose faults are distinctly human. Sakamoto has a memorable vignette as an old gambler. Of the principal quartet, if Akutagawa seems the most lightweight, how could he not against such opposition? Takamine happily plays second fiddle here and is her usual magical self, going from sadness to a nervous smile as if spinning on a sixpence. Tanaka is wonderful as the exhausted in more ways than one Hiroko. And then Uehara, who provides the first person narration over the opening exposition, delivers a turn worthy of comparison with his best work for Naruse. As Donald Richie and Joseph L.Anderson observed, “it is one of those movies that one cannot adequately summarise. Nothing is irrelevant, every detail adding to the effect of the whole world that is created.”