by Allan Fish
(Japan 1954 122m) DVD2 (Japan only, no English subs)
Aka. Osaka no yado
To laugh at our unhappiness
p Katsuzou Shino, Ryousuke Okamoto d Heinosuke Gosho w Heinosuke Gosho, Toshio Yasumi novel Takitato Minakami ph Joji Ohara ed Nobu Nagata m Yasushi Akutagawa art Takashi Matsuyama
Shuji Sano (Kyoichi Mita), Nobuko Otowa (Uwabami), Mitsuko Mito (Orika), Hiroko Kawasaki (Otsugi), Sachiko Hidari (Oyone), Eiko Miyoshi (landlady), Haruo Tanaka (boss), Toshio Hasakawa (Tawara), Michiko Megumi (Kimiko Imoto), Hyo Kitazawa (Mr Imoto), Kyoko Anzai (Omitsu), Toranosuke Ogawa (Mr Noro), Jun Tatara (Ossan),
Despite the due reverence to his masterful Where Chimneys are Seen, it’s time to jump off that fence and make a bold statement; An Inn at Osaka, released the following year, is an even greater achievement by Heinosuke Gosho. Even in that most star-studded of years for Japanese cinema, it ranks highly in the cosmos. It’s so exquisite that one is left in a sense of reverence just by being lucky enough to see it.
Kyoichi Mita is an honest insurance man who has been demoted from Tokyo to Osaka after a disagreement with his superior. Seeking lodgings he’s told by the drunken Ossan to go to the Suigetsu Inn in Tokabori district, where he lets room five from the widowed landlady (who happens to be Ossan’s sister). Also there are three maids who work for the landlady. The eldest, Otsugi, is trying to save money to pay for her son’s upkeep and to visit him occasionally at his school. Orika is hounded by an unemployed husband for money. Oyone is young and is only interested in men and has worked at similar establishments as a prostitute.
Around these core characters float other jetsam. Mita gets to know a Mr Imoto, who owes money to Mita’s boss and develops an interest in his young daughter Kimiko, who he meets first at a post-box in the city. Tawara, a friend of Mita’s and an executive, finds he cannot continue in his job and stay a decent person, so he resigns. A regular customer at the inn, Mr Noro, also stirs up trouble when he revokes his support for the inn after an incident with Orika. In response, the landlady has to turn it into a house of ill repute to survive. And finally there’s Uwabami, to give her just one of her names, a popular geisha who makes visits to the inn and falls in unrequited love with Mr Mita.
As in Chimneys, what we have, as Arthur Nolletti Jnr has observed, is a microcosm of Japanese post-war society. None of the characters are happy – with the possible exception of Oyone, who accepts the added sexual favours of her job description by nonchalantly saying it was about time – indeed none of them are liable to be so any time soon. As we leave the characters we have had one suicide while another considered it. And if Osaka doesn’t have the multi-star cast of Chimneys, the ensemble performances are at least its equal; Kawasaki is heartrending as the ageing Otsugi having to come to terms with prostituting herself for her son, Hidari (later Imamura’s lead in The Insect Woman) is perfect as the sexually carefree Oyone, Miyoshi is resilient but not given to kindness or cruelty as the landlady and Mito gives a remarkably complex performance of guilt and loyalty as Orika. The whole supporting cast are perfectly chosen, but best of them is surely Kaneto Shindo’s favourite star, Nobuko Otowa, as the tippling but heartbroken geisha Uwabami. And moving his away between them, offering the humanist centre to this galaxy of the displaced and miserable, Shuji Sano (the husband in Ozu’s A Hen in the Wind), magnificently noble and utterly human as Mita. Mita is one of the great human beings in Japanese film, a man who doesn’t judge and takes each disappointment on the chin, showing concern where some may show anger. “Thanks to this transfer I have learned to live” he tells Tawara with absolutely sincerity. And what a life it is, a life of human seagulls hovering over Osaka’s turgid landfill. The last scene takes place in a scrap yard, which is appropriate, while the fadeout takes place to a skyline of chimneys. Not those chimneys, but the symbolism is equally poignant.