A Great Day in Tokyo: 18 great prewar film directors

Members Page

Introduction

This is the page for members to announce who they are and to describe how and why they became fans of the Japanese director Uchida Tomu (“Tomu Uchida,” in Western name order). 

Membership in IUTAS is free. You need only contact the website creator (me) and answer a few simple questions to be included. All members will be listed on this webpage, unless they choose not to be.

In addition, we are including an Essay section on this page. There members can provide scholarly essays on the films, or, much as I did on the Introduction page of this website, their own personal testimony about how they first encountered the work of this great artist, and what that work means to them.

To become a member and/or to contribute your personal testimony, contact me using the contact page form, and I will get back to you via email, so you can provide me with your content to upload.

Members List

Below is the alphabetical list of current members of IUTAS: The International Uchida Tomu Appreciation Society, founded in June 2021. We hope to keep expanding the list in the near future.

  • Akasaka Daisuke Film critic, born in Tokyo; organizer of cineclub series “New Century New Cinema” from 2003; Lecturer at College of Contemporary Psychology, Rikkyo University, 2008-2021; published (2019) Frame no soto he gendai eiga no media hihan (Frame – media literacy by modern cinema).
  • David Baldwin – Founder and Acting President of IUTAS; playwright, screenwriter and activist, based in New York.
  • Jiaxing Hao – A student studying film history, based in Beijing.
  • Patrick McInerney – Patrick started loving movies as a teen, found his areas of interest in international film noir, giallo movies, wuxia, Kung Fu and Hong Kong gunplay, and silent film. As a moderator of the TrueFilm subreddit, he and his fellow moderators released two Frank Borzage films from the Library of Congress archives. He currently works in property management in Oklahoma.
  • Dan Sallitt – Dan Sallitt is a filmmaker and film writer living in New York City.
  • Hayley Scanlon – London-based writer, translator, and editor of East Asian cinema website Windows on Worlds.  

Essays

 

About Continuity: Theater = Cinema in Tomu Uchida’s films

By Akasaka Daisuke

Author’s note: The word “realism” that is often used to describe Tomu Uchida’s films (at least in Japan) may be a word that might make some viewers of his films feel uncomfortable today. When you take a closer look at certain scenes in, for example, A Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji / Chiyari Fuji (cited below), you get a better idea of what this “realism” means today. [Editor’s note: Western name order (i.e., surname last) has been used for Japanese proper names in this essay.]

The hands of a man hurriedly raking up the coins from the broken koban (small seal) that had been slammed onto the rain-soaked street are unexpectedly cut and replaced by another pair of hands on the tatami mat in a room at an inn, tearing up the white paper of a certificate. In contrast to the fierce skirmish and angry shouting of the first scene, Tōzaburō (Ryunosuke Tsukigata), answering the father and daughter’s words of thanks at the inn, encourages a peaceful homecoming.

The father, who had been on the verge of giving up and having his daughter taken into prostitution as a means of paying off his debts, has just been rescued by Tōzaburō, who had once been in the same situation and had brought money to ransom his daughter from prostitution… until learning that the daughter has already passed away. In the second shot, after the camera captures Tōzaburō’s hands tearing up the certificate, it retreats to capture first three, and then four men staring at the trio of father, daughter and Tōzaburō. In fact, the story of the people in the foreground is a mere subplot of the film, and three of the four men in the background – Kojūrō (played by Eijirō Kataoka, a.k.a., Teruo Shimada), Gonpachi (Chiezō Kataoka) and Genta (Daisuke Katō) – are the real protagonists of the film A Bloody Spear at Mt. Fuji (Chiyari Fuji, 1955).

Gonpachi happened to catch the thief (Eitarō Shindo) just prior to the conclusion of the story of the three people in the foreground, because the spear Gonpachi was carrying – an untraditional fake replica and thus valueless, yet a hindrance to the journey – happened to be blocking the thief’s path as he tried to escape. Kojūrō was not satisfied when he was told by the authorities, “The honor of your retainer is the honor of his master.” He was also disappointed that the reward was a mere token, not even a monetary reward, which he could have given to others. He was also disappointed because he was the only samurai present and yet was merely a bystander, even though the old man’s daughter was saved by another.

Eventually, his disappointment leads Kojūrō to offer Genta to join him in a drink, and then to tragedy when they are killed in an altercation with a group of Matsudaira clan members who happen to be present. This killing is followed by an angry spear-fight by Gonpachi, who rushes to the scene upon hearing of his master’s danger. After Gonpachi stabs all the Matsudaira to death, he clings to the body of his master. The scene ends with a distant shot of an official putting his hand on Gonpachi’s shoulder and the soldiers surrounding him holding out their hands to keep potential supporters of Gonpachi away. In other words, the sequence that began with Ryunosuke Tsukigata’s hands tearing up the certificate ends with the hand on Gonpachi’s shoulder.

What is it about Tomu Uchida’s historical drama A Bloody Spear at Mt. Fuji that is often referred to carelessly as “realism”? It begins with a series of horizontal tracking shots showing the characters on their journey against the backdrop of Fuji, with the prominent sound of a modern wind instrument, saxophone or clarinet, inappropriate for a period drama. The music by Taichiro Kosugi, which would have fit in a Hollywood film of the same era, is not really “real” or “natural” from the beginning, which gives the listener a sense of distance as an obviously theatrical accompaniment. The film reveals itself to be an “exaggerated play” in the climax, when Gonpachi stabs and kills one by one the clansmen who killed Kojūrō. Even if Chiezō Kataoka’s behavior is not as brilliant as usual and he is covered in mud, it is natural that it does not seem real.

But if what Tomu Uchida is doing here can be called “realism,” this comes above all from respecting the continuity of time that encompasses this series of actions. For example, when Gonpachi leaves Kojūrō and Genpachi to get ready to leave, he takes his spear and leaves the room, goes downstairs and puts the spear against a pillar and puts on sandals he received from the maid, and a woman played by Chizuru Kitagawa calls out to him. Gonpachi asks the woman where the child is, saying goodbye as he is going to Minobu. When he hears her say that the child has gone to the riverbank, Gonpachi goes down outside to look for him.

This scene, which is wonderful in itself, is absolutely necessary from the viewpoint that it is important to depict the time that begins with the breaking of the certificate without omitting any part of it. And it is far more important to encompass the calm everyday life and the tragedy of carnage in an uninterrupted sequence of time than it is to call this “realism” or not. For example, Twilight Saloon (Tasogare Sakaba, 1955) – which directly followed A Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji, which was the first film directed by Tomu Uchida after his return to Japan following World War II – is a group drama in which the opening and closing of a public bar is used as a stage for a play, and its “theatricality” can be felt by anyone.

However, if we accept only the “theatricality” of the gestures and dialogues in this work (Bloody Spear), and do not see the strong will to construct a continuity of space and time by gathering shots together that were originally shot one by one, it would be no different from watching a live recording of a play on TV with multiple cameras. In other words, the current film versions of plays, theatrical films and television broadcasts lack the will to respect the continuity of space and time that encompasses the play.

There are masters of the classical era who are immediately mentioned as filmmakers who depict such a strict “sequence of time”. These include Erich von Stroheim, Carl Th. Dreyer, Roberto Rossellini, and John Ford in his early and late talkie years. They were forerunners of contemporary filmmakers such as Manoel de Oliveira, Jacques Rivette, Jean-Marie Straub / Danièle Huillet, and others, who made a documentary film of the encounter between theatrical representation and space-time, giving the audience the gaze to deconstruct and analyze the image. In other words, they have taught us how to distance ourselves from the current excess of images that increasingly surround us, and manipulate us, and sometimes lead us to death (and not only as propaganda).

In order to live in the chaos of the current media age, where the manipulation of apparently “natural” images can even lead to war, we need to develop an analytical eye for images. It could even be said that contemporary films with self-critical characteristics need to be seen more by the general public. Although Tomu Uchida is a master of Japanese classical cinema, in some of his films he seems to be approaching the films of those classical masters who opened the door to modern cinema.

In books of Japanese cinema history, he is always the master of the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema, yet he is placed in an ambiguous position. However, in order for him to be truly reassessed, he must be seen to be modern. This is true not of his pre-war masterpiece Earth (Tsuchi, 1939) and postwar famous films like Swords in the Moonlight (Daibosatsu Toge, 1957-1959) and the Miyamoto Musashi series (1961-65), but rather of his lesser-known films. I will try to show this through two of his films that were not highly acclaimed even at the time of their release, and which have a particularly obscure place in his filmography.

For example, how about the masterpiece Rebellion from Below (Gyakushu Gokumon Toride, 1956)? It is not as narrow a setting as the single bar in Twilight Saloon, but it is also set in a single place. Against the backdrop of the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate – the period between the return of power to the Emperor and the Battle of Toba-Fushimi (January of 1868) – a local administrator (Ryunosuke Tsukigata) is sent by the Shogunate to confront the feudal lords who want to defect to the Emperor’s group. Under orders of the governor of Kyoto, he imposes oppression on the people, forcing them to suffer hardships in building a fort to confront the Satuma-Choshu (the Emperor side) army.

In a film that ends with the destruction of the local administrator’s residence by a peasant uprising that seems to anticipate the end of Bertolucci’s 1900 (1976), Tomu Uchida surprises us with an astonishing direction that surpasses Fritz Lang’s in its placing and moving of crowds within depth of space. The base of the film is also the cinema-theater in front of the camera.

The first is a scene adapted from Schiller’s play William Tell in which a hunter played by Chiezō Kataoka is forced by the local administrator to shoot an apple off a child’s head with his bow. While Gonpachi and his son, who are compelled to push logs, are coming from the back to the front, they see a retainer of the local administrator who forces them to get down on their knees, the administrator wearing a helmet with the Tokugawa hollyhock crest to scare the people. When  the son protests and gets into a skirmish with the retainer and the local administrator, they realize that the father and son are the same people who once refused to give them the boar they had hunted down. And the local administrator orders the father to “shoot the apple off the son’s head if you want to be forgiven.”

The performances of Chiezō Kataoka and of Ryunosuke Tsukigata on horseback, as well as of the people surrounding them, are just like a William Tell performance on stage, and the scene is shown in its entirety. As soon as Gonpachi, who is caught and blamed for the two arrows secretly aimed at the local administrator, throws himself down as a human shield for his son – who escapes, running toward the back of the frame and disappearing from sight – a messenger on horseback comes running from outside and hands the administrator a written order from the guardian of Kyoto. The scene is jump-cut again as the hand of Tsukigata – who had, in A Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji as described earlier, slammed the koban down, breaking it – now, as the administrator, begins to count the days for the construction of the fort (“One day, two days…”), and this shot of his hand out-of-doors is then linked to the shot of his hand in his residence.

In another scene, the headman Tatsuemon, who had gone to ask for a postponement of the construction of the fort on behalf of the suffering people, is again refused by the local administrator, and on his way back he is thrown into prison by the administrator’s retainers. The priest’s daughter, who comes next, then sees her father, already captured and tortured to death.

The scene begins with a long overhead shot of the headman, whose petition has been rejected by the local administrator, and who finally stands up after being urged by the local administrator’s retainer, and then walks down the corridor in a full frontal shot, only to be unexpectedly flanked by his retainers and thrown into jail. As the local administrator turns to watch, he sees a young woman walking from the back. She finds her father stuck there and rushes to him, but is also blocked by a Lang-like grate and breaks down in tears (cut from the front). The local administrator chastises her, saying he will help her if she does what he says.

What is wonderful here, as in the previous scene, is the way the director tries not to break the continuity. The connection from the slow pace of the headman getting up to leave to his quick capture by the retainers is a John Ford-like seamless transition from waiting to sudden action.

There is another important scene which demonstrates continuity. The local administrator is riding his horse to the residence to take up his post. After arriving in a distant shot, he takes a stance with his feet forward at the entrance towards the new retainer waiting for him. The retainer notices this and approaches to untie his sandal laces, but the local administrator does not pay any attention to the retainer and walks past him into the residence, saying “I don’t care about taking over.” In this way, we acquire the microscopic gaze, like Roberto Rossellini’s uninterrupted duration. And from the administrator’s slight gestures, we can see that he is willing to behave like a tyrant in order to fully exercise his power over the declining Tokugawa side.

(Continued on Page 2)