Alternate title: Twilight Beer Hall (literal English title)
|Art Director||Itō Toshikazu|
|Performers||Kosugi Isamu (Umeda Moichirō, a painter); Miyahara Takuya (Kenichi, a singer); Ono Hiroshi (Eto Kinya, Kenichi’s teacher); Tsushima Keiko (Emy Rosa, a dancer); Tatara Jun (Tetsuo, Umeda’s friend); Nozoe Hitomi (Yuki, a young barmaid); Arima Korema (Taniguchi, the bar manager); Tōno Eijirō (Onizuka, a former military officer); Katō Daisuke (Kibe, a former soldier, his subordinate); Tanba Tetsurō (Morimoto, a yakuza); Utsui Ken (Masumi, Yuki’s boyfriend); Takada Minoru (Nakakoji, an impresario); Nakamura Akira (Taga, Emy’s former patron); Egawa Ureo (Yamaguchi, Umeda’s friend)|
|Photography||Black and White|
|Original Release Date||June 19, 1955|
|Awards and Festival / Retrospective Screenings||Mainichi Film Concours (Best Art Direction); Tokyo FILMeX Retrospective (2004); MIFF (Melbourne, Australia) Retrospective (2005); Japan Society “Japan Sings” series, 2016; MOMA Retrospective, 2016|
In Tokyo in the late afternoon, inside a closed beer hall, a middle-age bohemian painter, Umeda, arrives and takes his usual seat at the bar while listening to a young singer, Kenichi, practicing opera arias under the strict tutelage of his teacher, Eto Kinya. Barmaids arrive and begin to set up the bar and tables, while one of them, Yuki, who will also perform as part of the evening’s entertainment, gets onstage and rehearses, accompanied on accordion by Kenichi, the Stephen Foster song Beautiful Dreamer (with Japanese lyrics). The beer hall opens to customers and Umeda’s drunken friend Tetsuo enters.
Among the first customers to arrive is Onizuka, a former military officer, now a down-on-his-luck estate agent. Kibe, a former soldier, recognizes Onizuka as his superior during the war, and he is invited by Onizuka to share a drink with him. The two men, who are militarists, are very displeased by the non-Japanese music playing from the record player onstage, and by the left-wing students drinking and singing nearby.
A young yakuza, Morimoto, enters with his gang and frightens Yuki by telling her they are looking for Masumi, her boyfriend. While Yuki is singing onstage, Masumi enters and faces down the gang by stabbing Morimoto’s hand with a fork and forcing him to hand over some money. Masumi leaves a message for Yuki with Umeda that he will soon be departing for Osaka, and exits the beer hall, with Morimoto and his gang in pursuit.
Yuki, having finished her performance, receives the message from Umeda that Masumi is about to leave for Osaka. She tries to run after him, but at the front entrance she finds her very young sister, who has come with the news that their mother, a day laborer, has been seriously injured.
Yuki has no money to help her mother, and she sadly relates her problem to her friend Umeda. Umeda arranges with the bar manager, Taniguchi, to give Yuki an advance on her wages so she can take care of her mother. Meanwhile, when Kibe walks away from Onizuka’s table for a few moments, the latter surreptitiously pays his own bar bill and sneaks out of the hall, leaving Kibe’s bill unpaid. Kibe returns to the table and, confused, runs after Onizuka
The star of the evening’s entertainment, the dancer Emy Rosa, arrives and greets her fans. She is a former ballet dancer who performs a nightly “striptease” show to survive. She goes backstage where she discovers from Eto that Kenichi is thinking of joining an opera company. However, if he does so, he’ll have to end their master-disciple relationship, which would devastate Eto.
Nakakoji, an opera impresario, arrives to “audition” Kenichi. Before the war, this man had been Eto’s protégé, but had slept with Eto’s wife. The jealous Eto had then physically attacked Nakakoji, ending his own music career.
Kenichi takes the stage and sings “The Toreador Song” from Bizet’s opera, Carmen. As he does so, Umeda and Tetsuo entertain the customers with an impromptu routine in which Umeda plays a matador and Tetsuo portrays a charging bull. After the performance, Kenichi seeks out Nakakoji at his table to discuss the possible opera position. The young singer is ambivalent, desiring the opportunity but not wanting to leave behind his beloved teacher. Yamaguchi, an old friend of Umeda’s, arrives and the latter greets him warmly.
Kenichi goes backstage and relates the news of the opera offer to Emy and Eto. Emy is thrilled, but Eto is depressed. Emy berates him for not thinking of the good of his protégé.
Emy, wearing a mask, begins her dance routine, moving from table to table throughout the hall, exciting the male customers, although she removes none of her clothes. Meanwhile, Umeda, who had once served the war effort by painting Fascist monuments, shares with Yamaguchi his feelings of guilt at this contribution to a war he now despises, and his need to atone for it.
As Emy removes her mask (the only article of clothing she takes off), she notices her former patron, Taga, sitting at a table in the corner, a look of disgust on his face, and is afraid. He chases her with a knife, but the audience laughs, assuming this is all part of the act. Taga slashes her upper arm. Kenichi and several other men subdue him, to the audience’s shock, and the police are called. Taga is arrested and Emy Rosa brought in for questioning.
Umeda decides to paint Yamaguchi’s portrait on the back of a poster that was hanging above the bar, so that Yamaguchi will pay him. Umeda can then reimburse Taniguchi for having loaned the money to Yuki.
The closing bell rings and the barmaids begin to close up The Twilight Saloon for the night as the patrons leave one by one. The barmaids then depart for home. Umeda has a long talk with Eto in the nearly empty bar to persuade him to let his protégé go. Kenichi agonizes over his decision to leave his mentor, but the latter plays the piano one last time while Kenichi sings. After Yuki returns once more to the bar, she and Umeda exit together. Tomorrow, Eto will accompany Kenichi as the latter joins Nakakoji’s opera company.
Notes on the Cast
Tōno Eijirō was an extremely prolific character actor, who did excellent work for just about every director of note during Japan’s Golden Age of the 1950s and early-to-mid 1960s. He holds the unique distinction of being the only person who worked on both of the two most acclaimed Japanese films: Ozu’s Tokyo Story (Tokyo Monogatari, 1953), in which he played a disreputable salaryman, and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai, 1954), portraying a terrified kidnapper. He started out in left-wing theater in the 1930s and played the peasant Kanji in a stage adaptation of Nagatsuka Takashi’s novel The Soil, though he wasn’t cast in Uchida’s 1939 film version. After making his movie debut in 1936, he amassed over 250 film and TV credits over six decades. For Uchida, he would later appear in Dotanba (1957) Chikamatsu’s Love in Osaka (1959), The Master Spearman (1960) and the fourth installment (1964) of the five-part Miyamoto Musashi series. In old age he became a very popular television actor, and he continued working right up to his death in 1994 at the age of 86.
Tsushima Keiko was an actress who had a long career extending into the 21st Century. She made her debut in her early twenties in the 1947 Yoshimura Kisaburō classic A Ball at the Anjo House (Anjō-ke no butōkai). She worked over the years with many prominent directors, though she’s best known for her performance as Shino, the farmer’s daughter, in Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. She died in 2012 at age 86.
Nozoe Hitomi was a popular actress active in the 1950s and 1960s. After making a memorable debut as a dying teenager in Kobayashi Masaki’s first film, Sincerity (Magokoro, 1953), she became particularly well known for her roles in several works by Masumura Yasuzō. She played an innocent girl in his groundbreaking film Kisses (Kuchizuke, 1957), and a pop culture icon with serious dental issues in his classic satire Giants and Toys (Kyojin to gangu, 1958). She’s perhaps best known in the West for her small role as a barber in Ozu’s Floating Weeds (Ukigusa, 1959). Decades after her retirement, she died of thyroid cancer in 1995 at the age of 58.
Tanba Tetsurō (surname often spelled “Tamba”) was a character actor. Born into an aristocratic family, he specialized, in many of his over 300 movies, at playing villains, most memorably in Kobayashi’s masterpiece, Harakiri (Seppuku, 1962). For Western audiences, his best-known performance was his featured role in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967). In later years, he became a spiritual leader and teacher. He died in 2006.
Trivia note: This movie was a reunion of sorts for five members of the cast of Seven Samurai: Katō Daisuke (who had played the samurai Shichiroji), Tsushima Keiko, Tōno Eijirō, Tatara Jun and Utsui Ken had all appeared in Kurosawa’s film (for Toho) the previous year.
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- This is the only film Uchida made for Shintoho. The studio passed away before he did, declaring bankruptcy in 1961.
- Although I originally viewed a subtitled version of this movie at a Japan Society (New York) screening, the version I’ve most recently consulted is the unsubtitled one posted on YouTube, so my descriptions of the characters and their actions are admittedly dependent to some degree upon my less-than-perfect memory.