A man onstage in a white shirt with his back to us sings in a crowded Japanese beer hall

Twilight Saloon (Tasogare Sakaba; たそがれ酒場), 1955

(Continued from Page 2)

A Vision of Hope

Despite these satirical asides, though, Uchida’s vision of mid-1950s Japan seems on the whole remarkably positive. The recently repatriated director, having missed out on the struggle, in the immediate aftermath of the war, among the physical and human wreckage of his native land – a battle which his peers, including Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi and Yoshimura, had captured on film so memorably in the late 1940s – must have been greatly impressed by the speed with which his countrymen had recovered from the trauma of defeat.

A beautiful woman on the stage of the bar blows kisses to her fans
Emy Rosa greets her fans

The vision of the Japanese nation that this film celebrates is of a people blessed with an almost boundless energy and will to survive. Even when they’re not doing what they really want in life – when classically-trained dancers need to work as striptease artists to eat, or gifted painters pass the time by playing pachinko – they put their whole heart and soul into their lives.

In particular, the vigor and cheerfulness of the barmaids in the film seem almost superhuman. Nothing, not even a violent customer, appears to faze them, and they’re as upbeat at the end of their working day, when one would think they’d be exhausted, as at the beginning of it. This positivity may be why I respond so much more strongly to this movie than to the darker, more overtly political and much more cynical film (A Hole of My Own Making) that Uchida made right after it.

Near the beginning of the movie, the barmaid Yuki goes on stage and, accompanied by Kenichi, rehearses the song “Beautiful Dreamer” by Stephen Foster (with Japanese lyrics). This movie is ultimately a tribute to the “beautiful dreamers” like Yuki and Emy Rosa and Kenichi and even Umeda, who are not living in the Japan they want, but who can’t quite give up their dream of someday doing so.

The Pain of Letting Go

As exciting and clever and charming as Twilight Saloon is, the film suffers from a serious flaw. The central narrative conflict – the question of whether nice-guy Kenichi will abandon his beloved teacher to pursue his rightful career as a great opera singer – is dull, and more than a little Hollywood-trite.

Umeda and his friend Tetsuo perform a comic dance, pretending to be a matador and bull
The “toreador” (Umeda) and “bull” (Tetsuo) link arms

Furthermore, Miyahara Takuya, who plays Kenichi, is a very inexpressive actor (he was obviously chosen for his singing ability rather than for his acting),1 while Ono Hiroshi, who plays Eto, is consistently over-expressive. (If IMDb can be trusted, this movie was to be the only film credit for either performer.) Even during the most delightful scene, when Umeda and Tetsuo do their comic dance as matador and bull to the tune of Bizet’s “Toreador Song,” it’s very frustrating that Uchida keeps cutting away from the two charming actors to boring close-ups of Kenichi singing.

A man with a knife in his hand threatens Emy while the crowd, assuming this is part of the act, laugs
Taga (left) threatens Emy Rosa (right) while the crowd enjoys the spectacle as entertainment

On the other hand, the film’s main narrative effectively illustrates Uchida’s overarching theme: the pain – but also the necessity – of letting go of both people and the past. As the related subplot involving Emy Rosa and her demented ex-patron Taga demonstrates, the refusal to allow the people one has loved and nurtured to go their own way can destroy one’s life. (It’s not made clear – or perhaps I missed it – whether Taga attacks Emy Rosa out of sexual frustration, or because he’s appalled and disgusted that she’s been forced to prostitute her talents by becoming an erotic dancer. If the latter motive is true, the tragic ending of this relationship seems particularly poignant.)

What makes Umeda ultimately such an attractive character is precisely because his largesse has no strings attached. He doesn’t try to bind people to him through obligation. He simply wants them to enjoy, if possible, the peace of mind that he himself finds elusive.

Cue the Music

This is the only surviving Uchida film that can be called a musical, and as one would expect of such an eclectic director, the music employed is all over the place stylistically. There’s the Stephen Foster tunes “Beautiful Dreamer” and “I Dream of Jeannie,” the traditional Japanese folk song, “Sakura,” military marches, ballads, leftist chants, opera (of course) and even a recording of the South African folk song “Brandy, Leave Me Alone,” in a popular recording by Josef Marais, played from a record player on the stage between the live performances.2

Yuki, a young girl, sings on the stage while the crowd in the bar pay little attention to her
Yuki sings from the stage… but the attention of most of the crowd is elsewhere

Except for the rather sappy orchestral theme heard over the opening and closing credits, all of this music is, as film scholars say, “diagetic”: that is, it’s not heard only by us, the audience, but also by the characters. However – and this seems to me remarkably true to life – the people in the bar, absorbed in their own problems and chatter, pay very little attention to most of it. To them, all this sound is just something in the air, like cigarette smoke. But to us, the music intriguingly complements Uchida’s visual virtuosity, and gives this work a buoyancy that few of his films can match.

It should be noted in passing that this movie has exactly the same running time, 94 minutes, as his previous one, A Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji. Both works demonstrate how much incident, emotion and truth this moviemaker could pack into a very short running time without ever seeming rushed.

The Mystery of “Nada Senzo”

The script for Twilight Saloon is credited to one “Nada Senzo,” which is, at least to my ears, a very un-Japanese-sounding name. On the Internet Movie Database, no other credits besides this film can be found for the name, which sounds oddly like one of Ozu Yasujiro’s whimsical aliases from the prewar period (e.g., “James Maki” or “Chuji Nozu,” or “Winthat Monnay” – without money). It should be noted that “Nada” means “nothing” in Spanish, and “Senzo” sounds rather like the English word “sense” (thus, “nonsense”?). However, it should also be noted that on the Japanese Movie Database, several other films not directed by Uchida include this name as a credited scriptwriter. But I still nonetheless entertain, perhaps irrationally, the theory that this just might be a pseudonym for Uchida himself.

The intriguing question of how much Uchida may have contributed to the scripts of his films is discussed in detail in my pending review of Hero of the Red-Light District.


Araki Toyohisa’s 2003 film, Someday I’ll Take the A Train (Itsuka ‘A’ torein ni notte), which I haven’t seen, is a remake of this movie.

My IMDb Rating


One of Uchida’s most appealing works, this film achieves a nice balance between satire and sentiment, and between cold realism and warm optimism.


Midnight Eye (Jasper Sharp)

Screen Slate (K.F. Watanabe)

Kevin John Bozelka – Very interesting blog post about the music in the film

Asian-American Arts Alliance  

Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF, 2005 retrospective)

Museum of Modern Art (MOMA, 2016 Retrospective)

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)

World Cinema Paradise (John David Baldwin)


  1. To be fair, Miyahara has one very nice moment: while Kenichi mans the spotlight as Emy Rosa is performing her dance, his expression manages to convey both his concern for her and his dismay at this sad waste of her talent.
  2. I’m indebted to Kevin John Bozelka’s blog post about the music score to this film for identifying this particular song for me, which I’d assumed to be an American country-western tune. But I must take issue with Mr. Bozelka’s rather snide comment about the movie as drama: “… some viewers will no doubt disdain the telegraphed stories and hastily wrapped up conclusions.” The purpose of the film’s several interweaved tales is not to surprise or shock the viewer, so whether plot information is “telegraphed” is beside the point. Uchida’s goal is to convey a sense of the provisional and precarious quality of the bar patrons’ (and bar workers’) lives in postwar Japan. As for the “hastily wrapped up conclusions,” it should be noted that of the film’s several running narratives, only the Kenichi plot seems to be fully resolved by the end.


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