Kinoshita and World War II
Hugely popular in his home country of Japan, Keisuke Kinoshita worked tirelessly as a director for nearly half a century, making lyrical, sentimental films that often center on the inherent goodness of people, especially in times of distress. He began his directing career during a most challenging time for Japanese cinema: World War II, when the industry’s output was closely monitored by the state and often had to be purely propagandistic. This collection of Kinoshita’s first films—four made while the war was going on and one shortly after Japan’s surrender—demonstrates the way the filmmaker’s humanity and exquisite cinematic technique shone through even in the darkest of times.
The 41st set in Criterion’s Eclipse line (and sadly only the second one to be released in 2014 at the tail end of it) presents five films by Keisuke Kinoshita. Aptly titled Kinoshita and World War II, the set presents Port of Flowers, The Living Magoroku, Jubilation Street, Army, and Morning for the Osone Family, all of which are delivered on their own individual single-layer DVD. Each film is presented in its original aspect ratio, which in each case is about 1.33:1.
The digital transfers themselves look fine, better-then-average for DVD. Though severely limited by source materials across all films, the DVD transfers deliver as sharp an image as possible, and compression is kept in check, so upscaled the transfers do manage to look fairly solid.
Unfortunately no restoration work looks to have been done at all on any of the films found here, and it’s probably safe to assume that the film elements were simply scanned and then transferred to these discs with little to no work in between. Damage is especially heavy in Port of Flowers, specifically after what I assume are reel changes. Scratches, mold, marks, splices, and debris are especially heavy during the first few minutes of a reel but then ease up as the reel progresses. Frame jumps and pulsating are also pretty common throughout.
The remaining films are a little better, though not by much and the damage varies. Oddly the newest film, Morning for the Osone Family may be the next most heavily damaged one, littered pretty consistently with scratches, debris and mold stains. The other three films have heavy moments of damage but then actually clear up for good chunks of time. Army is scratched up pretty bad, and these scratches are present throughout most of the film. All of the films stay mostly in focus and look sharp but there are many instances where the image goes fuzzy, either because the camera was out of focus or the elements just haven’t held up. Pulsating and jumps are common through all of the films, as are missing frames.
In the end it’s disappointing that no restoration has been done, but Criterion at least delivers excellent transfers and encodes, which in turn doesn’t exasperate the problems.
Each of the films include Japanese Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks, and it also sounds as though no restoration has been done on the elements. Army may present the best audio of the films, with a slight bit of range and fidelity. Dialogue also sounds a little richer and deeper, and damage isn’t all that heavy.
The other tracks don’t hold up as well. The opening of Port of Flowers is fairly brutal, with dialogue sounding like it’s coming through an old, beat up phonograph, with the remainder of the film sounding incredibly tinny and hollow. The other films all sound hollow as well, with fairly harsh music and weak volume levels. Noise and damage, including a background hiss, are also common throughout all of the films, and it can be distracting at times. Thankfully the audio is not as bad as the almost obliterated tracks on Criterion’s DVDs of Yasujiro Ozu’s There Was a Father and The Only Son, but they’re still disappointing.
Again, no supplements to be found, but Michael Koresky provides another great set of liner notes for each title. He goes over their propaganda origins of them and how Kinoshita tried to elevate his films past that, though was severely limited because of censors and the fact it was preferred all films somehow promoted the war effort. He even ran into issues for his first post-war film, Morning for the Osone Family. Like the liner notes found in most of Criterion’s Eclipse sets they’re informative and engaging. Though the only “supplement” to be found here they’re an excellent inclusion.
Though there are some heavy handed “propaganda moments” to be found in the films (there is a preachy speech early on in The Living Magoroku, the most heavy-handed film of the five I’d say, that’s especially painful) the films still manage to engage with their characters and situations. It’s a fascinating set of films to go through, though I only wish there had been more effort put into restoring the films.