Blue Sky Markets: Final Part Four

If I don’t finish this series on Japanese black markets during the years of the US occupation, I can see the site ending up in some sort of digital limbo, the place where all vanity scribblers go to live out their final years in a mix of anguish and regret. To be sure, different volunteering activities cut into one’s time, but that’s no excuse for a lack of personal discipline and general sloth, plus a few of the other cardinal sins. (Not too sure of the Christian characterisation however, since I view some of the Seven Deadlies as prime virtues of the first order.)

Focussing on the BLue Sky Market theme with some very colourful wicki background previously mentioned, lets go to the movies with Master Directors Seijun Suzuki, Akira Kurosawa, Kinji Fukasadu and Shohei Imamura. And if Japanese film is big in your cultural universe, the internet now provides a wealth of high quality dedicated sites and other resources.

A couple of other points. Japanese cinema was technically superior to a most Western productions of the Post World War 11 period. The quality exhibited by the Criterion Collection is beyond measure. In those movies which come with additional Commentary, fans will note that Australian academics dominate this specialised field for reasons which I can’t explain. Finally, this post has no pretensions of originality, except the manner in which the four parts have been organised.

Stray Dog (1949) was Kurosawa’s last and ninth film – a mix of noir and neo-realism – before he achieved international recognition with Rashomon. At one level it is very much a standard police procedural, and at another a comment on the general desperation of Japanese society Post 1945 during a truly stinking hot Tokyo summer. Recently badged Det. Murakani loses his pistol to a pickpocket while on a tram, and his efforts to retrieve his firearm now used in murders, takes us through the layers of Japanese society. A very nice compilation of comments HERE, and there is another ton of excellent cine-comment on the film.

Murakani (Toshiro Mifume) a Dapper Dan in white suit and shoes literally wilts in the summer humidity. Everybody is seeking relief, finding shade, fanning themselves, drinking beer or in the case of the detective division repositioning their electric fans as they move round the bull pen. Kurosawa ‘s camera techniques are discussed HERE, plus the continuous 8 minute sequence in a Tokyo black market shot by a camera hidden in a box which captured all the elements of Blue Sky society.

As we follow the rookie cop, we see the street markets, flophouses, shop houses, amusement parlors, brothels, dancehalls, bars, and nightclubs. It’s crowded and claustrophobic, a chaotic swirling atmosphere. We encounter yakuza, street hawkers, drifters, the unemployed, the destitute, ex-service men, street kids, gangs, hustlers, mama-sans and prostitutes. We hear chugging trains, train whistles, the hustle and bustle of street life, postwar Japanese pop songs, and newly imported American big band swing drifting from the bars and nightclubs. In a surreal scene, we see Murakami’s searching eyeballs superimposed on frames of crowds in the market. The entire black market sequence introduces us to a distressed society. It is on-location social commentary, a realistic backdrop, which sets up the main theme. Citation here.

In contrast, the other fabulous scene is the baseball game – the new Japan rising out of the ashes.

Finally, a relationship. Mifume might be the actor most associated with Kurosawa, but Takashi Shimura (Murakani’s mentor Det. Sato) is mesmerising, and none more so than where he takes a break from interrogating the hard bitten fallen angel to enjoy a popsicle together. Heat, desperation and the task at hand. All are suspended in a scene exuding sensual enjoyment and simple pleasures. Shimura and Mifume replicated the same father-son relationship a few years later in The Seven Samurai.

Suspended in time

Suspended in time

And fittingly, Takashi Shimura was the descendent of a samurai family.

To be continued.

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