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One Wonderful Sunday as a Feminist Film

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    lawless

    Now that I’ve seen No Regrets For Our Youth, I want to make the case that One Wonderful Sunday should be considered a feminist film, not No Regrets. (I haven’t seen The Most Beautiful yet, so I can’t contextualize it in this discussion.) Even though One Wonderful Sunday ostensibly has two leads, to me, Masako is the protagonist to Yuzo’s antagonist. The film implicitly endorses her approach over his, and her more cheerful, can-do POV predominates.

    Although we’re seeing things from Yuzo’s POV when he goes into the cabaret, it was Masako who suggested they go there. It’s Masako who stops him from going any further when they’re in his rooms. She’s the one who starts talking about the cafe of their dreams, who’s trying to propel their relationship forward despite the hardships, and who encourages him to continue with the imaginary concert.

    Although they have a shared objective — finding enough money to marry — she advances her own agenda rather than following Yuzo’s, unlike Yukie, who supported Noge in his work in a fairly tradtional way during his life and then went to help her in-laws and reconciled them to him after his death. Other than leaving Kyoto for Tokyo, which was in large part motivated by Noge’s departure for Manchuria, Yukie didn’t identify her own agenda or do anything to advance it until the end of the film, when she returned to the village. BTW, I don’t think she was necessarily returning to work on women’s issues; I take her reference to life being particularly hard for the women to be a statement of fact.

    In fact, I consider the entire film, up to the point where Yukie goes to Tokyo, to be a depiction of a romantic triangle. Sure, it’s wrapped up in a lot of politics, but that’s because that’s what the characters involved are wrapped up in. At the human level, the movie’s not about politics, but about love and attraction and what one should look for in a life partner.

    Although One Wonderful Sunday is a more depressing and less uplifting film than No Regrets For Our Youth, I like it better, both on artistic grounds and because of its content. Artistically because it’s more unified and well-thought out — the “one day” concept certainly helps there, and as noted elsewhere, having so many time skips and events to cover hurts No Regrets on that score. In terms of content because it’s not trying to bite off more than it can chew, which is somewhat the case with No Regrets, and because it’s more realistic. By the end, No Regrets, with its rehabilitiation of Noge and near-canonization of Yukie, seems a little simplistic and pat. I also prefer One Wonderful Sunday’s more open-ended sociological approach over No Regrets’ more political and didactic approach.

    As an aside: the more I think about it, the more I think the title One Wonderful Sunday, which has misled countless people into thinking this is a comedy, is meant ironically.

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    Ugetsu

    I agree with your conclusions that it is a mistake (which so many of the writers on Kurosawa seem to have made) to see One Wonderful Sunday as an inferior, lighter film relative to No Regrets for our Youth. One Wonderful Sunday has a much tighter narrative structure and in many ways, I think it is equally serious and intellectually challenging as No Regrets. I think that once again, critics have been led astray by the supposed Capraesque qualities of the film to think that it is just a whimsical trifle.

    Is it a feminist film? I think that in some ways it is. Certainly, Masako is the strongest character in the film. It seems clear that in the past Yuzo was a more likable and admirable individual – but on this particular Sunday he is on the verge of giving in to dismay, so we see him at his worst. But I think you are right that the film gives us Masako’s point of view for most of its length and she is the character we are invited to identify with. And certainly Masako is in many ways a more realistic character than Yukie in No Regrets for our Youth. One of the things I love about the film is that Masako manages to be both upbeat and cheerful, without ever being annoying or ingratiating. She is determined to battle away despair, but is always realistic, and never becomes glib or sentimental. As such, I think she would have been seen by Kurosawa as the ideal ‘ordinary’ Japanese woman.

    In tone, I think that certainly No Regrets sometimes comes across as a bit of a lecture, while One Wonderful Sunday takes the audience more seriously – hence Kurosawa’s attempt to break the fourth wall in a more inclusive way than in No Regrets (as Vili pointed out in his screenshots, the ‘audience” in the professors speech scene near the end of that film is clearly meant to indicate the cinema audience – and they are shown passively listening to the lecture). Kurosawa clearly wanted the audience to feel that Masako and Yuzo are just like them, in a way Yukie and Noge never could be.

    In fact, I consider the entire film, up to the point where Yukie goes to Tokyo, to be a depiction of a romantic triangle. Sure, it’s wrapped up in a lot of politics, but that’s because that’s what the characters involved are wrapped up in. At the human level, the movie’s not about politics, but about love and attraction and what one should look for in a life partner.

    To an extent this is true, but i think it is less the intention of the film, than the outcome of Kurosawa trying to show us Yukies intellectual journey. I assume he wanted to contrast the serious and committed Noge and others with the frivolous silly young woman Yukie was at the beginning – and to portray the hard journey she took (along with, presumably many other contemporary Japanese) to a more politicised condition. I think the relationship aspect to the film is very secondary to the political aims – in contrast to One Wonderful Sunday where we come to our own political conclusions as we view Japanese society through the eyes of an ordinary couple.

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – We have to agree to disagree about No Regrets For Our Youth. I think you’re giving too much credence to the elements that impressed the censors. There’s usually more going on in a Kurosawa film than appears on the surface. While I agree that No Regrets was intended to uphold values like political and academic freedom and condemn Japanese militarism, it did so in the context of a story, which Kurosawa always maintained was the most important element in a film. To my mind, he killed two bird with one stone: told a compelling, human story that also had a political and social component.

    Since, as we’ve agreed, Yukie is the POV character, and for Yukie, the first half of the movie is mostly an exploration of who she’d be happier with, I sitll maintain that it starts out as a romance with political overtones. Or perhaps I should instead say a politicized romance. I don’t disagree that part of the reason she follows Noge rather than Itokawa is because of Noge’s passion for and commitment to a cause.

    While I don’t think that Yukie is a completely unrealistic character, I agree that Masako is more realistic and in general I like her better. I don’t think Yukie is as frivolous at first as everyone else seems to think she is, though; if she were, why would she hang around her father’s students when all they do is talk politics? I plan to go into this in greater detail in response to Vili’s post on propaganda, art, and beauty, but I thought Yukie was rebuking Noge for being overly earnest and serious, talking and thinking about nothing but politics. I have to agree that such didactic people are grim and not great company. I found Noge’s response was rude and too dismissive of the role of beauty and pleasure in life, although maybe it’s partly a problem with the translation.

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    lawless

    While researching the actual Kyoto University incident on which No Regrets is based, I found this review/summary which seems to indicate the author’s view that much of the movie revolves around the clash between Yukie’s suitors. In other words, it’s at least in part a romance.

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    lawless

    Sorry to dominate the thread here! Just wanted to follow up on Ugetsu’s comments about Kurosawa criticism, which I overlooked in favor of defending my view of the first half of No Regrets as a romance. Critics seem to get into ruts and take what preceded them as received wisdom. It would be wonderful to see a book of criticism that took a fresh look at his movies without regard to prior opinons, then compare and contrast that to the current received wisdom about Kurosawa’s films. It’d be grand if those of us who are interested could do something like that. 🙂 I’m not entirely kidding, either.

    Part of what I love about One Wonderful Sunday is that it’s a slice of life. I l adore slice of life. That makes it more real and not didactic the way No Regrets sometimes is.

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    Vili Maunula

    Our discussions have in the past few months increasingly often come to questions of definition: what is a “political film”, what is a “social argument”, what is “influence” and what is “humanism”. This, I think, is a good thing.

    Now, to add to the list, I think that we need to ask “what is feminism” in order to make sense of how much of the stuff we can find in One Wonderful Sunday and No Regrets for Our Youth. “Feminism” is a word that gets tossed around quite a bit, and I don’t think that anyone would deny that it has a fairly wide range of meanings.

    Having said that, I am actually not going to define feminism here. Furthermore, I don’t think that either film is really a “feminist” work, although they are not total strangers to the concept, either. No Regrets for Our Youth promotes a kind of a political equality through a woman who is, it seems, capable of taking part in the political discourse, and making her own decisions. Meanwhile, One Wonderful Sunday is more concerned about social equality, with the two main characters being fully equal, with Masako in fact the one in charge, as you have noted here. This is actually in stark contrast to No Regrets , where it seems that all female characters, Yukie included, are in one way or another portrayed as secondary to the male characters.

    With this point in mind, I think that One Wonderful Sunday is indeed the more “feminist” film of the two, although neither film in my view really makes a big fuzz about their female characters to begin with. Whatever has been said, especially about No Regrets, I don’t think that the genders really matter here. Whether this would have been the view of a contemporary viewer less accustomed to women’s equality, I do not know.

    Moving onto the second major topic of the thread, I will side with Ugetsu in saying that the romantic triangle aspect of No Regrets for Our Youth does not come across as so important as to make it the central theme of the film. The idea is there somewhere in the background, but it is never really developed in any significant manner. To my mind, there is actually more romance in Sanshiro Sugata than there is in No Regrets, whose main interest really seems to be elsewhere, mainly in the social and political domains. Or, if No Regrets is a relationship film, it is not a very successful one.

    Having said that, while watching it, it actually often bugs me that No Regrets is not a relationship film. I think that it would have been a better film had it chosen to go down that route.

    Finally, regarding the topic of critics, I believe in discourse and multiple viewpoints, and don’t have a problem with perceived wisdoms or opinions that are often repeated as facts. Also, I think that Yoshimoto’s book actually brought something of a fresh perspective into Kurosawa discourse.

    The idea of a book based on the discussions at akirakurosawa.info, properly rewritten and edited to work as a publication, crosses my mind every now and then. There have been a number of posts and threads here that I think should somehow enter the academic discourse, for they have much to offer. But then I always think of the amount of work in putting it all together. And besides, it would of course only offer a snapshot of what is going on here, a little like a publication of essays from a conference, a work in progress. (But then again, what isn’t?)

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    cocoskyavitch

    So confused, Vili

    …Having said that, I am actually not going to define feminism here. Furthermore, I don’t think that either film is really a “feminist” work, although they are not total strangers to the concept, either.

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    lawless

    Coco – I may be wrong, and clearly Vili can speak for himself here, but my assumption was that he wasn’t sure in what sense the word “feminist” is being used: loosely, as in a movie featuring a female lead and female POV; thematically, as in addressing female and feminist (as in political and social) concerns, though not necessarily in a politically feminist way; or politically, meaning whole hog adherence to a feminist philosophy or agenda.

    In addition, applying the term “feminist” to Kurosawa’s movies probably both takes them out of their cultural context, which is hardly feminist in any use of the term, and is an anachronism, considering that Simone deBeauvoir’s The Second Sex, which I believe is the first modern feminist work, wasn’t published until 1949. I used the term “feminist” because Ugetsu had used it in a prior post on No Regrets For Our Youth. That initial usage, as well as my usage of the term, is imprecise (no offense meant, Ugetsu); I agree with Vili there.

    To return to Vili’s comment, what I was really getting at was the conundrum, addressed in another thread, of Kurosawa’s relative disinterest in women as POV and narrative-driving characters over the course of his career. The early films The Most Beautiful, No Regrets For Our Youth, and One Wonderful Sunday have such characters, all of whom are portrayed either heroically or positively, or both. (Lady Asaji in Throne of Blood propels the narrative, but she’s not the POV character and she’s a villain.) Like you, Coco, I am interested in these films because they have strong female leads, and I probably see them differently from the men in the group because I’m a woman.

    I think One Wonderful Sunday is a feminist film only in the first two meanings of the term above, not in the third and probably more precise meaning of a work that promotes a feminist political agenda or way of looking at the world. As explained above, it’s unlikely to do so because feminism as we know it didn’t exist then, and Kurosawa wouldn’t have known much or anything about it, or paid it much if any attention in his filmmaking if it did. In fact, I’m glad it’s not; I’d rather no film be a feminist film in the sense of having an agenda, as opposed to telling a story. That would be deadly and didactic. What I would like are more films that have female leads, take a female POV, avoid male gaze, give those female leads and others agency, and address female and feminist concerns seriously and respectfully. To my mind, One Wonderful Sunday succeeds on that score.

    For that reason, and considering the social context in which it was made — defeated Japan, a society that for years before the end of the war had extolled women as wives and mothers and nothing else — I can’t agree with Vili’s assertion that Yukie and Masako’s gender didn’t matter. Of course it mattered; the characters and their situations would have been entirely different had they not been female. I’m certain it mattered to contemporary audiences, too.

    As for romance: I’m not saying it’s the central theme of the film, but rather the central genre, or central story-telling device. Clearly, the movie is a fictionalized version of the Kyoto University incident combined with the treason trial, but Kurosawa framed it as a love triangle in order to tell the story. Even though I can’t abide genre romance novels, at least not heterosexual ones, to me, as a woman, the target audience for romantic comedies and the like, No Regrets is a romance because that’s what I think the story is to Yukie, the main character. From her perspective, it’s about how and why she chooses between Itokawa and Noge and what she does afterward.

    Thematically the movie is more about politics, the war, and personal choice and initiative; romance is the vehicle for making that come to life. So I guess I see No Regrets as a relationship film, though later on the relationships it focuses on are Yukie and Noge’s and then Yukie’s relationship with Noge’s parents, and I think it’s more successful in that regard than Vili does. This isn’t surprising; even though I agree with Vili that One Wonderful Sunday is a stronger and better film, I like No Regrets For Our Youth better than he does.

    I was thinking of something more triggered by than based on the discussions here in suggesting a book collaboration, but like Vili, I think we have a lot to offer, including our own multiple viewpoints. This may sound immodest, but I’ve noticed that many of my reactions to the earlier films diverge both from received wisdom and sometimes from the rest of yours to the point where I wonder if we’re talking about the same film.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Thanks for helping me understand the issues more clearly, lawless. I did not understand what Vili was explaining.

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    Vili Maunula

    Sorry Coco, if what I wrote was not entirely clear. Lawless has fortunately quite masterfully translated my meaning in her post above.

    lawlewss: I can’t agree with Vili’s assertion that Yukie and Masako’s gender didn’t matter. Of course it mattered; the characters and their situations would have been entirely different had they not been female. I’m certain it mattered to contemporary audiences, too.

    You make a good point here, and I totally agree with you. When I said earlier, in my confusing way, that genders don’t matter in these films, I meant it more as a comment on the overall themes of these works, rather than the individual stories depicted in them. I think that whatever it is that No Regrets or One Wonderful Sunday are primarily about, it could have been depicted regardless of what gender the main characters are. Obviously, the stories would have been very different in that case, but the message, so to speak, could have been more or less the same. I say “more or less” because, as Coco reminds us in another thread, things are interconnected, and for Kurosawa the artistic process seems to have been a process of discovery.

    Ultimately, the way I see these films is, as you say, certainly influenced by who and what I am. I am male who grew up in a relatively gender-equal society and in a rather matriarchal family structure. I was educated largely by women, and I now work in a field primarily dominated by women. Because of all this, I’m probably not the best person to discuss gender topics, as gender differences tend to fade away in my eyes, for better or for worse.

    But fortunately or unfortunately, not being an authority in something has never really stopped me from voicing my opinion and being willing to learn in the process. 😉

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    lawless

    Vili – I’m glad to know that I intuited your meaning correctly. 🙂

    It’s true that Kurosawa could have depicted the overall themes of these works irrespective of the gender of the main characters or whose POV he used, but I tend to see his message as more wedded to the particulars than you suggest here. Not only was the artistic process a process of discovery for him, a stance with which I can relate, seeing as that’s how I write most of the time, but he used the personal and specific to stand for the universal. By changing the personal and the specific, you shift the universal it stands for somewhat.

    A No Regrets with a male main and POV character would have been much different from what we have and probably more didactic, not less. A One Wonderful Sunday that doesn’t use the lens of a penniless young couple, or in which the man was the optimistic one and the woman the pessimistic one, would have been much different too.

    I’m probably the opposite of you in the sense that gender differences are among the first things I look at, especially when a society has such clear gender roles and expectations as Japan does. Like you, though, not being an authority hasn’t stopped me from voicing my opinion and wanting to learn more. In fact, in some cases, as discussed elsewhere on this site, I don’t think the so-called authorities know what they’re talking about. 🙄

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    A No Regrets with a male main and POV character would have been much different from what we have and probably more didactic, not less. A One Wonderful Sunday that doesn’t use the lens of a penniless young couple, or in which the man was the optimistic one and the woman the pessimistic one, would have been much different too.

    Its an interesting way to look at it. I think you are right that No Regrets would have been a very different (and inferior) film if the lead character had been male. I’m not sure this makes it a feminist film, but it is certainly one with the strongest female center to it in Kurosawa’s work. I’m not quite so sure about One Wonderful Sunday. I think that if, say, it took Yuzo’s point of view as central to the film, with Masako as being a little more the quiet Japanese girlfriend, then it would have been a weaker film, but the central vision would still have been there. I like the fact that in the film I get the sense that on a different Sunday, the roles may well have been reversed. We just happen to see them on the Sunday where Masako is at her strongest and best, and Yuzo is weak and vulnerable and desperately in need of her strength.

    Vili

    But fortunately or unfortunately, not being an authority in something has never really stopped me from voicing my opinion and being willing to learn in the process.

    The internet as we know it would cease functioning if people only voiced their opinion on things they knew about! Its unfortunate that in my case the evidence for my lack of knowledge is littered all over this site forever…. 😳

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