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Scandal: A satire of the West?

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    Ugetsu

    A number of things confuse me a little about having seen Scandal for the first time quite recently. Haven read Richie and Yoshimoto and other sources before seeing it, I was expecting an intense melodrama – a less successful Drunken Angel or Ikiru. I was surprised to find it at times very funny – maybe the funniest Kurosawa film (at least for me). My first impression of the film is that it is less of a morality play and more of a satire of the post war Japanese wholesale appropriation of western ways and even notions of justice. It seems that everything references American or European culture, to the scandal sheet (Amour) to the Justice system referring to American precedences. Of all his films, this one seems most replete with western cultural references, from the music to the Christmas symbolism. Even the film style seems western with its winks to early films – I half expected James Stewart to pop up in the court scene.

    In this review, Vincent Canby of the NYTimes seems to me to get to the essence of the film more accurately than Richie or some of the other writers on the topic:

    At first ”Scandal” looks like an attempt to mimic Hollywood romantic comedies of the 1930’s, with its too-good-to-be-true young lovers and its apparently snappy dialogue (in Japanese with English subtitles), its hip-deep sentimentality. Mr. Kurosawa, however, lays all this on so thickly that the film quickly turns into a parody of Hollywood that, simultaneously, satirizes the willingness of the postwar Japanese to accept without question a Western culture completely alien to them.

    All of the music in the film is American or European. The emotional high point of the picture is a Christmas Eve sequence in which the painter shows up at the home of the dying girl with a fully decorated Christmas tree. The pretty concert singer also arrives to sing to the little girl. What does she sing? Why ”Silent Night,” of course, though she does sing it in Japanese.

    Mr. Mifune’s artist is a model of macho assertiveness, in a society where machismo, Japanese-style, has been mothballed along with Japanese militarism. Much of the time the character is little more than the sound of his American-style motorcycle that announces his arrival or departure just offscreen. Noise has become his substitute for power.

    The skulduggery at the scandal magazine, which is put out by the ”Amour Publishing Company,” suggests that Mr. Kurosawa has an appreciation for the work of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Early in the film there’s a very funny, caustic montage made up of public statements by the painter and the magazine publishers outlining their respective positions on the freedom of the press.

    Like all Kurosawa films, ”Scandal” is motivated by considerations of humanity and justice, but rarely has the director been so witty or even as subversive as the movie must have seemed to thinking Japanese in 1950.

    So much of Richies views on the film seem influenced by his conversations with Kurosawa – he seems to see it as an inferior film that arose from Kurosawa’s not always rational hatred of the press. But I wonder of Kurosawa was a little slyly putting Richie off the scent of what is in fact not a superior but cliched melodrama, but is in reality quite a subtle and subversive attack on both Japanese and American attitudes to justice, celebrity and culture?

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    hobosailor

    Hi Ugetsu,

    I’m new here, and relatively new to being seriously interested in Kurosawa; but I’m going to venture a lengthy reply because I had a similar experience upon what was, for me as well, my first viewing of Scandal.

    I kept thinking, at various points throughout the film, of Capra films and also of cheesy prewar Hollywood romantic comedies. I was surprised by this, not only because the film isn’t usually discussed in these terms as far as I know, but also because I found Kurosawa’s approach pretty close to the mark in terms of nailing the tone and pace of these Hollywood genre films.

    I’m still not sure if Scandal is intended as satire or not, as a whole; the melodramatic treatment of Hiruta’s daughter’s illness pushes it outside the satirical a bit too much to fit that category, I think. The treatment of the magazine, the paparazzi, the gossiping public–all of that makes sense as Kurosawa sending up a kind of Western media he wasn’t impressed with. But the treatment of Hiruta does not fit this.

    The Hiruta narrative is mostly Capra, I think, but different than Capra in two ways: (1) The way Hiruta is treated over his first few scenes, which is more intensely foolish and incompetent than I’ve seen Capra do any of his protagonists, and (2) The way the Hiruta story resolves itself, which I’d call more complex and ambiguous than any Capra resolution. I guess what I’m saying should end with, “duh,” as in, “of course Kurosawa, even in a minor film, treats people more subtly and with more ambiguity than Capra ever did.” But the reason I’m trying to make sense of this link to Capra is that, again, the whole Hiruta story seems oddly paired with a satire of media. For one thing, I take for granted that Kurosawa was smart enough even in 1950 to realize that his own films were themselves capable of affecting how the public views the lives of strangers, and so I’m trying to figure out how our voyeuristic peek into Hiruta’s family and self–loathing are supposed to rest, for us, up against the satire of media.

    All this said, there were three elements of this very 1950-looking, minor Kurosawa film that were absolute gems to me, timeless and very much worthy of the director’s best work: (1) Mifune’s look and performance as the suave, Western-influenced landscape-artist-on-a-bike; I’ve seen him play so many different kinds of cool, and this is a fresh one. (2) The hicks from the mountains who come back to testify; I love these types of ragamuffin characters and how Kurosawa always manages to make us both laugh at them and think they have something interesting to say at the same time. (3) The scene in the bar at Christmas, which was a little like Capra but also a little like watching a flash mob or like watching the last scene of The Lower Depths.

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    Ugetsu

    Hi hobosailor and welcome, very interesting comments.

    I kept thinking, at various points throughout the film, of Capra films and also of cheesy prewar Hollywood romantic comedies. I was surprised by this, not only because the film isn’t usually discussed in these terms as far as I know, but also because I found Kurosawa’s approach pretty close to the mark in terms of nailing the tone and pace of these Hollywood genre films.

    I watched the earlier film One Wonderful Sunday last night (I just managed to convert my pc to multiregion so I’m catching up on all the films I haven’t seen!), and there is a definite Capra influence there, so its fairly clear that its a general influence on his earlier films. I think the courtroom scenes in Scandal in particular have a Capra-esque feel to them.

    I’m still not sure if Scandal is intended as satire or not, as a whole; the melodramatic treatment of Hiruta’s daughter’s illness pushes it outside the satirical a bit too much to fit that category, I think. The treatment of the magazine, the paparazzi, the gossiping public–all of that makes sense as Kurosawa sending up a kind of Western media he wasn’t impressed with. But the treatment of Hiruta does not fit this.

    I’m inclined to think that the subplot of Hiruta’s daughter was intended to explain why Mifune was so stubborn about sticking with Hiruta even when it was clear he was a liability. So while it is a bit sentimental, it could also be seen as indicating the sentimentality at the heart of the superficially super tough and cool artist.

    But the reason I’m trying to make sense of this link to Capra is that, again, the whole Hiruta story seems oddly paired with a satire of media.

    I agree, and thats why I don’t think it is intended as an attack on the media. I think the ‘media’ is simply a way of illustrating Kurosawa’s broader point, which is that Japan had embraced Western ideas and mores wholesale, without stopping to consider which parts are worthy of embrace and which are not. I think that if we see Haruta as a symbol of an emasculated Japan, full of bluster but capable of only lamely quoting irrelevant American legal precedents (Henry Ford?!) to justify his existence, then it makes more sense.

    What I am driving at is that I think Kurosawa may have been deliberately sending Richie and others astray by talking about his disgust at the Yellow Press – I think its a very Japanese thing not to try to offend someone by directly addressing the issues – in reality the attack on the media is simply a plot device to both expose and satirize the emptiness of Japanese culture and society in the immediate post war period. And since that was implicitly an attack on American culture and the occupation at that time, then at that time it may not have been seen as appropriate to explain too clearly what his real intentions were. Richie himself says that Kurosawa often told the media what they wanted to hear in order to deflect questions – surely there is no reason to believe he didn’t do the same thing to Richie. And since Richie is so influential I do wonder if this hasn’t sent a lot of critics and commentators astray as to the real meaning, and the real importance, of this film.

    Mifune’s look and performance as the suave, Western-influenced landscape-artist-on-a-bike; I’ve seen him play so many different kinds of cool, and this is a fresh one.

    The more I think of it, the more I think that this is the closest character in all his films to a self portrait of Kurosawa himself. The character is a strong minded, he paints blue mountains red (isn’t the mountain red in the final scene of Madadayo?), yet underneath the cool and tough exterior there is an almost desperate need to see the goodness of people, even to the point of artistic self destruction. That seems a pretty good description of Kurosawa to me.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Hello hobosailor and welcome!

    Scandal is an oddly-cobbled thing, isn’t it? And yet, there’s great pleasure in this oddball fim (part maudlin soap opera, part Frank Capra “Americana”, part critique of Western cultural influence).

    The PLEASURE: I vote for Mifune’s artist as one of my favorite roles of his!!! Particularly hilarious is Mifune brrruumping down the road with a fully-decorated Christmas tree on the back of his motorcycle! …” the character is little more than the sound of his American-style motorcycle ” (Vincent Canby is way off the mark). Far from being mere noise, Mifune’s characterization is fresh, and he’s never looked better. I agree that the circumstances and the settings are at least half of his character-in fact, when Mifune is asked to “emote” (the scene where he is reading the scandal sheet) he’s way over-the-top, biting his lip, furrowing his brow (and is Mifune near-sighted? he reads so darn close..even in Stray Dog his nose is to the paper in the files) but, it’s a chance to see his face closeup being malleable, the fine muscles moving. It is a Holywood moviestar moment.

    In my estimation, this film cannot figure out what it wants to be-Hollywood, Japanese, a melodrama, a satire…? But, that doesn’t exclude it from being enjoyable.

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    hobosailor

    Hi again folks,

    I think the ‘media’ is simply a way of illustrating Kurosawa’s broader point, which is that Japan had embraced Western ideas and mores wholesale, without stopping to consider which parts are worthy of embrace and which are not. I think that if we see Haruta as a symbol of an emasculated Japan, full of bluster but capable of only lamely quoting irrelevant American legal precedents (Henry Ford?!) to justify his existence, then it makes more sense.

    This is a very interesting idea to me, Ugetsu; I hadn’t thought of Hiruta’s quoting of Henry Ford in that way before. I think the film might be readable as presenting at least two “contemporary Japans,” embodied in Shimura’s and Mifune’s characters and their uneasy relationship with one another.

    I’m also mulling over the notion of the artist in Scandal as a self-portrait by Kurosawa, especially the “almost desperate need to see the goodness in people.” That makes the subplot about Hiruta and his daughter read a bit differently as well.

    Thanks for the chance to rap about this; it’s great for me, as someone just gorging on Kurosawa these days, to read and write about the films.

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    Jeremy

    UgetsuI I think the ‘media’ is simply a way of illustrating Kurosawa’s broader point, which is that Japan had embraced Western ideas and mores wholesale, without stopping to consider which parts are worthy of embrace and which are not. I think that if we see Haruta as a symbol of an emasculated Japan, full of bluster but capable of only lamely quoting irrelevant American legal precedents (Henry Ford?!) to justify his existence, then it makes more sense.

    I can’t claim to come close to this conclusion about Scandal, but now said, I do find it to be a rather interesting and correctly fitting explanation to the quirks I felt within the movie.

    And while Japan has had previous tendency to accept the new, without much question, nor unwillingness to abandon long established ideals at a moments notice, since the mid 1800’s. Japan post-war really had little choice but to accept Western ideal quickly in order to resurrect itself. While still finding the statement “an emasculated Japan, full of bluster but capable of only lamely quoting irrelevant American legal precedents (Henry Ford?!) to justify his existence” perfectly true.

    I believe Kurosawa leaves room to not completely scold Japan, showing some understanding to the limited choices post-war Japan must make to both rid itself of the errors that have brought it to destruction, at the cost of temporary awkwardness of the un-Japanese like manner Japan will have to face in order to reestablish itself as a true Japanese homeland. To use Mifune’s character as the example, of a strong-minded Japanese in a bold if still somewhat awkward loud drive forward towards the future through less then idea means of hope represented in the Japanese uptake of Christmas, and the Christmas tree behind Mifune’s bike.

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    Ugetsu

    Coco

    Scandal is an oddly-cobbled thing, isn’t it? And yet, there’s great pleasure in this oddball fim (part maudlin soap opera, part Frank Capra “Americana”, part critique of Western cultural influence).

    Its funny, you think of it as oddball – what I was thinking watching it is how similar it is to some of the best Korean films recently especially from Bong Joon-Ho (The Host, Memories of Murder) and how they manage to balance drama, horror, comedy and pathos, often in the same scene. Its not something I usually associate with Japanese cinema or Kurosawa, but I think in this case he was quite deliberately trying to keep a whole series of dishes spinning in the air. Its a supremely difficult thing to do with any film (Hitchcock could do it occasionally) and its often misunderstood if it doesn’t quite come off.

    Jeremy

    To use Mifune’s character as the example, of a strong-minded Japanese in a bold if still somewhat awkward loud drive forward towards the future through less then idea means of hope represented in the Japanese uptake of Christmas, and the Christmas tree behind Mifune’s bike.

    I loved that scene, but I was trying to work out if it was celebratory, satirical or just comic. Am I right in thinking that the Japanese only adopted Christmas after the war? There is an old story about GI’s in post war Tokyo finding a Department Store with its well meaning symbol of Christmas erected over the entrance – Santa Claus nailed to a cross! I know the Japanese tend to be quite happy to just use the superficial symbolism of Christmas without getting hung up on its religious and cultural meanings – but I usually assume Kurosawa had some deeper motive behind it. But perhaps I’m reading too much into what may just have been a well meaning tribute to his favourite American film makers.

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    Vili Maunula

    I think that Ugetsu has (again) raised a good point here. Even the name of the film seems to play with the idea of west taking over Japan: in the original poster, the title “shuubun” (‘scandal’) is written in kanji, but in between, as if it were an instance of furigana, we also have the katakana for “sukyandaru” (Japanese transliteration of the English word ‘scandal’). It is as if the traditional Japanese reading of the kanji would now be replaced by the English, or American word. (Kurosawa would do something similar again with Rhapsody in August, but I think for a completely different reason.)

    Staying with the domain of language, Sorensen offers an interesting theory about the rather prominent sign post which reads “Loading Zone for Special Service” in English, and the presence of which puzzles me whenever I see the film. Writes Sorensen:

    When Mifune, the young painter who allegedly has a love affair with a celebrity singer, returns to the city after his initial outing to the mountains, he stops his motorbike at the sight of a wall plastered with posters showing him and the singer. The shot of the wall of posters serves as the conclusion of a very Wellesian ‘March of Time’-like montage exposing hundreds and hundreds of posters, flyers and billboards announcing the alleged sensational secret love affair between Mifune and the singer. The screen has fluttered with thousands of Japanese characters for minutes, and when the montage finally rests, it does so on a signpost written in English — suddenly the audience is witnessing a foreign language signpost testifying to the reality of the occupation. Mifune is seen staring at a wall with posters, in the foreground is the signpost for American truck drivers reading: ‘Loading Bay for Special Service.’ The camera lingers on the signpost after Mifune has driven out of view. Here, Kurosawa is clearly in defiance of CI&E [occupation era pre-production censorship body, which censored film scripts before they went into production] objections to the exposition of Roman lettering and references to the presence of the occupiers. Had it not been for the fact that Kurosawa repeats the shot in the final scene of the film, it would have been dismissible as unimportant. The final lingering shot of the signpost doubles Kurosawa’s insubordination. He then cuts to the posters on the wall, now frayed; yesterday’s scandal is over and will soon be forgotten, but the signpost still stands prominently in the picture, testifying to the continued occupation of Japan. If this sequence is constructed as making use of dialectic montage a la Einstein, where shots A+B=C, the immediately following final frame of the kanji for ‘The End’, 終, almost takes on the meaning of a question. A = the sign of the occupation still stands, B = the scandal is over, C = The End? Will signposting in English, i.e. the occupation, soon come to an end? In the New Year, perhaps? (206-207)

    I’m not sure what to really make of Sorensen’s suggested montage, but it is at least an interesting idea. Sorensen then goes on to talk about the Christmas bar scene, but fails to touch on another matter that has kept me thinking. In the bar scene, the lawyer played by Shimura expresses his determination to become a better person in the upcoming year. This new year is explicitly stated as being 1950. What I find curious here is that as far as I can see, there should be no need to actually state the year — that is, unless you wanted to make a point with it. Now, as Scandal came out in April 1950, could it be that the film is trying to ask the (contemporary) audience, whether they have actually followed their new year’s resolutions? Hiruta, we will be shown, doesn’t really — it takes the death of his daughter to do the right thing. Now, taking this a bit further and sort of tying it back to the sign post and the occupation’s presence in Japan, since new years in Japan are, I understand, considered new beginnings of some sorts, could the new beginning here be taken as also referring to Japan’s major new beginning after the war, in which case the issue becomes far more interesting, and the question is, whether Japan has changed, why it has changed, and how? Which brings us back to Ugetsu’s point about Kurosawa being critical about the way changes were being made. I fully agree, although I also agree with Jeremy in that Kurosawa wasn’t blindly opposed to the changes as a whole, but rather questioned the manner in which some (or many) of those changes were being made.

    Hobosailor brought up Hiruta’s daughter, and the point that the sub plot concerning her comes across as quite melodramatic, and I do agree with that assessment. I think that Ugetsu is right that the daughter was at least partly there to explain why Aoye stuck with the laywer that he knew wasn’t quite up to the task, but I think that there is more. I would suggest that the reason why Hiruta drinks and gambles is the daughter and her condition, and the fact that Hiruta cannot face the fact that he is powerless to do anything to help her. Meanwhile, the child seems to see through everyone, almost supernaturally so. It actually feels to me as if the full potential of the daughter character wasn’t used in the film, and she now remains a more distant force in the narration than she perhaps should have.

    As for Christmas, I think that it had already been celebrated in Japan before the Second World War. My reading, based on both what I know and my Christmas experiences in Japan, is that Aoye brings the Christmas tree as something of a novelty item to cheer up the girl. He’s not bringing it because he thinks that it must be there for Christmas, quite the opposite. But that’s just my interpretation.

    Finally, I (again) agree with Ugetsu in that there seems to be something very self-portrait-like in this film. At points, the films also seems quite self-conscious about itself. Take this, for instance: After the newspapermen develop the picture which is at the centre of the story, the men remark about the towels hanging on the railings: “Like it was staged! The two towels are perfect. It’s like a prop man hung them there.” (This is at about 10 minutes into the film; I’m using subtitles from the Eclipse Post-War Kurosawa release.)

    A bit later (around 23 minutes into the film), there is another possible reference about the film and the censorship around it. Here, Aoye says, in discussing his art, that “I’m beginning to have doubts about nude art. We lack the tradition and the spirit behind nude art. Not only do our nudes lack proportion, they lack spirit.” If you take his words as a reference to the Japanese film industry (and there is all the more reason to do so if you consider the character somewhat autobiographical for Kurosawa), it sounds to me as if the film was saying that the only type of “nude films”, i.e. films that didn’t hide what they wanted to show, were ones that lacked anything interesting to say. In other words, in order to get anything worth saying through the censors, you had to dress up the stories. And here, as Ugetsu has been arguing, the criticism against the occupation has been dressed up as a film about the tabloid papers.

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    Jeremy

    Christmas has been in Japan since the first Christian missionaries came in, (I think) late 1500’s. Christmas however at that time was the original honoring event for Christ, held very traditional and to my knowledge really maintained so largely due to the underground nature that Christianity had to practice during the 200+ years Japanese ban of the religion. Afterward, nearing the mid 1800’s Japan used Christmas for celebration, although this was done nearly exclusively by the Japanese that had dealings with the American and British, and then too due to the time period, the celebration was rather limited and more traditional. I would claim to the average Japanese, Christmas was entirely unknown about.

    While Vili would have more knowledge then me on Japanese Christmas, I would have to disagree that the tree was simply novelty, when we speak 1950’s Japan.

    Modern practice of Christmas in Japan, comes largely from the Japanese getting a hold of the marketing and movie representation from America in 1960’s, and mainly from the 1970’s, when America step heavily into Japan, as Japan started to create massive wealth, and the Japanese middle-class came into place. So, if Vili claims the Christmas tree is novelty, I could not disagree, my experience with Christmas in Japan has only been once, and never with a Japanese family. All I know stores have big sales, everyone buys what they don’t need, and KFC sells chicken baskets, and the Japanese think that it’s an authentic American Christmas dinner, and then there some nasty cake at the end.

    However, early post-war Japan, Christmas was much different, for one it was drop upon the Japanese by American occupiers in mass, typical Japanese knowledge of Christmas came from tired American occupiers, doing Christmas in a loud drunken, semi-racist fashions, and was quickly spread about Japan for this reason. So forth, knowledge of Christmas for the Japanese was slightly distorted, to the point Christmas was seen greatly romanticized, a time of hope, and always connected to the Christmas tree, as the means in which Christmas was marked. This came from the American soldiers celebration of the event, being different then what was done in America, and latter “sold” to the Japanese after the occupation.

    I sure we can all draw the conclusion, of a American solider far away from home, using Christmas to romanticize life back home with their girl, family and so forth. Christmas too was a sign of hope, mainly in America no longer occupying Japan, or at least the solider will soon get to come home. Christmas in war-time, has always been the hope, and lie sold to the common solider, as the marking of when the war will end, and all will return to normal. To me this is rather important, and the Japanese picked up on this extremely quick. The Christmas tree’s importance while to a degree a novelty item, it was still the very means in which the American made Christmas in a foreign land, feel real. For the American in order for Christmas to happen, the tree must be present, and too the Japanese pick up on the tree as a symbol of hope, hope that things go back to normal.

    The point in here, is that I believe the event of Christmas was celebratory in the movie, and while the very means of the Japanese using Christmas as celebratory brings about the satirical and just comic, it was done so(perhaps purposely) as a secondary effect. The tree, in this case, is important for Mifune’s character to bring along, as for without the tree, the marking of the celebration of hope in the rather troubled life of the Japanese could not be marked.

    It could be argued the Japanese would use instead the New Year as the means of marking hope, however in occupied in Japan, the New Year typically only had changes in the rules in which Japan had to follow, additionally, I’m not aware of any significant changes occurring in typical Japanese life between the end of the war, and the end of American occupation, the days sort of all merged into one. And while the Americans would celebrate the New Year, it has never carried the openness of hope for the return to normalcy as that of Christmas for the solider, to which as I mentioned, would no doubt be picked up quickly by the Japanese.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili, fascinating and detailed comments as always, almost too much for me to absorb tonight! I’d forgotten about Sorensens book, maybe i should get it for a read – I’m becoming more and more intrigued by the underlying subtexts in Kurosawas immediate post war films, I think there is a lot more to them that is usually considered. To be honest, I can’t quite see the sudden breakthrough of Kurosawa with Drunken Angel that everyone mentions – to me Scandal and One Wonderful Sunday are equally intriguing and high quality films. Does anyone agree with me that maybe one reason for this is that Kurosawa quite deliberately downplayed the films in his conversations with Richie and other critics precisely because he wanted to distract attention from their anti-occupation subtext?

    Vili

    I’m not sure what to really make of Sorensen’s suggested montage

    I’m not quite sure either! I’d have to look at it again. It is an interesting idea though if I understand it correctly. When you mention an English sign it does remind me of the final scene in One Wonderful Sunday where the two lovers are seated by the railway station right next to a bin with TRASH written prominently. I was wondering if that had any significance.

    Vili

    Meanwhile, the child seems to see through everyone, almost supernaturally so. It actually feels to me as if the full potential of the daughter character wasn’t used in the film, and she now remains a more distant force in the narration than she perhaps should have.

    I was curious about the slightly mystical aura given to the child – both in her ability to see things, and the almost saintly image of her in the ‘Silent Night’ sequence (which reminded me a lot of Red Beard). But what puzzled me most of all was that her death was not shown. If this was really a Capra-esque sub plot, surely he would have wrung all the pathos from a death scene. By willfully not showing her death he seemed to be quite deliberately steering the film away from sentimentality (this reminded me a bit of Ozu, and his occasional skipping of what others would consider important scenes – building up to weddings and not actually showing the wedding, etc)

    Vili

    A bit later (around 23 minutes into the film), there is another possible reference about the film and the censorship around it. Here, Aoye says, in discussing his art, that “I’m beginning to have doubts about nude art. We lack the tradition and the spirit behind nude art. Not only do our nudes lack proportion, they lack spirit.” If you take his words as a reference to the Japanese film industry (and there is all the more reason to do so if you consider the character somewhat autobiographical for Kurosawa), it sounds to me as if the film was saying that the only type of “nude films”, i.e. films that didn’t hide what they wanted to show, were ones that lacked anything interesting to say.

    Great point, I had wondered about why that scene was there – it seemed an odd thing to shove in a discussion about the philosophy of art. And it reminded me that you don’t often (ever?) see nudes in Japanese art. But I wonder if he is also saying ‘When the Japanese copy western styles of art that are alien to them, the result will always be empty (without spirit)?’. Which is a bit ironic considering the accusations made about him after Seven Samurai.

    Interesting information about Christmas, Jeremy. Perhaps the purpose was to illustrate the distinction between ‘good’ western ideas (e.g. Christmas) and lousy ones (e.g. celebrity press)?

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    Vili Maunula

    My experience of Christmas in a Japanese family, and this was ten years ago in Matsue, was that the supermarkets had Christmas sales, while our family or my friends’ families didn’t really mark the occasion in any way. I don’t of course really know how typical that was, or whether it has anything to do with how the Japanese dealt with Christmas in 1950.

    Ugetsu: To be honest, I can’t quite see the sudden breakthrough of Kurosawa with Drunken Angel that everyone mentions – to me Scandal and One Wonderful Sunday are equally intriguing and high quality films.

    Scandal, of course, came after Drunken Angel. In fact, as I was watching the film yesterday, I started to wonder if the court scenes where the witnesses speak to the camera, weren’t something of a practice run for Rashomon, which Kurosawa would move on to film only a few months after completing Scandal.

    There are also quite a number of other scenes that make me think of scenes in other Kurosawa films. The Christmas bar scene reminds me of a similar scene in Ikiru. The way the head of the Amour magazine and Aoye are interviewed after the Scandal breaks out is again similar to the early bureaucracy montage in Ikiru, as well as reminding me of High and Low. Shimura’s character, meanwhile, is very similar to (although less violent than) the one he played in Drunken Angel. I think that Coco was right in saying that the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, and as a consequence tries out quite a number of things. Things like Hiruta’s office being on the fifth floor of a four-floor building is already something that a story with less content would have spent more time having fun with, but here it is brushed off relatively quickly in a succession of ideas to try out.

    In any case, I must say that Scandal was better than I remembered from my previous viewings. For some reason, I remembered the sub-plot with the daughter and the lawyer to drag on longer and be more melodramatic. The direction also seemed surer than I remembered. I wonder how much of my newly found appreciation has to do with the fact that this was the first time that I watched the entire film from the Eclipse release, with its improved subtitles and picture quality. I’ve always liked Scandal, but never quite this much.

    Ugetsu: the almost saintly image of her in the ‘Silent Night’ sequence (which reminded me a lot of Red Beard)

    This would probably be my favourite scene in the film. The way the camera tracks each of the characters in the scene, showing them through the holes in the paper wall, is amazing. Each composition within those “frames in frames” is like a Christmas card. Mesmerising, really.

    Ugetsu: what puzzled me most of all was that her death was not shown

    If you think about it, this was going to be one of Kurosawa’s narrative trademarks for the next few years. The film that followed Scandal, Rashomon, was all about not showing things. Ikiru similarly fails to show things in the second half, and we are left to do our own guess work from the bits that are shown. And while a lot happens on screen in Seven Samurai, I would argue that far more happens off-screen, and we only get to see the beginnings and endings of things, with the greater context somewhere just outside of our view. After Seven Samurai, Kurosawa tones down this narrative method a little but, still in later films a lot happens off-camera that we only hear about from other characters; things which another film maker would have spent many a meter of film illustrating.

    Ugetsu: But I wonder if he is also saying ‘When the Japanese copy western styles of art that are alien to them, the result will always be empty (without spirit)?’.

    I would say yes, certainly.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    Scandal, of course, came after Drunken Angel.

    Quite right – I’ve been taking advantage of my new multi region enabled pc (thanks for the pointers about that earlier btw, AnyDVD works very well) to catch up on earlier films and loving them, but now I’ve got my chronologies mixed up in my head. I tend to think of Scandal as an earlier film because so many critics seem to dismiss it as a minor work.

    Vili

    In fact, as I was watching the film yesterday, I started to wonder if the court scenes where the witnesses speak to the camera, weren’t something of a practice run for Rashomon,

    You think so? On first thought, the Rashomon court scenes are so very different from any other court scenes I can think of in cinema – the ‘audience eye’ view from the judge, the stagelike presentation. In comparison I think the scenes in Scandal are much more conventional. But perhaps he was a little dissatisfied with them and so brought us a very different perspective in Rashomon?

    Vili

    I think that Coco was right in saying that the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, and as a consequence tries out quite a number of things.

    I see it in a different way from you and coco. I’m rereading Yoshimoto at the moment (I didn’t give it the close reading it deserves first time), specifically his discussion of guilt and censorship in post war Japan (mainly in the chapter in No Regrets for our Youth) and his criticisms of the overemphasis on humanism in Richies writings, and I am beginning to think that we have consistently been underestimating Kurosawa’s political leanings in this period. I think that in Scandal some of the flourishes are a little like those distracting gestures magicians make when trying to draw our eyes away from what he is really doing. Given that this film was still made under the Occupation, and during a period when it seems that issues of guilt and responsibility for the war were being rapidly hidden by what Kurosawa would have seen as a determined process of tenko, I don’t think its far fetched to see this film as his ‘snapshot’ view of where Japan was at the time of the films release, but with the core message hidden from the censors – but with enough dog whistles within the film to ensure the audience were in no doubts what it was about. What I am suggesting, in short, is that the comedy and pathos in the film which to our more distant perspective seems a little slapdash, was in reality a carefully calibrated structure intended to throw the censors off the scent.

    Sorry if this is a little incoherent, I’m still doing a little reading/thinking around this point.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Art as Beautiful Mistakes of Judgement

    For me, art is never a master game of chess-

    I may be quite stupidly wrong about this, but I have always knows of artists so engaged in the process and the “making” of the thing-that they didn’t and couldn’t think strategically about their careers. It takes so much concentration in the moment of making, that artists are often blindsighted by time and the “big career arc”. And,often, they are engaged as much in the process of discovery as discourse/explication. That is to say that I place a high value on the tradition of artists/directors discovering what they are trying to say in the process of making the work.

    So, no, I don’t think Kurosawa knew 100% how the film would turn out as he was making it. And, I think that’s a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t admire the courage of artists so much if it were simply a matter of making a plan and following it. No, the unexpected, unforseen, momentary sensation, daily constitution-all of these elements play a role (hey, on my mind is Tiger Woods right now, and the Master’s didja see any?-how delicate is our balance, huh? We are tremulous creatures blown by time and circumstance, and our minute sensations of being.)

    I call the film a “strangely cobbled thing”-but by this I don’t mean garbage. Those oddball effects and visions and cultural collisions make it an interesting, eclectic film. I personally like Scandal very very much-Mifune has never looked better, and although the story itself is slim (scandal sheets are bad), with a competing second storyline (rehabilitiation of a down-and-out lawyer), and a complicating third (angelic child too good for the earth who dies), it still is interesting. And, it is interesting in part due to the first appearances of “types” and “tropes” explored in other Kurosawa films.

    Those of you who see early versions of elements that will later show up in Rashomon, Red Beard, etc., -I think you are right. I think an artist explores and refines, and it takes many paintings/sculptures/films to work out some of the major themes and relationships. Look at Fellini! How many sluts on a beach are there? And, I love seeing them all-from Saraghina to Volpina. (Or, reverse that, actually, to make the chronology fit).

    So, I do think Kurosawa is a genius-but I do think for the artists of the 20th century that means something quite specific. It has more to do with willingness to take risks and see a vision emerge, than with grand plotting to achieve a predetermined point.

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    Ugetsu

    coco

    I think you are right. I think an artist explores and refines, and it takes many paintings/sculptures/films to work out some of the major themes and relationships.

    Isn’t there a danger here of adopting a perspective from hindsight? From where we are sitting, Scandal is an early film, with his best yet to come.

    But from the perspective of 1950, Kurosawa was a commercially and critically successful A-list director, who knew from recent history that he could not rely on a long career – many of his friends (such as Itami) had died, or had their careers cut short for political reasons. From his perspective, and from the perspective of his team, they were on a hot streak, to a large extent making the films they wanted to make, which he must have known was a very privileged position within the Japanese film industry. And it was of course a time when it was not possible to address certain issues directly due to censorship and the general sensitivity of the war and occupation, but there was enough of an opening to address these in a subtle or oblique manner.

    So I’m not convinced that its enough to just say that the film is something of an oddball – I think at this stage Kurosawa was in complete mastery of narrative film making and knew exactly what he wanted to say (even if he did not wish to say it directly). We know from the films made directly before and after Scandal that the issue of wartime guilt and humiliation, and the need for Japan to find a new direction was his major theme. We also know that it was never enough for Kurosawa simply to point out problems in his films – his characters were always searching for solutions.

    Personally, I find that I just don’t believe that Kurosawa was motivated purely by a dislike of the yellow press (even if he says so in interviews). To me it seems completely out of character for him to waste valuable film stock to settle a personal score – there is no precedent either earlier or later in his career for this type of pettiness.

    This isn’t to say that Scandal is entirely successful – there is always a difficulty in juggling so many tonal shifts. But I do think that the heavy use of western symbolism is a consistent theme throughout the film (and most of the films he made immediately before it, especially Drunken Angel and Stray Dog).

    I think that if you look at this period closely, there are really two types of film he is making – films that are quite direct and fairly literal in addressing the post war condition for Japanese people – No Regrets for our Youth, One Wonderful Sunday, Silent Duel, and those which use allegory and metaphor to address the more painful psychological issues of defeat, emasculation and guilt – Scandal, Drunken Angel, Stray Dog and (even more elliptically), Rashomon. Of the latter films, for me Scandal is the one that is most directly critical of America and the Occupation, and so the one that had to be addressed in the most indirect manner – even a dishonest manner (i.e. in not strictly speaking telling the truth in interviews about its theme). I think Scandal deserves a much closer reading to decipher its truth (and by this I don’t mean obscure subtexts – I mean the precise message Kurosawa was sending to his audience). But of course from this distance its very difficult to know exactly how the audience responded to the film.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ugetsu said:

    ” Isn’t there a danger here of adopting a perspective from hindsight? From where we are sitting, Scandal is an early film, with his best yet to come.”

    I dunno about “the best yet to come”. I have no need to find a particular moment in his career superior…in fact, I am roundly against the conventional evaluation that says Kurosawa’s late career is less than his years…well, we might call them the “Mifune” years.

    Oddball is my term, but Ugetsu, you near the point when you say,

    “…This isn’t to say that Scandal is entirely successful – there is always a difficulty in juggling so many tonal shifts.”

    Those tonal shifts- (excellent choice of words, Ugetsu) are so widely divergent that they make me laugh at their incongruity. But, again, that does not mean that I do not respect the film and the filmmaker. I am very very fond of the film, and agree that Kurosawa is taking on issues of the culture clash, the Occupation, and I think, also poking a little fun at the Japanese adoption of Western culture, and warning Japanese of some of the dangers of adopting wholesale the bad and the good.

    Kurosawa, as other artists of genius, was on a “hot streak”, sure-but that the “hot streak” of his early work is not unique in the history of art-it resembles the early masterworks of artists in other media at other times in history, and from other cultures, and his career is much like the careers of other greats. I’m thinking Michelangelo right now, and I hope that I am not testing your patience, or tempting you to make a one-to-one comparison of scale-but, let me say Michelangelo’s acknowledged masterwork fresco cycle inthe Sistine Chapel is also something marked by “tonal shifts”- and shifts of scale that show experimentation and discovery. I think we stop seeing the work if we don’t acknowledge those tonal shifts.

    So, “oddball” is not good critical language, and for that I apologize. I hold still, that an artist-however masterful-faces a challenge with every single work if he or she is worth his or her salt. Please do not mistake the process of “discovery” for failure, or for lack of ability or skill or vision. Still, I gots to call ’em as I see ’em-and Scandal is a film with some wacky notes.

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    Vili Maunula

    I’m really glad to hear that AnyDVD works for you, Ugetsu!

    It’s true that most of the court scenes are very different from Rashomon, but I think that there are a couple of instances where the camera is placed pretty much as it would with Rashomon. Of course, I don’t know if such occasional camera placement was typical of the genre. And in any case, Kurosawa certainly turns the camera’s position into a statement of its own in Rashomon.

    Another thing that I stopped to wonder about while last watching Scandal was who began the tradition of a character turning a loved-one’s picture around so that it wouldn’t stare at him when the character is about to do or has done something that he is less than proud of. Hiruta does that in Scandal, as he leaves his office to go to meet with the magazine head. Where are the precedents for that scene?

    I’m not sure if the original purpose of the film’s “tonal shifts” is to cloak the intended message, although it may well have been a positive outcome. I also wouldn’t say that Kurosawa was here, or in fact anywhere, in complete mastery of narrative film. I think that with Scandal, as always, he kept pushing past his own current limits. I would say that Kurosawa at this point was already a good enough director to make faultless films if he so wanted, but rather than staying within that comfort zone, he wanted to go further. I think that just about all of Kurosawa’s films have moments that don’t necessarily work as well as they could, but at the same time these films also include incredible artistic heights. He took risks, and that’s what makes him very interesting.

    It very much seems to me that Coco describes Kurosawa correctly when she talks about him being so deep in the creative process that the work would evolve during the making, and possibly even after the final touches were laid down. I have always found it curious how Kurosawa, on the one hand, kept stressing the importance of planning, rehearsals and being ready for the shoot, while at the same time often pointing out that the most interesting thing about film making was the unpredictable, and that he was ready to change the script on a moment’s notice if something interesting came up while filming.

    I can of course speak only for myself, but whenever I do something creative, it ends up being something like a dialogue between me and the work being created, where I certainly remain the author, but the work, through a constant feedback loop, influences what I am doing. Since that is the only way in which I know how to create, I may simply be assuming that Kurosawa worked the same way, but much of what I have read and seen also seems to point into that direction.

    Nevertheless, I still fully agree with Ugetsu’s observation that Scandal is not a minor film about tabloid newspapers, but a rather complex film about contemporary Japan, just like Kurosawa’s other films of the era were. What initially pushed Kurosawa to work on the story may well have had to do with his anger against the tabloid world, but I assume that as he worked on the idea, he began to see more meaning in the story, and other levels in which it could communicate with the audience.

    It should be noted that in his biography, Kurosawa describes the tabloid incident as the starting point for the film, not the meaning behind it — “This was the impetus for Scandal” in the English translation (177, my emphasis), and “これが、「醜聞」という映画になっあのである” in the Japanese original (376). A little later, Kurosawa goes on to state that thanks to the character of Hiruta leading him in scriptwriting somewhere he had not intended to go, “the film went in a direction I had not intended and turned into something quite different” (178). He doesn’t explicitly say what that new direction was, or whether it only had to do with exploring Hiruta’s family background, or something else.

    Now, I’m not entirely sure how this ties up with anything, but when I think of Hiruta, one thing that comes to my mind is the direct comparison that he makes between Japan and the US: “Japan has only 5,900 lawyers, while America has 170,000” (at 27:30), which I’m sure you can read in more than one way, and not all of them very positive about the US. Hiruta then goes on to compare lawyers to doctors, which may or may not have some significance considering the fact that from his past three roles for Kurosawa, Shimura had played a doctor in two of them.

    Speaking of the autobiography, there is also that interesting comment that Kurosawa makes about The Quiet Duel, namely how he felt that people hadn’t grasped what he had intended to say in the film, and how he then set out to make Stray Dog in such a manner that would make the message more straightforwardly obvious for the audience. Yet, according to Richie, Kurosawa later considered Stray Dog one of his weaker films, remarking that it was all style “and not one real thought in it” (62). Could it be that in spite of Kurosawa’s best intentions, his message was this time watered down by the numerous rewrites that they were forced to make for Stray Dog, due to censors both Japanese and American objecting to parts of the story (as told us by Sorensen, page 272)? Would this then explain why Scandal so strongly seems to be about one thing (the free speech of the press vs. individual privacy), while — as we have discussed — quite apparently talking about something completely different (the occupation), validating Ugetsu’s view that Kurosawa was deliberately deceiving not only the censors, but also Richie and others?

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    Now, I’m not entirely sure how this ties up with anything, but when I think of Hiruta, one thing that comes to my mind is the direct comparison that he makes between Japan and the US: “Japan has only 5,900 lawyers, while America has 170,000” (at 27:30), which I’m sure you can read in more than one way, and not all of them very positive about the US.

    I found that comment curious too. I was wondering if it was meant ironically or not. From a modern perspective, we can see it as funny, but as having lots of lawyers around is the price you pay for living in a country where the rule of law is absolute, then it would seem to many Japanese at the time as a good thing – only feudal or autocratic countries don’t need many lawyers, and Japan of course was both up to 1945. So I wonder if it was meant to be quite a serious comment, highlighting the poor structure of the Japanese legal system and the lack of recourse to the law for many ordinary people.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    can of course speak only for myself, but whenever I do something creative, it ends up being something like a dialogue between me and the work being created, where I certainly remain the author, but the work, through a constant feedback loop, influences what I am doing. Since that is the only way in which I know how to create, I may simply be assuming that Kurosawa worked the same way, but much of what I have read and seen also seems to point into that direction.

    You express that very well, and I’ve always assumed that this is how a script will naturally develop when its written in the collaborative style Kurosawa favoured. But i would say there is a difference in a script between one where the central idea is political or satirical, but there are lots of overlays in order to make it less didactic and more entertaining, as opposed to a thriller or comedy where a few satirical comments get thrown in for contemporary resonance (which always seems to be the case with a lot of modern Hollywood films). I was thinking that Scandal was the former type, although your comment that:

    A little later, Kurosawa goes on to state that thanks to the character of Hiruta leading him in scriptwriting somewhere he had not intended to go, “the film went in a direction I had not intended and turned into something quite different” (178). He doesn’t explicitly say what that new direction was, or whether it only had to do with exploring Hiruta’s family background, or something else.

    ….does make it look like it was the opposite – unless this happened very early in the script process, so the ‘new direction’ was very firmly embedded.

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    lawless

    Perhaps this shows my sensitivities as a lawyer, but I read the “Japan has only 5,900 lawyers, while America has 170,000” remark (ignoring how those numbers work out per capita, which is really how they should be looked at) as a swipe at litigiousness in the US, which was and probably still is a society that operates through conflict and confrontation whereas Japan relies more on resolving things through consensus. When I hear similar comparisons today (and I do), it’s usually coming from political conservatives advocating tort reform or business types who feel US courts and laws hamper them. There’s also a hint of critcism of the greed and lottery mentality that aspects of the US legal system seems to encourage.

    So your take on it, Ugetsu, is welcome, but not the one that immediately springs to my mind. Not having seen Scandal, I can’t really comment on it further.

    Vili’s description of the creative process rings true to me, too. When I write creatively, I usually have some idea of what I want to say and how I want to say it, but sometimes the characters or (less commonly) the plot get away from me and do or say something unexpected that forces me to take the story in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. I get the sense, from what I’ve read about what he’s said about the creative process, that the same type of thing happened to Kurosawa.

    Vili, I also agree with you about Kurosawa’s penchant for taking risks, which is perhaps one of the reasons he was more or less blacklisted in the industry in Japan after Red Beard, but I’m inclined to be more forgiving, or generous, in my estimation of the results. I think a few of his movies showed the risks he took paying off without much in the way of a downside – Yojimbo and Throne of Blood (with the possible exception of some aspects of the scenes with the witch, or spirit) – and for me, the story and social commentary in Seven Samurai outweigh any awkward moments.

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    Ugetsu

    Coco

    Look at Fellini! How many sluts on a beach are there? And, I love seeing them all-from Saraghina to Volpina. (Or, reverse that, actually, to make the chronology fit).

    It seems he liked Australian feminists too….

    Lawless

    There’s also a hint of critcism of the greed and lottery mentality that aspects of the US legal system seems to encourage.

    That was my first thought too, but I was assuming that this wasn’t the first thing that would have occurred to a post war Japanese. I may be wrong in this, but I assume that the only thing the contemporary audience (and maybe Kurosawa himself) knew about American law was from the films they’d seen – I may be wrong, but weren’t lawyers usually heroes in Hollywood films up to then?

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    Vili Maunula

    I have no idea what the perception of lawyers was at the time in Japan. Certainly, Scandal seems to portray the defence lawyer as someone with relatively high moral and ethical standards.

    However, the manner in which Hiruta is depicted in that scene where he goes on and on about living in confusing times, how one no longer can tell right from wrong, and how Aoye should have a lawyer just like he has a personal doctor, seems quite comical to me. Similarly, comparing the number of lawyers in Japan and American appears a quite funny to me, very much like the Henry Ford comment that he makes later.

    The population of Japan was, by the way, around 84 million in 1950, while that of the US was 158 million (UN World Population Prospects, quoted here). Considering this, I think that the numbers Hiruta gives make a point without the need of a per capita figure. Of course, I again don’t know how much your average Japanese film goer knew about population numbers.

    Reading the Autobiography, it seems to me that the changes brought about by Hiruta happened very early on in the scriptwriting process: “From the moment Hiruta appeared, the pen I was using to write the screenplay seemed almost bewitched.” (178)

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    lawless

    Good point, Vili, with repsect to per capita figures. I keep being surprised by how populous Japan is considering how small an area it occupies.

    Irrespective of era, though, I have to think that it’s common across cultures to associates lawyers and recourse to them with disputes and litigation. Historically, the US and Japan have had fundamentally different ways of dealing with disputes, with the Japanese model focusing more on community and consensus and the US model focusing more on individual rights and risk-shifting. The recourse to the headman to resolve intra-village disputes in Seven Samurai is one example, though from a much earlier period than that depicted in Scandal.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Thanks, Ugetsu for the link to the interesting Germaine Greer article. I recall her vaguely from my youth. What was especially rewarding though, was that my other favorite obsession-Fellini-is described much like Kurosawa:

    “…He only ever talked about work in progress; once a film was made, he lost interest.”.

    I’ve read quite a bit about Fellini, seen many, many interviews, and have hunted down a lot of his work, and do a program called “Film and Italian Culture”-well, I teach art, actually, which forms the setting for this little jewel of a program-my friend teaches the Film coursework-

    So, the link was quite lovely. Thanks.

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    Vili Maunula

    That sign post still haunts my dreams. Literally. As it is visually so prominent not once but twice, including at the very end, I cannot let go of the idea that it is communicating something. If you think about it, the sign actually bookends the scandal. It concludes the montage that introduces the scandal, and it is there again right after the scandal has ended. It seems like an integral part of what the scandal really is about.

    The Japanese text at the bottom of the sign says “駐車禁止”, which stands for “No Parking”. So, in addition to the English language “Loading Zone for Special Service”, we have “No Parking” in Japanese. Let’s assume that “Special Service” is a reference to the Occupation, or alternatively to the rapid intake of western influences. Is the sign then acknowledging that Japan is under the Occupation’s “Special Service”, while reminding with the Japanese “No Parking” that this arrangement should not remain permanent, and that Japan should find its own post-war identity, and not import one from abroad?

    There is also something to be said about the picture that is at the heart of the scandal. It is remarked how staged the image looks, and it certainly does that. However, if I were to stage a picture about a relationship for a tabloid scoop, this certainly wouldn’t be the pose, with the alleged lovers not facing one another, but staring into the horizon with big smiles on their faces. Could it be that Kurosawa meticulously staged this image, yet not so much to look like a photo of two love birds, but rather to resemble something else? The pose reminds me of propaganda posters, or pictures of royalty. It feels that something like “Towards better tomorrow” would be a more fitting text to print under the image than “Love on Motorcycle”. Could the image be a reference of this kind? It is made very clear that without the picture there is no scandal, which in other words means that the picture itself is the scandal.

    The bottom line is, if I were to make a film about a scandal like this, I would make the picture at the heart of the scandal look “juicier”. Despite being so staged it is surprisingly tame, and needlessly so, unless Kurosawa insisted on hammering home the message that these newspapers literally make up stuff out of nothing, with even their main evidence amounting to nothing.

    Another related observation has to do with the film’s move from countryside to an urban environment, which for our main characters coincides with a move from innocence to corruption. It is, perhaps quite importantly, also a move from fairly Japanese scenery to a westernised environment, where very little trace of traditional Japanese elements is present, apart from the scenes with the sick girl.

    The more I think about it, the more it looks like the film’s scandal is not about lovers at all, just like Ugetsu suggested.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    There is also something to be said about the picture that is at the heart of the scandal. It is remarked how staged the image looks, and it certainly does that. However, if I were to stage a picture about a relationship for a tabloid scoop, this certainly wouldn’t be the pose, with the alleged lovers not facing one another, but staring into the horizon with big smiles on their faces. Could it be that Kurosawa meticulously staged this image, yet not so much to look like a photo of two love birds, but rather to resemble something else? The pose reminds me of propaganda posters, or pictures of royalty.

    Thats a very good point. I know it sounds a little weird, but when I saw that scene, what it reminded me of this image from Tokyo Story (maybe because I have it pinned to the noticeboard over my office desk). But yes, apart from the two towels in front of them, its not a particularly suggestive photograph. When I first saw the scene, I thought that at some stage they would accidentally bump into each other, giving a supposed ‘kissing’ picture. It would seem a logical thing to do – perhaps Kurosawa was intending to highlight how the ‘scandalous’ nature of the picture was really in the minds of the beholders, not in the picture itself.

    But to go to your broader point – I don’t have enough knowledge of the period to comment, but I do think this film is as full of visual codes as a Dan Brown book – and I think if they are decoded (as I suspect Kurosawa intended them to be decoded by the contemporary Japanese audience), then I think they will tell a very different story.

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    lawless

    We’re assuming that this is a send-up of Western media, and that may be true, but is it in fact true that there was no celebrity culture or gossip rags in Japan (or anywhere else, for that matter) before Western culture made inroads there? This kind of idle curiosity and gossip seem to me to be universal and human, not merely Western.

    Coco – I agree that the film is a bit of a mishmash and that’s a large part of why it is not entirely satisfying to me in the end, even though there are parts that are quite enjoyable. I really liked the movie until we got to Masako, and then between her saintliness, her father’s self-hatred, and the confusing nature of the legal proceedings, some parts of the movie went off the rails for me.

    Having read through this thread again, I’m going to start a new thread for my thoughts on the legal aspects of the story, though I’m not sure what I’m going to call it.

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