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Uma (1941)

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    NoelCT

    [Accidentally posted the following in a post in the Questions section, figure it was better suited to copy over here]

    There’s currently a subtitled copy (click the CC button) of Uma on Youtube. It’s a little muddy and low-res, but very watchable.

    Here’s a copy of what I wrote on Letterboxd:

    There’s some debate over how exactly to classify this film, as Kurosawa was an assistant director, as he had been on over a dozen other films by his mentor Kajiro Yamamoto, and this was his first credited work as a screenwriter. While not officially credited as a director, it’s known Yamamoto allowed Kurosawa to take over direction at some point in the shoot, potentially as a test to see how well he could carry a feature, which would lead to his actual debut with Sanshiro Sugata exactly 2 years later.

    I’d love to track down more of Yamamoto’s work for comparison as this is all I’ve seen by him so far (his 1960s Journey to the west is one I’ve long been looking for), and I’m curious to know if the style being highly reminiscent of what I’m used to from early Kurosawa is purely because Akira was directing it, or if that’s a sign of how much Kajiro’s style resonated with and influenced his protege. The passage of time, the focus on extreme poverty and hardened survivalism, the calming splendor of nature, the lone figures engulfed by a sea of white winter, the distant shots of people skipping along a road as they sing a song to accompany the wind blowing in the tall grass. The natural yet striking compositions with a slowly drifting camera to add to the life unfolding before us.

    The story spans I believe two years in the life of a poor family of weavers, known for their tatami mats and snowboots, with a son trying to break into distribution in the city with his intricate bath mats. The eldest daughter, teenage Ine, has a passionate love for horses, and every year drifts over to the annual horse auction, where local breeders compete with the wartime military for the best colts. With her family in dept, her father strikes up a bargain with a member of the local horse union, to care for a pregnant horse name Hana in exchange for keeping and being able to sell her baby when she gives birth the following spring. Soon after taking Hana in, the father of the family is injured and suffers a prolonged illness, and while Ine’s mother and others blame the horse as curse who will bleed the family dry of what little it has, Ine dedicates herself to its care.

    Like The Most Beautiful, I get why this is often perceived as a propaganda film. Yes, it is ultimately about Ine having to part with the beloved young colt Kozuo as he goes into military service. But it’s treated as a loss, as our focus is on her spending these literal years caring for her horses, nursing them when they’re sick, being there for the birth, hiking through snowbound mountains for treatments, spending so long looking for Kozuo when he runs away that she doesn’t even recognize him when they finally meet again. She loves these animals, and we can see why the first time she climbs on Kozuo’s bare back to ride among an entire herd of wild horses in the countryside, catching up to a train to wave goodbye to her departing brother as he heads out with his dreams of college and business. It’s a beautiful sequence in a film full of lush imagery and tender yet hard storytelling. The chaotic bookends of the auctions. Ine having to distract her siblings outside with games while worrying about her father’s emergency surgery inside. Locals dressed as demons during a festival chasing the kids to see if they’ve been good this year. The drawn out birth of Kozuo and how the family, often otherwise at odds, comes together to cheer the infant as he takes his first steps and learns how to feed. There’s so many great sequences throughout, all lushly designed and shot, beautifully played. I even love a moment that foreshadows Kurosawa’s The Most Beautiful as Ine waves to girls heading to the nearby factory, and asking if they like the job. “No. But who would.”

    Kurosawa was no fan of the militarist regime, and had no problem slipping his digs and critiques in where he could get away from it. And again, by the end of this film, what should be a scene of her family finally able to settle their debts and spare Ine from having to return to work in the same factory thanks to the high bid the military paid them for their horse, instead focuses on her tears and what’s been taken away as we see her drop to her knees, dissolving to a line of horses being led off to war.

    This truly is a lovely movie, and I wish Criterion could find a way to get it cleaned up and released alongside their prolific collection of Kurosawa’s work. It definitely fits among them, with themes overlapping with Most Beautiful, No Regrets For Our Youth, Rhapsody in August. It would fit so nicely into an Eclipse set, maybe paired with the handful of films Kurosawa wrote but didn’t direct. I mean, they put a lovely copy of Snow Trails on their channel, why not this one? If you enjoy Kurosawa, I highly recommend tracking it down. Even if you have to watch a bit of a murky fansub on Youtube like I did.

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    NoelCT

    Sorry, Vili, didn’t realize adding these posts to the forum would trigger automatic tweets for the account.

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    Vili Maunula

    Absolutely no problem, NoelCT!

    It’s only great to see activity here, and really interesting posts too! I’m travelling at the moment but will definitely check the film when I get home. Thanks for the link!

    The Twitter (and Facebook, and Reddit) posts should actually be spread out automatically by the system, but I suppose something’s changed somewhere that’s not doing the timeouts properly. I’ll look into that as well. Not the only thing that’s not currently working perfectly here, methinks.

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    Ugetsu

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention! I just watched a short bit and it looks gorgeous.

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