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Tomu Uchida: Part 4

April 16th, 2008 (06:50 pm)

Movie #4: A Hole of My Own Making (Jibun No Ana No Naka De). And it is indeed. Another post-war allegory, this time involving a family in turmoil.

© 2008 D. Gordon

Tamiko is the daughter of the Shiga family. She lives a comfortable upper-class Tokyo life with her stepmother and bedridden brother; while her father died during the war, so there's no active income, they own assets that make them fairly wealthy compared to others.

Tamiko's life, as a result, is pretty carefree: unlike the cheerful prostitute Yae of A Fugitive From the Past, her basic needs are more than covered. She's got stylish clothes, trips as she desires, even two suitors to juggle. A little spoiled, a little headstrong, she has just about everything she could want.

Tamiko's also half girl, half woman, hurtling to complete that transition. In an interesting sequence of visuals played out over the course of the first 30-45 minutes, we see her first applying nail polish, then wearing ever more sophisticated suits; some face powder is added, until she finally dresses the part of the seductress. Tamiko wants to be modern in postwar Japan, wants to control her own destiny. But this is Tomu Uchida, so things definitely aren't as straightforward as they might seem. The girl has prospects but no guide, no mentor to help her make that transition; instead, her youth and inexperience put her on a road towards losing everything around her.

What is it that Tamiko really wants? Suitor #1, the playboy doctor, her stepmother's choice, whom everyone advises she marry for security - even though it's clear to all that her stepmother carries a torch for him? Or maybe Suitor #2, the gentle-souled but somewhat weak wanderer whom her father had favored? Or neither: part of her indecision seems to exist because she's just not interested in marrying, period. She also doesn't get along well with her stepmother, the one woman closest enough to her to help her out; their relationship is more a rivalry between women, Tamiko hurting herself to spite her stepmother over the doctor. Her brother Junjiro does communicate with her, and could act as a surrogate father - which, in claiming to be head of the family, is what he should be - but he's too preoccupied with his illness and pining away for his ex-wife to be of much help. He's an especially interesting character: he listens to Tamiko's wild theories, not completely convinced, and he'll spout the current party line about whom she should marry (both suitors are also close family friends); but whenever it comes time to actually decide something, anything, his answer is always that he'll keep his opinion to himself. With this level of dysfunctionality it's no wonder that the family is in decline.

But it's not completely their fault. Like A Fugitive from the Past this story analyzes postwar Japan; perhaps the analysis is a little more effective here because it covers the day-to-day specifics of living rather than the overall functioning of society. In the absence of a war, a number of things would have played out differently. Tamiko's stepmother would have chosen security over happiness (for both Tamiko and herself), giving the girl little say in the matter. When she attempts to do that in this atmosphere, however, Tamiko successfully resists - and actively tries to prevent her stepmother from benefiting either. Her brother likely would not have been emasculated by life, spending his days bemoaning Western "ownership" of Japan and frittering away time and money - especially money - on the stock market. And most importantly, the father, who was killed in the war, would still be there to steer the family ship.

If this is an allegory - and it has been described as that - all these characters easily stand in for Japan's transition from a defeated military power to an advanced industrialized nation. The protections of tradition and family have been stripped away, and Tamiko - like Japan, is at a loss in creating a replacement. Thus the ending - with Tamiko, now utterly alone, standing in front of her house in her mourning kimono, burning the mementos of her past life - demonstrates the uncertainties without offering a resolution.


Interestingly, while Uchida once again skips the happy ending, none of his visual experiments appear here (although there is a harpsichord score that's a bit distracting). It'll be interesting to see in some of the movies to come whether his visual touches started later in his career, or if this movie is an exception.

I also found out that Uchida's first film, Officer Konishi (1922), was co-directed with Teinosuke Kinugasa, he of A Page From Madness. That would explain a lot about Uchida's visual sensibilities.