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As a young man, Keisuke Kinoshita (Ryo Kase) carried his mother on a handcart across a mountain. He grew up as a hotblooded young man and was monitored by the military. He then joined Shochiku movie company, to eventually become a movie director.Written by
Kinoshita has directed his first film for Shochiku, so all should be well. But in 1944, the Armed Forces and the War Cabinet are worried. The war is clearly being lost, and censorship is getting tighter. Despite his film, called simply The Army, being strongly patriotic and stirring, the Army censors criticized the closing sequence for showing a woman crying freely while her son proudly marches off to war. Kinoshita is told that he will not be allowed to make another film because of this pressure. His boss wants him to stay on, and wait out the ban, but Kinoshita leaves anyway, proud and hurt.
He returns to his village at the worst possible time. The American bombing raids are closing in on even his rather remote village. The family must evacuate. Problem is, their mother is too ill to travel by bus on the bumpy roads. Kinoshita and his brother resolve to carry their mother in a litter over the mountains on foot. Assisted by a young porter, they set out for the hard journey.
Most of the movie is the hardships of the journey and the long conversations between the young men. Kinoshita is compelled to consider and defend his decisions, and challenged to return to movie-making.
Apart from a number of crises (such as pouring rain and bombing from the air), the pace is fairly gentle though always involving and never dull. The lead actors do a creditable job, but Yuko Tanaka as the literally long-suffering mother is simply stunning. And she is all the more impressive for saying not a word until her final scene, when she struggles to convince Kinoshita to go back to his dream.
The mountain scenery is also lovely to look at, and the camera-work is gorgeous. I did find some of the dialogue and characterization rather too neat and lacking in credibility. For instance, the porter chats with Kinoshita about seeing his film, the Army, unaware that he is addressing the director himself (Kinoshita does not tell the boy, as much out of shame as anything else). The porter gives him a rapturous review, reinforcing his vision of how he thought local audiences would react. This looks very much like dramatic license and seems unlikely to have happened so neatly and succinctly.
Considering the stature of Kinoshita, who started at the same time as Kurosawa and his contemporary in every respect, this story may appear to have been an oddly trivial episode to make into full-length feature. After all, his great body of work all came after this time. However, Dawn Of A Filmmaker is a lovely and affectionate film, and tries earnestly to shine a light on the views, life experience and tribulations of this great artist.
DOAF ends with a clips from most of his movies, and makes me all the keener to seek out his harder-to-find efforts.
Highly recommended for anyone who loves Japanese film, whether you are yet to see a Kinoshita masterpiece or, like me, are a firm and committed fan.
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