Sunday, May 25, 2008

REVIEW: Carmen Comes Home – Keisuke Kinoshita (1951)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

While it can be argued that since that fateful day in 1896 when the first moving picture was shown in Kobe that throughout its cinematic historyJapan has managed to go toe to toe with Hollywood in terms of sophistication and artistry, but in terms of film technology it has always lagged behind. So while the first colour films were coming out of Hollywood as early as 1918 it wasn’t until 1951 that Japan got its first jolt of “Fujicolor”. That historic film was Keisuke Kinoshita’s “Carmen Comes Home” commissioned by the head of Shochiku to mark the 30th anniversary of the studio.

There were no samurai, no yakuza, but an all singing, all dancing domestic comedy that centers around “Lily Carmen” (played by Hideko Takamine), a young woman who returns to her small town a star of the Tokyo stage. At least that is what young Okin (Carmen’s real name) believes and would have the townsfolk, including the school principal/ defacto champion of culture (Chishu Ryu), believe as well. Her father, a humble farmer knows better though. When Carmen finally rolls into town with her friend and fellow “artiste”, both dressed in revealing gowns that scandalously show off their legs, old Shoichi wonders what happened to his young daughter, the poor girl who was once kicked in the head by a cow and was always a bit simple since. The villagers seem proud of their hometown girl made good, that is until it comes to light that far from being a bright light of Tokyo theatre Carmen and her friend are practitioners of another art form: burlesque.

Kinoshita, the director of such highly lauded films as “Morning for the Osone Family” and “Twenty-Four Eyes” delivers what I’d imagine Shochiku wanted: a film that would best showcase the wonders of colour film by featuring sweeping shots of the Japanese countryside alongside the bright, flashing decorations of a town decked out for celebrations... oh and the bright and flashing outfits of the two burlesque dancers until they start stripping down to their underwear. I guess the studio heads felt that half naked girls looked better in colour too.

All in all “Carmen Comes Home” is a light, sunny comedy that even though it can seem dated and corny at times is a landmark film in the history of Japanese cinema.

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