A Legend or Was It? (1963)

A Legend or Was It? (Shito no densetsu)
Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by Keisuke Kinoshita
1963/Japan
Shochiku Eiga
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

Legend remains victorious in spite of history. Sarah Bernhardt

Set in the last days of WWII, this film is powerful but completely tragic.

We are told from the colorful beginning that this is a tale so tragic that the participants never speak of it.  Then we segue into flashback and black-and-white.  The Sonobe family – grandma, mother (Kinuyo Tanaka), son and two daughters – have evacuated from Tokyo to Hokkaido.  As the story begins, another son has returned from the war due to illness.  The family is resented by most of the local villagers but has managed to feed itself because the mayor’s son wants to marry the oldest daughter.  She doesn’t like him but has agreed to the marriage.

The brother informs his family that the mayor’s son was guilty of atrocities in China.  This is enough to cause the sister to reject him and allows the villagers’ resentment to grow into real hate.  The son reveals himself to have been fully capable of war crimes.  All this domestic tragedy is set to the bad news coming in from the front.

Well, the movie certainly delivers all the sadness it promised.  There is a very interesting counterpoint between the villagers’ fanatical patriotism and the family’s growing conviction Japan will lose the war.  Despite the unremitting bleakness, the movie is  well and powerfully made and acted.

 

 

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