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Cinema Japan: A Wreath for Madame Kawakita

Sunday, November 2, 2008
5:00 p.m. A Full-Up Train
Kon Ichikawa (Japan, 1957)

(Man’in densha). The scriptwriting team of director Kon Ichikawa and his wife Natto Wada has produced some of the most pungent social satire in Japanese cinema, and this film is one of their most widely hailed efforts. The hero is a young Japanese Everyman who graduates from university along with millions of others and quickly faces the grim realities of the workaday world. His exaggerated miseries draw bitter laughter, but behind it are the growing pains of postwar Japan. Visually, Ichikawa has produced a trenchant “city symphony” to rival those of an earlier era (think of Chaplin’s sheep exiting the subway). As James Quandt wrote for Cinematheque Ontario: “Taking madness as a metaphor for the turmoil of postwar Japan, Ichikawa devises increasingly surreal compositions and situations to satirize the stress, inefficiency, and corruption of the corporate culture that was emerging from the Japanese ‘economic miracle.’ . . . Vicious fun . . . acid-splashed satire.”

• Written by Natto Wada, Ichikawa. Photographed by Hiroshi Murai. With Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Chishu Ryu, Haruko Sugimura, Michiko Ono. (99 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm)