quinta-feira, 30 de maio de 2013
This famous Japanese film re-creates the brutal end of World War II in Manchuria. Powerful in image and message, the movie is also long. Its three parts, lasting more than nine hours, present an often riveting, nearly unrelenting depiction of the inhumanity of war.
While the main outlines of the story are accurate, the brush of characterization is broad. The hero, of course, is superheroic, his marriage sentimentalized, and Manchuria itself the stuff of inverted colonial romance. Stereotypes of Korean thugs, Chinese harlots, cruel Soviet officers, and even brutal Japanese military police present a cardboard parade of figures (and prejudices) marching in nasty unison. Still, to say that not every Soviet foot soldier was a rapist is not to gainsay the general fact that everything in the film probably happened—and not just once but repeatedly. At issue is not the reality of one scene or another but the way in which we remember war.
The execution sequence - from Part 2 of Kobayashi's The Human Condition - confronts Kaji (Nakadai Tatsuya) with the impossibility of the facade he has been trying to sustain
The 1,500,000 Japanese left in Manchuria at the end of the war included 600,000 military prisoners, of whom huge numbers were shipped to Soviet labor camps in Siberia. Of the civilian population of 270,000 Japanese settlers, 80,000 died— some at the hands of the Chinese and the Russians, others from starvation or suicide. About 140,000 civilians were eventually repatriated to Japan, only to find that their contributions toward building the “new paradise” in Manchukuo were little appreciated at home. The jewel in Japan’s imperial crown had turned to paste at a terrible cost to both Chinese and Japanese.
The film (1959-61) was based on Junpei Gomikawa’s six-volume novel of the same title (1956-58)—which, despite its formidable length, sold 250,000 copies. The movie, listed for a time in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest feature film ever made, was also a surprising success despite its length and subject. For years it was possible to revive a Tokyo theater’s fortunes with a through-the-night showing of all three parts of The Human Condition. The film made actor Tatsuya Nakadai famous and gave director Masaki Kobayashi a basis for future cinematic expressions of social protest—including his masterpiece, Harakiri (Ritual Suicide, 1962)
Consisting of three provinces in northeastern China between Siberia and Korea, Manchuria became the object of imperialist rivalry between Russia and Japan in the late nineteenth century. The Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, brought Japan colonial territory in South Manchuria. Japan seized the whole of Manchuria in 1931 and established the puppet state of Manchukuo. The Soviets occupied Manchuria in 1945, and it was finally returned to Chinese sovereignty one year later.
Empire of the Sun
In the 1850s, Japan felt the threat of Western imperialism as European powers began new encroachments into Asia. Japan was spared the experience of colonization—partly because the United States, which took the main initiative in approaching Japan, wanted trade more than territory and partly because Japan responded rapidly by adopting the ways of Western civilization, which included seeking an empire of its own. That empire was near-flung, encompassing Asian territory mostly close to home: Taiwan, Korea, southern Sakhalin (from Russia), South Manchuria, and after World War I the former German islands in the South Pacific. Manchukuo, established in Manchuria in 1932, was different. Mixing military empire, economic planning, and social utopianism, Japan undertook the prototype of what it later vainly promoted as the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
World War II As We Don’t Know It
As its name indicates, the Second World War was a global conflict. For the United States, the end of the war meant the defeat of the Axis powers and the start of the Cold War. But for Asia it meant that and much more, as even the single case of Manchuria shows. Its empire gone, Japan moved toward peace, democracy, and alliance with its former enemy, the United States. Meanwhile China, finally freed from its Japanese predators, was engulfed in a civil war, which the Communists won in 1949, their strong support among the peasantry having been greatly expanded by the experience of fighting the Anti-Japanese War (the Chinese name for World War II). The ensuing struggle among Soviet, Chinese, and Korean Communists to establish their respective versions of socialism continued for decades, and a divided Korea represented a postwar legacy still unresolved more than a half century later.
Public memory of the Second World War has a history of its own. In 1995, the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war revealed how much had changed since the 1950s, when this film was made—and how much had not. For decades Japanese had kept the focus of memory fixed on the Pacific War, the Japanese-American part of the conflict.
Unit 731 (731部隊) - Harbin
Saburo Ienaga, The Pacific War (Pantheon, 1978)
Louise Young, Total Empire (Harvard University Press, 1996)
Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai)
Michiko (Michiyo Aratama)
Okishima (Soh Yamamura)
DIRECTOR: Masaki Kobayashi; PRODUCER: Shigeru Wakatsuki; SCREENPLAY: Zenzo Matsuyama, Masaki Kobayashi; STUDIO: Shochiku; VIDEO: Sony; RUNNING TIME: 208 min. (Part 1); 180 min. (Part 2); 190 min. (Part 3)
In: Past Imperfect. Historu According to the Movies. General Editor: Mark C. Carnes. A Society of American Historians Book. New York, 1996, pp. 250-253.
terça-feira, 28 de maio de 2013
The Farewell of the Sonata Form by Professor Kretschmar - Theodor Wissengrund Adorno - Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111
What did he talk about? Well, the man was capable of spending a whole hour on the question: Why did Beethoven not write a third movement to the Piano Sonata Opus 111? It is without doubt a matter worth discussing. But think of it in the light of the posters outside the hall of Activities for the Common Weal, or inserted in the Kaisersaschern Railway Journal, and ask yourself the amount of public interest it could arouse. People positively did not want to know why Op. 111 has only two movements. We who were present at the explanation had indeed an uncommonly enriching evening, and this although the sonata under discussion was to that date entirely unknown to us. Still it was precisely through these lectures that we got to know it, and as a matter of fact very much in detail;
for Kretschmar played it to us on the inferior cottage piano that was all he could command, a grand piano not being granted him. He played it capitally despite the rumbling noise the instrument made; analysing its intellectual content with great impressiveness as he went, describing the circumstances under which it — and two others — were written and expatiating with caustic wit upon the master’s own explanation of the reason why he had not done a third movement corresponding to the first. Beethoven, it seems, had calmly answered this question, put by his famulus, by saying that he had not had time and therefore had somewhat extended the second movement. No time! And he had said it "calmly," to boot.
The contempt for the questioner which lay in such an answer had obviously not been noticed, but it was justified contempt. And now the speaker described Beethoven’s condition in the year 1820, when his hearing, attacked by a resistless ailment, was in progressive decay, and it had already become clear that he could no longer conduct his own works. Kretschmar told us about the rumours that the famous author was quite written out, his productive powers exhausted, himself incapable of larger enterprises, And then Kretschmar talked about the Sonata in C minor, which indeed it was not easy to see as a well-rounded and intellectually digested work, and which had given his contemporary critics, and his friends as well, a hard aesthetic nut to crack. These friends and admirers, Kretschmar said, simply could not follow the man they revered beyond the height to which at the time of his maturity he had brought the symphony, the piano sonata, and the classical string quartet. In the works of the last period they stood with heavy hearts before a process of dissolution or alienation, of a mounting into an air no longer familiar or safe to meddle with; even before a plus ultra, wherein they had been able to see nothing else than a degeneration of tendencies previously present, an excess of introspection and speculation, an extravagance of minutiae and scientific musicality — applied sometimes to such simple material as the arietta theme of the monstrous movement of variations which forms the second part of this sonata.
The theme of this movement goes through a hundred vicissitudes, a hundred worlds of rhythmic contrasts, at length outgrows itself, and is finally lost in giddy heights that one might call other-worldly or abstract. And in just that very way Beethoven’s art had overgrown itself, risen out of the habitable regions of tradition, even before the startled gaze of human eyes, into spheres of the entirely and utterly and nothing-but personal — an ego painfully isolated in the absolute, isolated too from sense by the loss of his hearing; lonely prince of a realm of spirits, from whom now only a chilling breath issued to terrify his most willing contemporaries, standing as they did aghast at these communications of which only at moments, only by exception, they could understand anything at all. So far, so good, said Kretschmar. And yet again, good or right only conditionally and incompletely.
Kretschmar did not return from the piano to his desk. He sat on his revolving stool with his face turned towards us, in the same position as ours, bent over, hands between his knees, and in a few words brought to an end his lecture on why Beethoven had not written a third movement to Op. in. We had only needed, he said, to hear the piece to answer the question ourselves. A third movement? A new approach? A return after this parting — impossible! It had happened that the sonata had come, in the second, enormous movement, to an end, an end without any return.
Translated by John E. Woods