Film postcard: Tokyo

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 April, 2013, 3:38pm

While a cinematic giant in his own country, where his films were commercial and critical successes, Keisuke Kinoshita (1912-1998) didn't receive the same recognition abroad as contemporary Akira Kurosawa or Shochiku studio senior Yasujiro Ozu. But as a 19-film retrospective at the 2012 Tokyo Filmex festival made clear, the director of 49 feature films was more of a boundary-pushing filmmaker than his decades as a studio stalwart would imply.

Best known in Japan for Twenty Four Eyes, a hit 1954 melodrama about a devoted teacher (Hideko Takamine) and her class of children on an Inland Sea island, Kinoshita also made Japan's first Technicolor film, Carmen Comes Home (1951), a cheeky comedy of manners starring Takamine as an exotic dancer returning to her rural hometown, and The Ballad of Narayama (1955), a kabuki-esque drama set in a feudal-era village where the old are abandoned on a nearby mountain to leave more food for the young.

Beyond these well-known films are "hidden gems", such as the four that were screened at the Hong Kong International Film Festival this year, and have additional screenings within the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society's new Cine Fan repertory cinema programme.

In Jubilation Street, a 1944 exercise in home-front propaganda becomes a penetrating study of a neighbourhood in upheaval, as the residents face choices that may lead to a new life - or early death. Engagement Ring (1950) is a melodrama of star-crossed love - a well-off middle-aged woman (Kinuyo Tanaka) falls for a handsome young doctor (Toshiro Mifune) treating her husband.

- but one with a slowly simmering sexual heat. In A Legend or Was It? (1963), Kinoshita presents a violent drama set in the rugged natural beauty of Hokkaido. A family evacuated from firebombed Tokyo are targeted for retribution after their beautiful daughter (Shima Iwashita) refuses a marriage offer from an arrogant former solder (Bunta Sugawara) on learning he had committed war crimes.

Farewell to Dream is a 1956 drama about the teenage son of fishmongers who longs for something better, but is confronted by reality. As these "gems" show, Kinoshita had not only a knack for making any genre his own, but a preference for the truth.

Jubilation Street, today, 1.30pm; Engagement Ring, today, 5pm; Farewell to Dream, Sat, 7.30pm; A Legend or Was It?, Sat, 9.30pm; all at the HK Arts Centre. Part of the HKIFF Cine Fan programme