1950s, 3/4, Drama, Masaki Kobayashi, Review

Somewhere Under the Broad Sky

#16 in my ranking of Masaki Kobayashi’s films.

Knowing that this was both a film by Kobayashi and in his melodrama period, I kept expecting this film to turn in much darker directions than it ever did. Instead of getting a bit of misery wrapped in irony that came to define the ending of Three Loves, I got something much more hopeful and straightforward. It’s a fine little film in that regard, about a family growing together and apart at the same time, and it’s interesting to note that even with the somewhat nice and almost comparatively mundane aspect of the nature of the storytelling that Kobayashi’s sheer talent still manages to shine through so brightly.

Hiroko (Yoshiko Kuga) has married Ryoichi (Keiji Sada), which means that she had married into a family that runs a small liquor store in Tokyo. In addition to her husband there is also her mother-in-law Shige (Kumeko Urabe), her sister-in-law Yasuko (Hideko Takamine) who was left partially lame in one leg in a bombing raid during the war, and her brother-in-law Noboru (Akira Ishihama) who is a student at the university and doesn’t offer much to the store’s running. There are small household conflicts between Hiroko and, in particular, Shige, mostly about what chores she should be doing. There is also some tension because she is still learning the household ways as well as how to effectively run the store, especially in a moment where she spills some soy sauce right after we’ve learned how little Ryoichi earns from a large bottle.

The problems aren’t her own. Yasuko, in particular, gets a good amount of attention due to her disability and singlehood. She describes herself as an old maid at 28-years-old, and she outright refuses to even meet with a potentially eligible man set up by her mother because he has three fingers missing, the idea being that she won’t accept the charity or the pity of needing to be paired with another person maimed by the war. She doesn’t know how she wants to fill her time, lying about going to flower arrangement classes and instead going to bicycle races, while giving up her music. She’s in a funk.

There is also the presence of a pair of men from hometowns far away. The first is Shinkichi (Ryohei Uchida), a childhood friend of Hiroko’s who has come to Tokyo with his sister to try and find work. He tracks down Hiroko and obviously loves her despite the fact that she married another man. They meet a couple of times innocently but suspiciously enough (she goes away from the store when she’s supposed to be watching it) that it causes gossip within the house. When he decides to give up on finding work in the city and return home, Hiroko joins him to the train station, and Ryoichi chases after them. Everything ends up innocently enough, though. Hiroko was never going to leave Ryoichi with Shinkichi. I think there was supposed to be a bit of tension around it, but she’s too good to leave. At the same time, he’s too good to actually take anything out on her. She may be messing up at work, having secret meetings with a former boyfriend, and costing him money when he smooths over any potential doubt by offering a gift of whiskey to Shinkichi, but he’ll never take his anger out on her. In one way, Ryoichi is the rock on which the family operates. In another way, he’s so trusting that he eliminates some dramatic tension.

Ryoichi is a source of dramatic deflation in another sense as well. We get a lot of talk early about how hard it is for him to make ends meet in the deflationary Japan of the post-war period, especially when he also has to pay all of his taxes, but he seems to have an endless source of money. He gives allowances to both Noboru and Yasuko. He has five thousand yen socked away that he can instantly give Yasuko when she asks for it for a friend whose son is suffering from appendicitis. This ability to find money without any kind of effect on him is another deflationary bit.

Ryoichi really is the dramatic deadweight of the film, but he’s not the emotional center. That would be Hiroko. That separation is, I think, what makes the film work where it does. The plot mechanics of Ryoichi finding money is less important that Hiroko finding her place in this family. Her husband’s support is necessary so that she can stay there, despite the conflicts that arise. And that journey is really quite nice.

The point of the title comes from a conversation between Noboru and a school friend about how, somewhere out there in the wide world of Tokyo and Japan, there has to be someone for everyone. Ryoichi is Hiroko’s somebody, and even Yasuko can find someone. The other friend from back home is Shun-don (Minoru Oki), an old-time flame of Yasuko’s from the remote village that the family started from who let things go when Yasuko gained a fiancé during the war. The fiancé was killed in the war, and Yasuko was left lame. We’ve already seen her intransigence regarding pity husbands, and yet she ends up with real emotion for Shun-don. When he shows up and goes back because she refuses to meet with him, she’s soon chasing after him, looking for her own connection.

It’s nice. It’s not challenging, and it often feels like it’s going to go darker than it does, but Kobayashi was still seemingly smarting from the poor reaction to The Thick-Walled Room from Japanese officials. He was making safe fare to keep working, relying heavily on his mentors and friends for stylistic and narrative directions. Still, the emotional throughline of Hiroko in the main and Yasuko in a secondary way is often quite strong. It ultimately just comes to a nice place, with people finding happiness where they can without the sharper edge of Kobayashi’s later, more famous work, but as an example of a mid-50s Japanese family drama, it’s a nice little entertainment.

Rating; 3/4

4 thoughts on “Somewhere Under the Broad Sky”

  1. Ah, this is a romance then, not a melodrama. That explains things.
    Drama (and melodramas) in Japan tend to have ‘down’ endings, while romances can have happy endings…even if that isn’t always romantic in an American/Western sense. The Japanese take on romance is strange and weird by most standards. Love is considered destructive and to be avoided, while duty is lauded. Sex is both dirty and shameful and yet ‘normal’ and expected (even extra-marital blends).

    Sounds like this is playing with those tropes.

    I haven’t seen this one, so the summary is welcome.

    Like

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