Friday, March 21, 2008

Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo (Sadao Yamanaka, 1935) aka Sazen Tange and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo

Sazen Tange and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (Sadao Yamanaka, 1935)
Rating: 10

In his film Humanity and Paper Balloons, director Sadao Yamanaka deconstructs the jidai-geki genre, taking a more psychologically oriented approach. Here he does the same, but in a much different manor. Humanity and Paper Balloons explores the deeply tragic life of a masterless samurai. Sazen Tange and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo instead utilizes a genre based around reversal of expectations to do exactly that. The film begins with a classic setup for a traditional moral tale about greed vs. honor as we are quickly told of a pot that contains a map to the whereabout of a hidden fortune. We soon discover that the pot is more of a mcguffin than anything else, as the characters have other concerns and we are in fact watching a comedy. The original owner of the pot pretends to be in search of it while spending his days away from his wife shooting arrows and flirting with girls which is where he meets Sazen Tange, a popular figure who made many appearances in Japanese popular culture during this period. Sazen Tange was characterized as a ruthless one eyed, one armed swordsman, but Yamanaka humanizes his character as he cares for an orphaned child who just so happens to own the pot worth one million ryo.
Yamanaka's direction is almost flawless and the script is wonderful. The score and music pieces the mistress plays within the film are quite enjoyable. I was also impressed with how effectively editing is used to enhance the narrative and the comedy without any detrimental stylization. Throughout Yamanaka uses elliptical cuts for comic effect where character's say one thing and then do or allow the opposite to occur. There are also several brief montage transitional scenes, sound bridges, and other technical and formal devices that work very well. I found the film to be quite funny without resorting to slapstick and still maintaining the tradition of Japanese humanism and offering social commentary.

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