Stage Whispers: Reflections on Theater in Film Inspired by “Drive My Car” (Part 1)

by Earl Jackson

In 1969, Masahiro Shinoda launched “Double Suicide”, his model of Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s bunraku (puppet) play, “The Love Suicides Amajima” [心中天網島]. The movie was hanging in its use of the black-hooded puppeteers, the kuroko, to maneuver the actors and alter the intentionally synthetic units. The movie was successful with the worldwide artwork movie crowd in that it proved that Japanese avant-garde narrative cinema was not restricted to Hiroshi Teshigahara’s variations of Kobo Abe novels. In later years, it will function a viewer-friendly introduction to the New Wave as a result of, not like the harder works of Kiju Yoshida or Nagisa Oshima, “Double Suicide” -to repurpose Gertrude Stein’s judgment of James Joyce – was the experimental movie that anybody may perceive.

In 2021, Ryusuke Hamaguchi takes up the problem of integrating classical theater with modern cinema once more, in his use of Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya” in his movie “Drive My Automotive”. At first look, Hamaguchi’s inclusion of scenes from the play could appear extra typical than Shinoda’s movie, however what distinguishes the previous isn’t its radicality however its intimacy. Drive My Automotive”, in truth, obviates the query of conference and innovation as a result of, like Hamaguchi’s earlier works, the film constitutes an act of focus so dedicated to its course of that even the distractions it admits turn out to be oracular, whether or not or not the oracle divulges its message- as we have now seen within the communication workshop in Joyful Hour (2015), Torii Baku’s (Masahiro Higashide) late reappearance in “Asako I and II” [寝ても覚めても] (2018) or within the scene in Drive My Automotive when  Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) closes his laptop computer on the video close-up of a lamprey’s ravenous maw (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. The lamprey as oracle. Drive My Automotive (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 2021)

In considering by Hamaguchi’s “Uncle Vanya, I first recalled earlier movies that quoted stage performances of 1 type or one other. I want to strategy an preliminary appreciation of Drive My Automotive with a selective survey of those movies. When it comes to Japanese cinema historical past, it appears becoming to start with the 2 earlier movies that additionally reference Chekov.

“Heat Present” [暖流] (Kozaburo Yoshimura, 1939) excised all references to the warfare in China from Kunio Kishida’s novel to create a gauzy upper-class melodrama about two ladies in love with the identical forensic accountant (Shin Saburi). One of many ladies, Keiko Shima (Mieko Takamine) was the daughter of the physician who owned Shima hospital, the place the infamous cad, Dr. Sasajima (Shin Tokudaiji) labored and preyed on the nurses. For the sake of his future, Sasajima set his sights on marrying Keiko, and to that finish, he takes her to a nature reserve in Kamakura to make his case (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. The proposal in a dream park. “Heat Present” (Kozaburo Yoshimura, 1939)

Keiko, nevertheless, not solely appears unmoved by his ardor, she even brings alongside a e-book: Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchardwithin the unique Russian (Fig. 3)! This serves not solely to point her mental prowess however the play’s story of a rich household that falls into wreck foretells the destiny of the Shima household.

Fig. 3. Bringing Chekhov’s Вишнёвый сад on a date. Heat Present (Kozaburo Yoshimura, 1939)

Twenty-one years later, Chekhov is once more evoked to recontextualize modern struggling in “The Pores and skin of the Night [赤坂の姉妹より夜の肌] (Yuzo Kawashima, 1960). The movie follows the obstacles and upheavals within the lives of the Natsumi sisters. The 2 elder sisters, Natsuo (Chikage Awajima), and Akie (Michiyo Aratama) had been working as hostesses in upscale Akasaka eating places for a number of years when the youngest sister, Fuyuko (Tomoko Kawaguchi) arrives in Tokyo from their hometown to attend college, the place she quickly joins a gaggle of pupil activists. In almost the penultimate scene, Natsuo and Fuyuko attend a efficiency of Chekov’s “Three Sisters”, and the movie focuses on their faces through the climax of the drama, the place the three Porozov sisters, shattered however undefeated by a collection of catastrophes, vow to maintain on working, to maintain on residing (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4. The Prorozov Sisters on a Tokyo stage. “The Pores and skin of the Night” (Yuzo Kawashima, 1960).

This scene immediately reinterprets the complete movie, because it clearly demonstrates the parallel between every particular person sister: Olga, the eldest sister, begins as a trainer and is promoted to headmistress. Natsuo begins as a hostess within the bar, Shiinomi, and thru onerous work and horrible sacrifices succeeds in proudly owning the restaurant, Magokoro (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Natsuo watching Olga. “The Pores and skin of the Night” (Yuzo Kawashima, 1960).

Masha, the center sister, like Akie, is bitter, short-tempered, and endures an sad relationship. Irina is the youngest and most idealistic of the sisters, which can be true of Fuyuko (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Fuyuko moved to tears by Irina’s convictions. “The Pores and skin of the Night” (Yuzo Kawashima, 1960).

On stage, the three sisters embrace and persevere collectively despite the tragedies which have befallen them, a scene that should be notably painful for Natsuo for the reason that occasions she and her sisters have endured have pushed them farther aside and vanquished her dream of them working collectively in Magokoro. Past the easy parallels between the 2 units of sisters, the scene achieves an encounter between “Excessive Tradition” and well-liked tradition on an equal footing. The shock look of “Three Sisters” doesn’t elevate the melodrama however illuminates what the style was already able to attaining in representing the lives of ladies in a patriarchal social order.

In these precedents, I’m not suggesting that Hamaguchi drew from them. Starting within the Meiji interval (1868-1912), Russian literature was broadly translated and browse. Shimei Futabatei (1864-1909), credited with writing the primary trendy Japanese novel, was an avid lover of Russian literature. He not solely translated Tolstoi and Turgenev, however studied in Russia and even wrote a journey diary in Russian. The novelist Yutaka Haniya (1909-1997) printed over 2,000 pages of essays on Dostoevski. When in an particularly good temper, my non secular research professor in graduate college, Masatoshi Nagatomi (1926-2000) would sing an aria from the Japanese opera adaptation of Tolstoi’s novel, “Resurrection” [Воскресение], which he and all his classmates have been taught in center college. Hamaguchi, due to this fact, is working inside a really lengthy, and variously rooted custom in his work with Chekov.

[Part Two will examine Hamaguchi’s orchestration of the voice, “Uncle Vanya”, and techniques drawn from Noh.]

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