DIRECTOR: MASAHIRO SHINODA
COUNTRY: JAPAN 1997
CAST: Kyozo Nagatsuka, Jungi Takada, Shima Iwashita
SUPER FEATURES: The time signatures and changes.
MOONLIGHT SERENADE, is one of those films that just could not be made in America.
Japan, suffered with the advent of the bomb, and its position in the World War II, but if anything, its artists and writers have never let the world forget what this change really meant. For many, it was a good riddance of an old system that had out lived its usefulness anyway. But for a handful, who had been a part of the system, it now has created a catharsis, that they have to go through... what to do, and how to live, and how to respond to it.
And the film does a couple of things that are truly magnificent directing ideas, and make this a special outing for the few viewers that get to see it. In America, we have no idea how a generation felt, and llived, really, since it has all been buried behind a Walt Disney like story, and denial that anything happened. It is good to look to the future, but is it wise to ignore the past and what people went through.... maybe living in a situation that you are better off not knowing what happened, is not such a blessing after all. The Hollywood controlled "fantasy" took away from people admitting to themselves that they were unhappy, and could not deal with their unhappiness, unless they were drunk, or took on a fantasy film that meant nothing but escape. As close as one comes to realities of war, seemed to be films like Casablanca, which, on their own, were also escapist, in that while these people were victims of war, they really didn't care if they were or not, because of their personal agendas.
The film starts out with the Kobe earthquake accident in 1995, as a trigger for past connection. All of a sudden we see the past, during the end of the WW II, and his family's trip to Kyushu, to bury his older brother's ashes, who had died in combat. And many of the children friends of his, joked that the family was going to commit suicide, since it had been the honorable thing to do at the time, for many government officials, and their subordinates. He undertakes to go visit his family burial site, just like his father had done when he took the whole family on this journey 50 years ago.
And the misadventures begin. They have to take various methods of transportation to get to the location they intend to visit. The longest of which is a ferry ride overnight, amidst a bunch of people that they obviously are not exactly used to be around. All of a sudden, what had been a slight upper class family, is reduced to being next to all the others. The father, a policeman, is now reduced to being a man, like all the others. He has to refrain from doing "his" duties, and although he speaks at times in favor of the ideals of his duties, by the time he speaks in the ship, it is obvious that he is waking up to the fact that this is another world, and that he will have to change. But there are a few adventures in the voyage. He meets an odd cast of characters, a couple of black marketers, one of whom has a few movies in his bag, and he makes a few monies by showing these things for a fee. Or a drug addict appears, and one never really understands what he is running from, or for, but as they leave the ship it appears that this man had been wanted as a criminal. The film, in one sequence, shows an old black and white film, and it appears that the actor is this man, now on drugs, with little respect, or cares about much of anything. In any case, he seems to be a criminal of some sort, just as he was in the previous snippet of film that we saw.
The story itself has a lot of topsy turvy turns, that at times make it difficult to follow, but it has a couple of nice moments... the man, now older and wiser, turns in a tunnel and watches a family walk by... it is his family some 50 years before. This side bit of a psychic nature, is the only one ever used, but it does not detract from the nature of the film, and the possibility that 50 years later, Keita himself, has never really left that past world that he had a glimpse of through a few films. But it is a nice touch, amounting to a very strong suggestion as to what all the people in Japan went through at the end of the War... they were all cleansed of the past, old films dealing with ancient samurai traditions were forbidden, and most films that were shown were American, and of a completely different nature at the time, showing a much more westernized society that Japan had not seen at all. We know that these things do not disappear over night. Fifty years later, it appears that he is still thinking of that past world some, even if for him it is a film image of sorts, rather than a reality.
The one thing that this film won't let go of, which makes it enjoyable, is the young one's innocence. Keyta, now a writer, never lets go of the moments that made his life enjoyable. His younger sister's innocence, and his older brother's desire to follow a young girl he met. These things, at the time, may have been funny to him, but now appear a bit larger than life, and the impetus for a story, that has enough moments for us to be able to really enjoy it, without getting side tracked by understanding. His father had a terrible time with his changes. The wife was resisting, probably much more than he cared to accept or admit, his older brother is tired of the stern father, and wants to leave, and his young sister who believes that they are all going to commit suicide, which the first time the father hears, is not funny. But by the time he hears it on the train, towards the end of the film, it is clear that it is now a joke. And it is here, that things start taking a turn. The jar of the eldest son that Keita has to guard until it is in the family's burial ground, accidentally falls on a moment when Keita actually did something heroic. In the hurry, the jar falls, and breaks in the train tracks. To everyone's surprise, there are no ashes in it, something that the young girl had joked about one time when she shook it. And all we find was inside the urn, was a tooth brush. Keita's ashes had not been recovered, so his mother made do, with a toothbrush. It is funny, but really signals the end of a tradition. It almost seems like the family trip ends there, like they do not have anywhere to go from this point on, or that the whole thing is pointless..... an excellent time to make a statement about the cultural changes.... things are different now, and the father Kokichi now knows it.
The special part of this film is the filming of all old stuff in a yellow filter, giving it a bit of the sepia toned color style, reminiscent of photographs, something the film starts with fifty years before. And it only has a few moments of pure color, when Keita remembers things, or is on his way to Kyushu.
A very nice film, well directed, with some very nice touches. It really shows a culture in disarray and change, not knowing how to deal with itself, in its very new roles. The film deals with it magnificently. It is well thought out and touching in many places. The performances are very nice and the children are excellent all the way through it.
4 of 5 GIBLOONS
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