“How pitiful is the end of man.”
Curiously flat, dull and declamatory, The River Fuefuki, writer-director Keisuke Kinoshita’s adaptation of Shichiro Fukazawa’s novel, chronicles a succession of generations of one poor farming family and their relation and reactions to war. Some participate; some attempt to hold back their young from participating. The series of battles that the film depicts begins with the Battle of Idagawara in 1521.
What a naggingly repetitious film this is—and nearly two hours long! One of its aspects, however, is justifiably celebrated: its visual style, which is experimental and expressionistic. The black-and-white film is enhanced by partial color added to certain scenes; there are also whole frames that are tinted. Kinoshita and his cinematographer, Hiroyuki Kusuda, have collaborated on a visual event that runs a gamut of effectiveness, being uncomfortably odd in some places, but strikingly aesthetic and eerily distanced in others.
The film opens at night on a field of slaughter; the camera surveys the corpse-strewn earth. The entire passage is tinted deep red to suggest the blood with which the scene is soaked. After a passage indicating the Battle of Nashikidaira is similarly red-tinted (a lighter red, to suggest daylight), straight black and white comes as a shock in the scene indicating the Battle of Shiojiri: as powerful an audience-confronting choice as were the previous distancing choices of red tint. Thereafter, battle scenes employ either red or pale green tint, the latter perhaps suggesting the degree to which war drains the life out of farming and farmers, which ought to be wedded to peace.
In certain other exterior scenes, there are splotches of red at the top and the bottom; in some interior scenes, in lieu of splotches there are neater, more clearly defined strips of red at top and bottom. In other scenes, either exterior or interior, certain elements in color—for instance, the deep blue sky—interrupt the black and white. In summary, Donald Richie thus refers to this period film’s “partial colouring of scenes in the manner of early ukiyo-e prints, long scroll-like dollies and asymmetrical compositions—a selfconscious reconstruction of a Japanese style.”
I wish this “style” had been at the service of a sturdier, livelier film. Kinoshita lacks Mizoguchi’s capacity for creating art out of soap opera and melodrama.
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