Political Film Review #331

Directed by Yôji Yamada, Kabei–Our Mother (Kâbê), is a biopic of the Nogami family during the years 1940-1945. After a portrayal of the family’s woes in the first half of the film, one tragic death after another piles up, with a weeping unimaginable among “happy talk” Japanese. The problems begin when humanities professor Shigeru “Tobei” Nogami (played by Mitsugoro Bando) is arrested in a Tokyo prefect during February 1940 for a “thought” violation: Contrary to the newspeak-named Peace Preservation Law, he has questioned Japan’s invasion of China in his writings. For the authorities, the invasion is an “incident” or even a “crusade,” politically correct language from which the good professor dissents. Indeed, the party line is that Japan is uniting Asia, Germany is uniting Europe, and eventually Japan will defeat Germany and rule the world. In the meanwhile, of course, the Nazi regime and Japan are allies. His spouse, Kabei (played by Sayuri Yoshinaga) must therefore hold together the family, which consists of two daughters, Hatsu (played by Mirai Shida) and her younger sister Teru (played by Miku Sato), the writer of the biography, who provides voiceovers from time to time. Kabei’s father, a member of the police in another prefacture, visits the jail where Nogami is held so that Kabei and their daughters can visit, bringing food and clothing, though the daughters cannot visit him after he is transferred to prison. Her sister-in-law Hisako (played by Rei Dan) comes from Hiroshima to cook, while Kabei takes an elementary school teaching position in art and music. Her cantankerous brother also visits, providing comic relief. But the household’s mainstay is one of Nogami’s devoted students, Yamazaki (Tadanobu Asano), who helps around the house and in emergencies until he is drafted into the Navy despite hearing and vision disabilities. The most politically awkward scenes involve arrogant criminal justice personnel, a prosecutor, volunteers warning citizens to avoid luxury spending, and emperor worship, but the underlying theme is how seriously all the Japanese take their responsibilities, even if misguided. MH

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow to be as realistic as possible of the combat experienced by Americans in the Iraq War, The Hurt Locker focuses primarily on a bomb squad in 2004 as the insurgency was trying to annoy GIs as if an embedded journalist were there. Titles occasionally indicate the number of days before the company’s tour of duty ends. Staff Sergeant William James (played by Jeremy Renner), the expert called upon to defuse bombs, demonstrates his ability on several occasions. The unit also encounters friendly and hostile fire. Iraqis, called Hajis, are treated honorably. Sergeant JT Sanborn (played by Anthony Mackie), at first does not want children until he is “ready,” but undergoes an epiphany about having a son after he is wounded. Unlike Platoon, members of the unit do not do drugs to unwind; instead, they gulp down alcohol. Although nothing in the dialog indicates that The Hurt Locker is an anti-war film, the graphic scenes may be unsettling even though bloodshed is kept to a minimum. The final day of duty arrives and beyond, and filmviewers will be amazed at what comes next. The Political Film Society has nominated The Hurt Locker for an award as best film exposé of 2009. The realism about dangerous battlefield conditions warrants a nomination as well for best film on peace, as the effect of the gore is to serve as an anti-war film without propaganda. MH

The annual membership meeting will be held on August 1 at 10 a.m. at 8481 Allenwood Road, LA.