Recent Acquisitions Masaki Kobayashi: Against the System

The Center for East Asia Studies has recently acquired a set of four films directed by Masaki Kobayashi, one of Japan’s most influential post-war filmmakers.  Kobayashi began his career in 1941 at Shochiku Studios as an apprentice director, but was soon drafted in the Japanese Imperial Army. He regarded himself as a pacifist and was strongly opposed to the war, refusing to rise above the rank of a private. In 1944, he was transferred to the southern Ryukyu Islands where he witnessed the war’s bloody finale. He was captured by U.S. forces and detained for a year in Okinawa. In the fall of 2006, Kobayashi returned to Shochiku and served for six years as an assistant director under Keisuke Kinoshita.  His works are unflinching explorations into the dark side of Japanese culture, and humanity, and are often described as more pessimistic than those of Akira Kurosawa, while still displaying a clear fascination with purity and innocence.

We have purchased the Criterion Collection’s Eclipse Series 38: Masaki Kobayashi: Against the System which features four of his films: The Thick Walled Room, I Will Buy You, Black River, and The Inheritance.

His first independent film, The Thick Walled Room (1953) is about a group of rank-and-file Japanese soldiers jailed for crimes against humanity, and was considered to be potentially inflammatory, and too outspoken for its time, so it was shelved for three years. When it was finally released in 1956, it won a Peace Culture Prize. Black River is perhaps Kobayashi’s most sordid film, and examines the rampant corruption on and around U.S. military bases in Japan following World War II. I Will Buy You is a condemnation of the inhumanity of Japan’s professional baseball industry, following the sharklike maneuvers of a scout dead set on signing a promising player to the team the Toyo Flowers.  Finally, The Inheritance is slightly lighter than the other films in the series, and is about lawyers and associates who try to acquire the wealth of a recently deceased businessmen for themselves, yet all are outwitted by the cunning of the man’s secretary in this entertaining condemnation of unchecked greed.

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