Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 27, 2022 9:05 pm 
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New adaptation of Shimazaki's 1906 novel about caste in Japan

Full details of this film can be found on an online page for the June 28, 2022 Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan sneak preview. This is the third screen adaptation of Toson Shimazaki's 1906 novel Hakai about caste discrimination in Japan. Previously Keisuke Kinoshita dramatized the book in Apostasy (1948) and Kon Ichikawa did so in The Outcast (1962). The term "eta" or "pariah, we see, was still being applied in Japan in the Russo-Japanese war period. It was used to exclude hisabetsu buraku, Japan's untouchables.

In the story, a young man of noble character, Ushimatsu Segawa (Shotaro Mamiya), struggles with the secret he is hiding: that he has links to this caste. His father's "commandment" was never to reveal this, and by not doing so he has gotten a good basic education and now arrives to become a teacher at a country primary school. But Segawa is very conflicted over his secrecy because he knows openness is necessary to fight the injustice of the caste system - which the Meiji Restoration supposedly removed, but survives in practice and mentality. Segawa is a great admirer of well known writer Rentaro Inoko (Hidekazu Mashima), a burakumin rights activist who has recently published a book in which he confesses that he himself is an "eta." Segawa is shamed by this example. His conflict becomes greater when a fan letter he writes gains him an audience with the distinguished, intensely committed author.

Trouble comes early on when Segawa, newly arrived for his country school job, begins to fall for Shiho (Anna Ishii), a sensitive young woman who comes from the former samurai class and resides at the Renge temple where he also comes to live. Try as he may he can't bring himself to reveal his origins to her, but a rival in love for Shiho sets out to undermine him because he is suspicious. Meanwhile every other scene is rife with casual racism, classism, social brutality, indifference to disability, and enthusiasm for war and power. The icky guys are stuffy oldsters who yell out their opinions like actors in a play and shiny young men in western suits; Segawa's purity is signaled by his traditional garb.

Statements about this new adaptation point out that (like a lot of the world) Japan today is going though a new shift to the right as it did "at the end of the Meiji period, with constitutional reform, revision of the Imperial Rescript on Education, and the rise of the opinion that war is inevitable."

The film is glossy, respectable, plodding, and has "well-meaning historical TV drama" written all over it. And in fact director Kazuo Maeda is a veteran of such dramas as well as of promotional and educational films. Reports lead one to suspect that the 1962 film version of the book by Kon Ichikawa (The Burmese Harp, Fires on the Plain, The Burmese Harp) has more dash and flair. This release corresponds with the hundredth anniversary of Japan's first human rights declaration, which designated Burakumin, Zainichi Koreans, Ainu and other "disadvantaged minorities" as deserving of full human rights. Broken Commandment is a pretty good watch if your expectations are not set too high. (The farewell speech to the kids is great - but the long dragged out goodbye is tedious.) The film is both relevant today overall, and a vivid sketch of the social and political mood of 1905 Japan.

The book was adapted for this film by Masato Kato and Norio Kida. Also featured in the cast are Yuma Yamoto, Kazuya Takahashi, Ayako Kobayashi, Kou Nanase, Wooyear Yoshitaka, Shunsuke Daitoh, Naoto Takenaka, Hirotaro Honda, Yohji Tanaka, Renji Ishibashi, and Hidekazu Mashima. A Toei production. International Premiere.

The Broken Commandment 破戒, 119 mins., no data about release, was screened for this review as part of the 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. Japanese theatrical release July 8, 2022.
For full promotional material about the film (in Japanese):

NYAFF: Thursday Jul 28, 2022 at 6:30pm (Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium, Asia Society)

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