Carmen Comes Home

Original title
Karumen Kyo ni Kaeru
Japanese title
  • カルメン故郷に帰る
Running time
88 minutes
10 July 2001
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A light-heartedly humorous take on post-war female emancipation, Carmen Comes Home is a fairly typical offering from Shochiku, a studio renowned at the time for its conservative output specialising predominantly in comedies and domestic dramas based firmly within the framework of the traditional Japanese family structure. Produced at a time when the company's fortunes were still riding high, to celebrate their 30th anniversary studio head Shiro Kido (himself the subject of a retrospective at the Nederlands Filmmuseum in 1994) allowed director Keisuke Kinoshita to direct this light and breezy comedy drama in Fujicolor, and thus Japan's first ever colour motion picture came to be made.

Kinoshita's break with monochrome has resulted in a charming film that has dated incredibly well, gaudy yet naturalistic and as refreshingly breezy as other films of the fifties such as the British comedy Genevieve (1953 - Henry Cornelius), for example. Evoking a rural idyll where cows graze nonchalantly in verdant fields and the azure skies are rich with the sound of children playing, this magical landscape with its mountainous backdrop is the setting into which the exotic dancer Carmen returns from Tokyo to visit her father, accompanied by her lovesick sidekick Maya. With her vibrant scarlet dress complemented by Maya's yellow and black striped number, the two girls are soon turning heads as they wander around the countryside, dreaming of Paris and breaking into songs about 'The New Look'.

Carmen's poor father is racked with embarrassment at the spectacle of his flamboyant daughter "showing her legs" to all and sundry, and a mishap with Maya's undergarments at a public athletics meeting is the cherry on the cake. Nonetheless, the village's older members seem quite perked up by the arrival of these two carefree and colourful young visitors and organize a whip-round to stage a strip revue to highlight the young girls' charms. Before returning to the bright lights and big city of Tokyo, the resulting funds are donated by the girls to the local school.

Typical of the output of Shochiku's Ofuna studios, Carmen Comes Home highlights Kinoshita's predilection for making his female characters the thematic axis, an approach summed up by the Shochiku studio head Kido, who stated the reason for Ofuna's preference for 'josei eiga' (films targeted at female audiences) in purely pragmatic terms. "Morality oppressed women and thus gave rise to dramatic situations" and "women have much stronger feelings than men", are two axioms shared by numerous Japanese directors favouring the usage of female protagonists for their dramas, from Shohei Imamura, Yasuzo Masumura, and Nagisa Oshima onwards. Shido's third reason was far more businesslike: "Women never go to the cinema alone. They will always bring either a friend or a lover. Another thing is their voluntary promotional activity. She will convince acquaintances to go and see the film she has just seen".

The Kinema Jumpo critics ranked Carmen Comes Home the fourth best film of 1951 and actresses Takamine and Kobayashi were both back the following year for a sequel, Carmen's Pure Love (Karumen Junjo-su), though unfortunately in black and white this time round.

Though rather overshadowed by such Shochiku stablemates as Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse, Keisuke Kinoshita is a very interesting character in Japan's cinematic history. Born in 1912, he ran away from home to pursue his passion for filmmaking, starting off in the processing labs whilst doggedly churning out screenplays that were initially rejected by the company (and one subsequently turned down by the Information Ministry under the Allied Occupation too) until he was finally given the green light and a generous budget to make his directorial debut with The Blossoming Port (Hanasaku Minato) in 1943.

Continuing with satirical comedies such as A Morning with the Osone Family (Osone-ke no Asa, 1946), through the 1950s Kinoshita became increasingly prone to stylistic experimentation within otherwise unambitious narrative frameworks. A Japanese Tragedy (Nihon no Higeki,1954) used real-life newsreel footage to enhance the degree of realism, whilst She Was Like a Wild Chrysanthemum (Nogiku no Gotoki Kimi Nariki, 1955) embellished the tale of an old man's reminiscences of his youth and lost love with the character's memories portrayed in misted sepia and the old-fashioned oval frames of Victorian era photographic portraiture. Twenty-Four Eyes (Nijushi no Hitomi, 1954) was an account of the years 1927-46 through the eyes of a primary school teacher, though probably his best-known work remains Ballad of Narayama (Narayama Bushiko, 1958), a kabuki-style adaptation of the Shichiro Fukazawa novel, which was brought to world-wide attention in 1983 under a radical re-working by Shohei Imamura.

Though he was increasingly nudged into television work during the 1960s as cinema began losing serious ground to the new medium, in 1969 he joined forces with three other notable heavyweights of Japanese cinema, Kon Ichikawa (Harp of Burma / Biruma no Tategoto, 1956), Masaki Kobayashi (Kwaidan, 1964) and Akira Kurosawa to form Yonki-No-Kai ('Four horsemen'), a production company which resulted in Kurosawa's first ever colour film, an epic look at Tokyo's slum-dwelling denizens, Dodes'kaden (1970). Kon Ichikawa belatedly directed the film Dora-Heita in 2000 from a script written by this original group.

Kinoshita returned to feature directing in 1977 with Love and Seperation in Sri Lanka (Suri Ranka no Ai to Wakare) and maintained a steady output throughout the 80s, his final film being Father (Chi Chi) in 1988. He died in 1998, aged 86.