Videovista have My Review of Kon Ichikawa’s Kokoro (1955)
This weekend, I went to see an amateur production of the opera La Sonnambula by Vicenzo Bellini. Unlike Kokoro, the opera was terrible. The singing was bad, the acting was wooden, the set was ugly, the staging unimaginative and the entire thing was incapable of inspiring any emotion at all other than possibly pity or amusement.
You know you’re in trouble when the romantic leading man steps on stage and you can’t help but think that he would be better off playing a duplicitous junkie pimp.
However, I mention the opera as it really made me think about the process of direction. In Kokoro, the film lays out this intricate web of negative emotions involving alienation, guilt, grief and resentment. It goes on for an hour and a half making it abundantly clear that the central character is a miserable sod and, through flashbacks, it allows us glimpses into the man’s youth showing us why he was so miserable. However, with about half an hour to go, it became obvious that the film was ‘treading water’. As a melodrama, the film was making the kind of moves that lead to a grand reveal but no reveal was forthcoming. In a film so obviously well written and directed, this struck me as profoundly bizarre and so I set about reading between the lines and working out that, actually, the film is all about homosexuality.
But why did Ichikawa not make that plain? was it the actors refusing to be physical? was it a reflection of the source material (which is apparently just as coy)? or was the director himself uncomfortable bringing those kinds of themes to light in what was a very mainstream production?
Auteur Theory paints the director as a supremely powerful creative first mover. He makes the decisions, his decisions shape the film. But how does this idea sit with the fact that some productions might well be hampered by factors external to the director’s decision-making process? In that case should the director walk out or rightly take the blame for the entire thing? If the director can’t be blamed for those kinds of problems, then to what extent is he responsible at all?