Directed by Kon Ichikawa
Japan, 1953, b&w, 98 minutes
Yonekichi Noro (Yunosuke Ito, left in picture above) is a most unfortunate individual, a middle-aged widower and teacher at a second-rate school for students who have failed their college entrance exams. We meet him one morning as he narrowly avoids a swerving truck, but injures one of his hands in doing so.
His misfortunes continue in this dark comedy inspired by a comic strip of the same name. He first gets demoted at work, then fired after participating in a labor demonstration, where his other hand gets injured! Nor do his attempts to win the the heart of his landlord's young and beautiful daughter (Fubuki Koshiji, center, above) succeed. When, at her suggestion, they go to a nightclub, he is visibly aroused by the exotic dancer, while she is merely bored.
Yunosuke Ito, with his horse face and hang-dog visage, is perfectly cast as the hapless teacher. Weak-willed, but not totally spineless (he does make an energetic attempt to get his job back), Pu-San knows that he's not happy, but has only a general idea of what will improve his lot and vague notions of how to achieve this.
Kon Ichikawa, who died this past February 13th at the age of 92, is probably best known in the U.S. for The Burmese Harp (1956), Fires on the Plain (1959), and Tokyo Olympiad (1965), all available from The Criterion Collection. He directed his first film in 1934; his last was The Inugamis in 2006. All told, he helmed 89 films, and wrote or co-wrote the scripts for 50, including this one.
In Pu-San (also known as Mr. Pu in the U.S.), Ichikawa fashioned a humorous look at such Japanese post-war problems as job insecurity, student and labor unrest, incompetent police, and political corruption, not to mention personal relationships. That it holds up and remains funny over 50 years after it's release is a remarkable achievement, yet another testament to this great director.
I saw Pu-San last Tuesday at Columbia University. It's the next to last film in the OUT OF THE ASHES: Early Postwar Japanese Movies, a series presented by The Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University in conjunction with the Donald Keen Center of Japanese Culture.
The last film in the series is Black River (1957), directed by Masaki Kobayashi. The film centers on a mild-mannered college student who helplessly witnesses a girl put into prostitution by yakuza. It will be shown Tuesday, April 15th at 6:00 PM at the Arledge Cinema in Alfred Lerner Hall, Columbia University. The film will be followed by brief intermission and then a Panel Discussion from 8:00-9:00.
The panel members will be:
Kim Brandt, Columbia University
Aaron Gerow, Yale University
Linda Hoaglund, Filmmaker, Translator, and "Out of the Ashes" curator
Hikari Hori, Columbia University
Registration for Black River is required for those without a Columbia University ID. For more information or to register, click here.