By: Bryant Daniels
When we critics sit down to write a film review there are several items that need to be considered about the subject of our criticisms: what year was the release, what was the country of origin, was the movie successful in its attempt, etc… This criteria especially helps when you are attempting to translate a foreign film into modern terminology. Some films become a struggle though, especially when viewing them through 20th century eyes, and Apostasy is no exception.
Based on the book “The Broken Commandment” and released in 1948, Apostasy is a Japanese film that attempts to take on just maybe more than it can chew. It is the story of a Japanese school teacher, Ushimatsu Segawa, dealing with tradition versus government reform on a personal level. The film takes place in 1904, and the Japanese government has currently dissolved the caste system, and while the burgeoning metropolis areas are accepting this movement, the smaller communities are hanging on to the caste tradition. Ushimatsu is teaching in one of these very towns, and in the course of events it is revealed that Ushimatsu is from an outcast family and has been hiding this very fact from his friends and co-workers. This sets up the story to move into a territory of social commentary on several items.
Per my previous statement, there are several thematic elements being juggled by the director, Keisuke Kinoshita, and a master at interweaving these elements he is not. At some point, the storytelling gets bogged down by “the message(s?) of the film”. Mr. Kinoshita is grappling with everything from social structure ideas, the rights of women, fair labor treatment, personal responsibility to one’s self, and the list goes on and on and on. Often times Apostasy comes across like a Bob Dylan song in motion, especially 60’s Dylan, when he was sitting on the pavement and talking about the government, only not handled nearly as well as Dylan handled his revolutionary tunes. The issue is the thematic elements often trip over each other without ever successfully developing any fleshed out concepts or results. The only element that gets a proper treatment is the core idea from the original story, the belief that true happiness comes with being generally okay with who you are and where you come from. Don’t get me wrong, the convoluted delivery of the core ideas doesn’t make the film any harder to watch, it’s just a pet peeve of mine when directors allow ideas to overtake and bog down the narrative.
What does work in Apostasy is the beauty of the film it’s self. It is gorgeous. The scenery is captured with the mastery of a classically trained painter, and the emotion that was drawn out of me when I was watching the background pass by was worth the viewing alone. The score was perfectly cued, and the cinematography moved in a fluid and structured motion, allowing for the images captured on screen to be fully rendered. What also works is the majority of the performances and the masterful pacing of the film. It flows with a unique and fast style that doesn’t hesitate to transition quickly from scene to scene. Now, I said the majority of the performances, and earlier I also said when we review these films, we have to consider several criteria, that brings me to the lead in the film. The actor playing Ushimatsu Segawa was the only performance that really bugged me. Now, this was 1948, so I will forgive some of the histrionics, but when the rest of the cast played with subtle emotion and intelligent delivery, it makes me wonder if the lead actor wasn’t some form of Keanu Reeves in his day?
Overall: Convoluted thematic elements, a weak lead performance, masterful cinematography, perfect editing, and a wonderful score make for a mixed viewing.
Apostasy – 1948
Running time: 99 Minutes
Directed by: Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by: Eijirô Hisaita
Starring: Ryô Ikebe, Yôko Katsuragi, and Osamu Takizawa
Rating:Share: – 6.5/10