黒い十人の女 「Kuroi Junin no Onna」
Release Date: May 03rd, 1961
Duration: 103 mins.
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Writer: Natto Wada (Script)
Starring: Fujiko Yamamoto, Mariko Miyagi, Tamao Nakamura, Kyoko Kishida, Eiji Funakoshi, Mayumi Kurata,
The 1950s and 60s were boom years for Japan when its economic miracle began and new consumer goods and lifestyles emerged. With this age came a new breed of media people who used television to construct dreams designed to charm the masses. Kon Ichikawa takes a satirical glance at the sort of dream-merchant that emerged and layers it on the timeless psychology of men and women and the lack of commitment fellas have to the fairer sex as a TV producer finds himself the target of a murder from his wife and nine girlfriends, all of whom are aware of each other, and all of whom are so fed up with his flippant attitude to love they want to kill him.
In the opening ten minutes we are introduced to their scheme in media res and, in a fourth wall breaking moment, one of the plotters reveals how it has already gone badly awry before we get treated to an extended flashback to show us how it all began.
We are introduced to the producer, Kaze, and he is played by Eiji Funakoshi, the lead actor in what is arguably Kon Ichikawa’s most famous movie, Fires on the Plain (1959), where he portrayed the starving TB-ridden private Tamura scouring the battlefield for a way to survive.
Forget the battlefield, Funakoshi is now Kaze, a suave chap who works at a TV production company and it is a hive of activity as men and women rush back and forth, actors and models try out costumes, production assistants arrange vehicles to transport people, editors book advertising spaces, and directors direct shows while co-workers scoff ramen at the control desk much like Kaze does.
Funakoshi, as Kaze, is a lady-killer here with his matinee idol looks, his warm countenance, gentle smile and a dreamy look in his eyes which women fall for and when we first encounter him, one of his ladies is urging him to ditch his wife and other girlfriends, pledging to love and support him forever. He prevaricates about committing and dashes off. Their dialogue in this conversation fills in a lot of backstory as we realise he thoughtlessly picks up women through his kindness, keeps them occupied with his handsomeness, and motivates them with a kind word which gives the impress of helping their careers at the network, but he has a breezy attitude and as much substance as the wind (hence his name Kaze – Japanese for wind), something which, when discovered, leaves people disappointed and so we become interested in the plight and attitudes of the women.
In such a varied environment and with such a free attitude to life, Kaze has collected an eclectic coterie of colleagues to step out with. This ranges from Ichiko Kinoshita (Keiko Kishi), a confident and talented actress known for western-style theatre, to a genuinely kind-hearted middle-aged widow named Miwako (Mariko Miyagi), a lady who prints TV scripts who shyly walks around the younger girls in their western clothing still wearing her kimono. Each woman has a different view of how love works and each feels different stresses about their connection with Kaze, especially since most work in the same place.
Of course, with the ladies all head-over-heels in love with Kaze and aware of each other, this leads to excruciating emotional confessions and pleas to the man and even more excruciating clashes between the ladies and its with a mirthful eye for awkward social interactions at the workplace that Ichikawa catches every embarrassing moment. He also captures every instance of gender discrimination and every moment of shame as characters bounce between each other in love-struck disharmony and having to put up with men who limit their careers. The film uses this to act as launching pad for the murder plot the women hatch out of frustration.
Stringing so many people along is never good (although not every lady is in love and one particular person in advertising hilariously confesses she’s just with Kaze for fun) but Kaze’s flippant treatment of their emotions and his enjoyment at spinning dreams for them is such a source of such dissatisfaction that their frustration boils over into murderous intent and we can understand why through seeing Kaze’s noncommittal and carefree approach to dealing with the very real feelings of others as he breezes in and out of people’s lives.
For all of his kindness and niceties, the ephemerality of the man is perfectly captured by his wife Futaba (Fujiko Yamamoto) who has the most astute assessment of him: “The fact that he’s kind to everyone means he’s not kind to anyone”. His attitude is enabled by the media and is what the media specialises in to woo our attentions with dreams.
Kon Ichikawa’s wife/close collaborator, the writer Natto Wada, brings about a female perspective that is very cutting of gender relations as well as the media as seen in the many moments when characters lament people’s inability to be genuine and value personal connections, men especially with their inability to appreciate women. Through an untimely death, the film shows the very sad results of taking a person’s feelings for granted and so this does feel like a film written with a woman’s eye on gender relations. While men might like Kaze, would they recognise and acknowledge the heartache he causes without someone bringing their attention to it?
The film enjoys creating karmic justice and making Kaze’s life hell when he finds out that his harem want to kill him is enjoyable to watch.
At this point, paranoia and an existential crisis afflict the man as he endures the mental torture of being the subject of other people’s hate before he is put in a life or death situation that finally forces him to commit to an action. Audiences will be alternately laughing and gasping at the plot of the ladies. We also kind of agree with their intentions even if we are left aghast at how ruthless they are. As with any plan involving lots of people, there are many ways it can go wrong as characters have different perspectives and there are betrayals and this colours in the film to create moments of sympathy and tension. Indeed, even Kaze maintains some sympathy because we are charmed by his cheerfulness and romanticism.
We get caught up in the dreams he and the media construct as the film captures the absolute rush of being in a creative industry and the romance of entertainment. Apart from a ghost wandering in and out of scenes and a surreal dream sequence set on a beach, the film is is a slice of realism and we get to be on the set of an early Japanese variety show and it is fun but that, and everything at the television station is ultimately revealed to be empty as nothing of value is created by all the fuss. The only thing that is real, and what we come to admire, are the genuine feelings of women who are ready to commit to looking after Kaze and then ready to kill.
The film ends on an ambiguous note but there is one certainty, men will try to create dreams but women are the ones who create reality and a future.