Carmen Comes Home (1951)

Review #1,496

Director:  Keisuke Kinoshita
Cast:  Hideko Takamine, Shûji Sano, Chishû Ryû
Plot:  A girl who had left her village for life in Tokyo returns to her home years later, and evokes a scandal when the locals discover that she's a stripper.

Genre:  Drama / Comedy
Awards:  -
Runtime:  86 mins
Rating:  PG13
Source:  Shochiku

Keisuke Kinoshita, one of Japanese cinema’s most revered filmmakers, made history by producing Carmen Comes Home, the country’s first feature in colour, while his compatriots like Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa only dealt with colour much later, with Equinox Flower (1958) and Dodes’ka-den (1970) respectively.  

Hideko Takamine portrays Lily Carmen in one of her best-known roles—her character returns home from Tokyo after many years, causing a stir when the villagers learn that she is a popular stripper.  Her father, of course, is distressed and embarrassed, and so is the principal of the village school, played by Ozu regular Chishu Ryu, who tries to shield everyone from her bad influence.

Lily is, however, an earnest character, who’s passionate in what she does.  She also loves her father to bits, showering him with gifts in her years of absence.  She brings a friend on her homecoming trip, and both try to entertain themselves by dancing and singing on the hills—these scenes are some of the most joyous and free-spirited in the film.  

In the backdrop is the very magnificent Mount Asama, a spiritual landmark for villagers, and an inspiration to the village’s sole blind man who is a talented musician—his ‘composition’ which we hear in the opening titles, and which he performs a few times in the film, is a solemn one, an elegy to life.  

It is this contrast, of boisterousness and serenity, of the modern and the traditional, of liberalism and conservatism, that best sums up Kinoshita’s film.  In the larger scheme of things, the film’s existence in colour, amongst a sea of black-and-white movies at the time of its release, also parallels this notion of contrast.  

The film’s communal spirit is strong, expressed in countless wide shots that show the villagers, young and old, participating in activities.  Young students compete in sports, while the older men have Lily to thank for—she promises a striptease performance disguised as art.  

In such an isolated space, in the middle of the mountains, and accessible only by a solitary train, the flirtatious energy of Lily disrupts the day-to-day humdrum of village life—and awakens the idea of embracing new possibilities, best summed up by an observation made by a character: if Tokyo finds Lily okay, she should be okay for them too.

Verdict:  Japan’s first feature in colour sees Kinoshita balancing joy and heartbreak in this picturesque and communal film.




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