Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Hideko Takamine caricature from "Kita no san-nin"

It's been difficult these past two days to get into the right mindset for writing about ephemera. One does not simply tune out the devastating earthquake in Haiti; the unfolding American evacuation and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan; and the seemingly disastrous start of the American school year amid another COVID-19 surge and as some public officials seem determined put obstacles in the way of commonsense health measures. All this happening amid the ongoing drumbeat of extreme weather events spurred by global warming, myriad other pandemic concerns and a polarized political climate still stuck in the long shadow of Jan. 6.

So I'll just check in with this interesting ephemera trifle from an obscure movie. For a breather this week I watched the 1945 Japanese film Kita no san-nin. It's a propaganda film that was made very late in World War II and centers on courage and heroics of a trio of women who have been trained to be air traffic controllers/radio operators.Various English titles for the film are Three from the North, Three Women of the North and Three People of the North.

What's perhaps most notable about the film, beyond the plot, is that it co-stars Setsuko Hara (1920-2015) and Hideko Takamine (1924-2010), who went on to become two of Japan's most beloved stars of post-war cinema.1 Hara's films included central roles in what is informally called Yasujir┼Ź Ozu's "Noriko trilogy." And Takamine is best known for the anti-war film Twenty-Four Eyes, which I watched earlier this year. Further, the lives and careers of these two actresses are jointly considered to be the inspiration for the main character in Satoshi Kon's 2001 animated drama Millennium Actress

Anyway, the screenshot at the top of this post show's Takamine's character (Yoshie) in Kita no san-nin. At the end of the film, Yoshie must serve as the radio operator during a dangerous flight, and her fellow crew members (all men) give her the caricature as a show of respect and support. It's an enjoyable little moment in a mostly somber film; I wonder if that sheet of paper still exists.

Very little has been written about Kita no san-nin, but I did find a review at a great website called Japanonfilm. (It's a movie blog that I plan to take a deep dive into, now that I know it exists.) Here's some insight from that review:
"Obviously intended to encourage everyone to do their part even as the American bombers began arriving, it unintentionally becomes a proto-feminist document. ... As with American 'Rosie the Riveter' kinds of movies, the Japanese were inadvertently planting the seeds of modern feminism because the war demanded women take over essential jobs that were left open when the men went to battle."
1. Kita no san-nin also has Takashi Shimura in a supporting role. He's best known for starring in most of Akira Kurosawa's films, including Ikiru.

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