I have lived next to a Japanese family all my life and I have watched my fair share of Japanese films, but I still needed a little help to digest this film properly. Thankfully, I have a copy of Donald Richie’s book on Japanese cinema. Donald Richie being the foremost western expert on their cinema. His few sentences on this film confirmed what I thought.
The movie begins with Masuo Sakurada going to a family ceremony. From there we go back to the end of World War II when Masuo and his mother who have just been re-naturalized are being brought back into the Sakurada clan. The rest of the film is one family ceremony after another taking place at important dates in the history of post-war Japan.
In the first ceremony the grandfather brings the family members who were in China back into the clan and desperately tries to reassert Japanese pride and purity. With each following ceremony we see how the spiritual center of the family and Japan as a whole dies leaving ritual devoid of meaning and purpose. The best example is the wedding in the picture above. The bride shirked out on the groom under the auspices of having appendix issues, but we know better. Nevertheless, the family goes through the wedding ceremony and banquet as if she were there, but couldn’t be seen.
In many ways this film reminded me of The Godfather, Part II (1974) where we see the Corleones go from a family to nothing but a ruthless criminal organization. Below is the grandfather, the patriarch of the Sakurada clan, weeping for the first and last time in the film because everything is lost. This is a sad film, but a very good one.