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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blogging the Hulu Plus Criterion Collection: Apostasy

Apostasy

Staying in Japan, Apostasy is by director Keisuke Kinoshita and like Apart From You it's about the struggles of the common man rather than the samurai. But those struggles are no less heroic.

This film is really fascinating compared with another Kinoshita film we'll be visiting in just a little while, The Army. That one, made during World War II treats Japanese tradition as sacred and unquestionable. Apostasy made just three years after the war ended takes the opposite approach. Here it's those traditions that are at the root of the problem.

The story takes place in 1901 shortly after Japan's government had done away with the centuries old cast system. But the caste system remains ingrained in the hearts of many. The lowest of the castes is called "villagers" in the movie though it seems like it's closer to the untouchables caste of India. The hero is a teacher at a school who hides his own lower caste origins. He begins to hate himself, especially after meeting a fearless reformer who doesn't hide his humble origins. The story ends with an emotional confession. The teacher leaves his position and heads to the city to try and keep the flame of reform alive.

I have to admit the story didn't captivate me at first. There is now of near half century of films with similar themes from all over the world. Some good. Some bad. But this is a very early example. And it has some incredible moments. There's a scene where the hero collapses in his room consumed with self loathing. He glances at this own hands. No words are spoken but the meaning is very clear.

The movie has some great tracking shots. One of the stand outs is when the teacher is led to the town meeting that will determine his fate. The camera looks down on the characters as they come out of an inn and move down the street. The angle is high. The teacher is small in the frame and looks powerless. The tracking shot goes on for a while extending the journey. It creates a sense of impending doom for the character. The camera switches to a medium shot of the teacher and his friend. He clutches his friend's hand for support.

Japan is proving to be a treasure trove for the film student. Directors can study the technique and style of this film. Writers can look at how to write a story about social issues without losing the central character and his dilemma.

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