is like the Little Rascals, but with white slavery. Although best known for the
lunacy of House, Nobuhiko Obayashi
can do it all, but he puts his unique stamp on whatever genre he takes on. On
the surface, this film might resemble a shomin-geki (“home drama”) much like
Ozu’s I was Born but . . ., but the primary
school students eventually band together in hopes of saving the village bully’s
stepsister from being sold into prostitution. Imperial pre-war societal values
take it in the shins during Obayashi’s Bound
for the Fields, the Mountains and the Seacoast, which screens during the
Japan Society’s Obayashi retrospective.
Sotaro is the sort of annoying brat who always encourages mischief, but always
manages to look innocent when their teacher eventually tries to re-establish
some discipline. Transfer student Sakae Ohsugi isn’t having any of it. He
intends to make Sotaro pay for all the trouble he causes. However, the older
boy’s beautiful step-sister Shoucho takes a shine to Sotaro and tries to broker
peace between them. It will take quite a while and an extended sequence of war
games before the two rivals finally bury the hatchet. Eventually, they will
make common cause when Ohsugi’s sleazy parents sell Shoucho to the local
Shoucho is quite popular in town. The local recruiting officer has his own
designs on her, but she has fallen for the village’s conscientious objector.
Unfortunately, the two of them do not exactly make a power couple. That is why
Sotaro must take matters into his own hands.
Bound functions quite
well as a coming of age story most viewers will easily relate to, even though
few of us ever prosecuted a war against a mobbed-up bordello when we were ten.
Obayashi occasionally gives the film a wild stylistic twist, but he is always
scrupulously restrained compared to the bedlam in House. Still, Bound never
looks like the work of a shy filmmaker, especially down the stretch. Nor is he
subtle in his critique of imperial militarism or the middle class timidity he
clearly blames for allowing its rise.
is no doubt Obayashi came to play, as did the wildly charismatic Yasufumi
Hayashi, who brings boundless energy to the wide-eyed Sotaro. Isako Washio is
not exactly the dead ringer for Setsuko Hara some descriptions suggest, but she
has a similarly radiant warmth on-screen. She makes the tragedy of Bounds exquisitely so. Jun’ichrȏ
Katagiri’s Ohsugi slow burns impressively for his age, but he is no match for
either Hayashi or Washio, who have him bookended on both sides of the acting spectrum.
is impossible to imagine a coming of age film like Bound getting produced in 1980s Hollywood. The general tone is not
unlike Lord of the Flies, but with
clueless John Hughes adults ineffectually wandering about. Yet, it is an
oversimplification to argue the children should be in charge, because they do
not do much better amongst themselves. Darkly distinctive and compelling, yet
always strangely entertaining, Bound for
the Fields, the Mountains and the Seacoast is a rather amazing film. Very
highly recommended, fans of House (which
duly kicks off the series this Friday) should see it while they have the
chance. It screens this Saturday (11/21) at the Japan Society in New York.
Labels: Coming of age films, Japan Society, Japanese Cinema, Nobuhiko Obayashi