Widely regarded as Yamanaka’s greatest achievement, Humanity and Paper Balloons [Ninjo kami fusen] was, tragically, his last film, and only one of three that survive today. In a short, six year, 22 film career Yamanaka quickly earned a reputation for exceptionally fluid editing and a beautiful visual form likened to the paintings of Japanese masters.
The story develops in the Tokugawa era of the 18th century, in a poor district of Tokyo, where impoverished samurai live from hand to mouth among equally poor people of lower social classes. One such ronin (masterless samurai) Matajuro, spends his day looking for work whilst his wife, Otaki, makes cheap paper balloons at home. One rainy night, Shinza, a barber, and equally penniless, impulsively abducts the daughter of a wealthy merchant, hiding her at Matajuro’s home. Their desperate plan has grave consequences when a ransom attempt backfires. The film, which starts and ends with suicide, is deeply pessimistic, insisting that life in feudal Japan was hellish and short for those at the foot of the social ladder.
Humanity and Paper Balloons premiered the day Yamanaka was drafted to the frontline at the start of WWII. He died in Manchuria, 1938, aged just 29. —Eureka Entertainment
Yamanaka directed scores of great films but only a few remain in existence today. For this reason, he is known as the “Phantom Genius of Film.” Indeed, not one of the silent movies he has directed remains today in its entirety. With the help of his elder schoolmate, Masaharu Makino, Yamanaka entered the Script Department of Makino Film Productions in 1927. However, since his real ambition was to enter the Directing Department, the next year he moved to Arashi Kanjuro Productions as screenplay staff/assistant director. Yamanaka first gained attention as a screenwriter with his original screenplay for Raishin no Ketsuen (1929). After Arashi Kanjuro Productions went bankrupt, he continued working with the same staff and went on to write the screenplay for Umontorimonocho Rokuban Tegara (1930) and other films. His directorial debut, 1932’s Dakine no Nagadosu, entered the Top Ten soon after release. Between 1932 and 1937, he directed no less than eight films which… read more
This is truly one of the best Japanese films of all time, so much emotion portrayed, I am distraught that Yamanaka only made three films in his career.
A film somehow imbued with the quality of a subdued, rueful world immediatedly after a storm, yet with the inkling of a greater storm approaching. A masterpiece of discreet direction and ensemble acting, and another great Japanese film about the horribleness of human beings.
for my money the greatest Japanese film ever; yes, greater than Tokyo Story, Seven Samurai or Ugetsu (or anything else you can think of.)
In his short career, Yamanaka specialised in jidaigeki and his last film before his tragic early death just a year later was a masterpiece of the genre. His vivid portrait of life in a poor district of Tokugawa-period Edo (later Tokyo) features a memorable ensemble cast. Stand-out characters are the gambling barber Shinza and the masterless samurai Unno whose participation in a kidnapping leads to a tragic climax....