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.
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....
The acting alone is spectacular, especially for being made in the thirties. Yamanaka proves adept at poetics and subtlety, which I'm kind of a slut for. My only problem really is that Yamanaka died so young, depriving the world of a great filmmaker.
Upon (initially unintended) rewatch I'm forced to consider whether this may actually be one of the finest films ever made. I loved it beforehand, but this time Yamanaka's observations on humanity felt even more purified, rich and poetic. The sense of time, place and community is unrivaled, Yamanaka creates a fuming boiling pot of life on the edges of oblivion which never fails to being incredibly moving and profound.
Sadao Yamanaka was 28 years old when he directed this film. He died the following year after having been enlisted in the Japanese army. One can only regret that, for the time being, only "Humanity and Paper Balloons" is available in the DVD standard because this film bears the mark of a talented director.
It plays in many levels. The depiction of a small group of poor people that tries to enjoy little pleasures once in a while is great, and how it works with the symbolic insignificant triumphs of Unno and Shinza. You can also watch it to take pleasure in looking at narrow streets filled with details and hear raindrops falling from roofs.
Spectacular. The differences between the characters are shown subtly, keeps the film moving, wanting to know them more and more. The plot itself is entertaining enough, a bit unbelievable sometimes. Wishing it was longer.