Adaptation · Criterion Collection · Drama · Japan

The Rickshaw Man 無法松の一生 (1958)

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The Rickshaw Man 無法松の一生

1958 // Japan // Hiroshi Inagaki

An Unregrettable Life

Winner of the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 1958, Hiroshi Inagaki’s The Rickshaw Man is indeed a remake of the same film Inagaki himself directed in 1943, which had been censored significantly. Thereby the 1958 version, adapted from the novel by Shunsaku Iwashita, is the ideal final version Inagaki intended. Toshiro Mifune starred as the illiterate, impetuous larger-than-life rickshaw man Matsugoro, nicknamed Muhomatsu, who befriends with the young feeble boy Toshio (Kaoru Matsumoto, subsequently played by Kenji Kasahara in adolescence) and his parents. But shortly, Toshio’s father Capt. Kotaro (Hiroshi Akutagawa) passes away, leaving his wife Yoshiko (Hideko Takamine) as a widow. The compassionate Matsugoro soon takes up the role as the surrogate father in the Yoshioka family, albeit the apparent class difference.

The film avoids indulging on the foredoomed love between Matsugoro and Yoshiko, not until at the very end when the grown up Toshio goes away to college, the lonely Matsugoro is tormented by his incapacity to unravel his love to Yoshiko,  prompting himself immerse in alcohol. But beforehand, the majority of the film is filled with happiness and vigor, owing to Mifune’s intentionally exaggerated primitive gesture and comedic sensibility which alludes to Mifune’s previous role as Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai (1954). Hideko Takamine’s performance is aptly austere as a widow with a sole wish of raising a healthy and respectable son. The female perspective is understandably sidelined in the film, like Matsugoro, the spectators are kept from Yoshiko’s inner thoughts and we could only speculate if there’s in fact an affection in her heart to Matsugoro.

The film is robustly shot in color with rich visualisation. The wheel of the rickshaw is often used in the montage, signifying the passage of time; while the sudden blurring of the shot indicates a flashback. Double exposure is used to superimpose floating ghosts with the haunting forest, and negative images are utilised in the final sequence of Matsugoro’s memory and wishful imagination, resulting in a bittersweet “life flashes before death” moment. The melancholic exhibited in the last act, with a lonely drunken man staggering in heavy snow, is lyrically comparable to Frank Borzage’s sentimentality. Still the tenacious, masculine image of Mifune, embodied fully in the powerful Gion drumming sequence, and Matsugoro’s sincere intention and subsequent bonding with the boy and his mother, altogether would overwhelm the sorrow and, above all, restore your faith in humanity.

Film Rating: 4/5
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