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Tokyo March

Tokyo March (Japanese: 東京行進曲, or Tōkyō kōshinkyoku) is a 1929 silent film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi which was originally screened with live performances by benshi. Dressed in formal black-and-white Western clothing and in bow-ties, the benshi provided the narration, accompanied by musical performances as well.

This melodramatic love story, only 24 minutes long (what remains of it anyway), incorporates some of the themes that Mizoguchi would become well known for through his later films. These include the trials and tribulations of destitute geisha and other women, social inequality in a rapidly modernizing Japan, water as a symbol of both purification and the unyielding passage of time, and relationships between men (usually from the upper crust) and women (common but not unrefined) in the "lower" (but not necessarily uncultivated) pleasure corners, such as Shitamachi in Tokyo and Gion in Kyoto.

In this short story of a film, Michiyo and her friend Sumie live in Tokyo, "the center of sin and corruption" we are told. Michiyo has never known her father, and her mother has recently died. Yen-less she becomes a geisha to make ends meet. A young man (Yoshiki) and his friend (Sakuma) are playing tennis when they see Michiyo walk by. Yoshiki falls in love at first sight, but then Michiyo changes her name to Orie the following day when she becomes a geisha, and Yoshiki "hates" geisha. After a short while, though, the fire in his heart burns away the hate and he resolves to marry her. Meanwhile, his father (we don't know it's his father yet) appears to be falling in love with Orie, too. When he finds out that his son wishes to marry her, he spits at the idea. After all, they belong to a higher social class than mere geisha. The truth, however, is that he is the father of Michiyo/Orie, and now he must tell his son that she is his half-sister. Dun Dun Duuun!!!

Compelling for its black-and-white scenes of a bustling pre-war Tokyo and for its exuberant, melodramatic benshi performance, Tokyo March is a remarkable early work by a man considered to be the most Japanese director of Japanese directors. There's also a happy ending, which surprised me for a Mizoguchi film.

“Tokyo March” (theme song) composed by Shinpei Nakayama, performed by Chiyako Sato

Longing for the past when the streets in Ginza were lined with willow trees A young beauty becomes a nobody with age Dance to the jazz music and down liquor into the night And the rain that is the tears of the dancers will sprinkle at the break of dawn.

Kenji Mizoguchi's Tokyo March
Kenji Mizoguchi's Tokyo March

Kenji Mizoguchi's Tokyo March
Kenji Mizoguchi's Tokyo March


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