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May 07, 2008

Invitation to the Dance Blog-a-thon: Carmen comes Home

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Karumen kokyo ni Kaeru
Keisuke Kinoshita - 1951
Panorama Entertainment Region 3 DVD

The song heard at the beginning of Carmen comes Homes is a tribute to the small mountain town where the film takes place. The elegiac feel to the song reflects a part of Japan that Keisuke Kinoshita must have known would eventually disappear. What I was not prepared for is that while Carmen comes Home is about the cultural shifts in Japan after World War II, the film also brings up points about art and culture that are still being discussed.

Hideko Takamine plays the small town girl who ran away to Tokyo, and returns to visit as a celebrated artist known as Lily Carmen. Even before she shows up, the head teacher of the village school, Chishu Ryu, talks about the importance of art and culture, with the opening scene being of the school children performing a circle dance. One of the other characters, a former teacher, blinded in the war, is known for his musical compositions, and his loss of his beloved harmonium sold to pay for expenses. Added to this mix are the town's entrepreneur, who will always find an angle at making money, Lily Carmen's best friend, a dancer who almost immediately misses Tokyo, and Lily Carmen's parents who try to make sense of their very westernized daughter.

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The joke is that Lily Carmen, for all her pretenses at declaring herself an artist, is a stripper. One of the high points of the film is that her act is filmed in such a way that it while there is nothing graphic, it is clear to what extent clothing has been removed. And yet, even Kinoshita suggests that while being an ecdysiast may not have anything to do with conventional notions of high culture, there is a certain talent and even art involved in removing clothing onstage. And here is where Carmen comes Home remains quite relevant in that it asks who determines what is art, what and what has cultural importance, and how does one decide community standards?

The main claim to fame for Carmen comes Home is that it was the first Japanese film shot in color. What makes the film more interesting is that it was shot on location near Mount Asama, in the Gunma Prefecture of Japan, out in the farm country and literally one-horse town. With the songs that border on the melancholy, and comedy that is more wistful than laugh inducing, Carmen comes Home could almost be described as a neo-realist musical, closer to De Sica than Minnelli.

But beyond the topicality of Carmen comes Home remain the questions about the role of art and society. Dance is presented both in terms of its use as personal artistic expression through Lily Carmen and her friend, but also in its social form, in the group dance at the school. Lily Carmen's performance based dance emphasizes her difference from the community and her particular individuality. The group dance is to bring people together, to socialize, to reenforce the cohesion of a particular community. It is not a matter of one form of dance being better than the other, but appreciating the differences, and finding comic possibilities in both. As Joseph Anderson and Donald Richie wrote about Kinoshita: "He is quite in love with his characters and he admires their faults no less than their virtues."

More singing and dancing is to be found at Ferdy on Films.

Posted by peter at May 7, 2008 12:52 AM


As always, you've delivered a thoughtful post. I like the nontraditional nature of this dancing on film - from stripping to group dances. I really want to see this now. Thanks for the turn-on!

Posted by: Marilyn at May 7, 2008 10:12 AM