Pot Worth a Million Ryo (1935)

9 02 2008

One of the few remaining films made by Sadao Yamanaka is a comedic approach to the “Tange Sazen” (one eyed, one-armed samurai) folklore. It’s a bit unsettling to find out that the genius behind the great humanistic drama, Humanity and Paper Balloons was the same guy who would do what sounds like a conventional comedy type film. Thankfully, Pot Worth a Million Ryo is anything but conventional, Yamanaka is able to filter film through his own viewpoint and the result is a masterpiece. Remarkable on every level, but even more remarkable considering how doomed it would be in anyone else’s hands.

A samurai lord gives away a very old pot as a wedding “present” for his younger brother, only to find out the pot actually contains information on the whereabouts of a golden treasure. Unaware of it’s value, the younger brother’s wife sells the pot to the junk collectors. The younger brother discovers the value of the pot and uses it as an excuse to escape from the house and/or pressures he is facing in his marriage. Through a series of far-fetched coincidences, the pot lands up in the hands of Tange Sazen who has adopted a orphan who uses the pot as a fishbowl.

Don’t let the plot synopsis fool you, while there is plenty of silly hijinks, there’s also a lot of subtle humor going on underneath. By this point, Yamanaka had already perfected his style (well, at least as he would in his life) and he could begin to focusing on meshing all “genre” conventions into something completely unique. Early on in the film, the pot is passed from person to person, in a sequence that predates a similar structure featured in more canonized classics like The Phantom of Liberty and L’Argent.

As mentioned before, the film is a bit more dark than it’s film noir-comedy vibe would have you believe. Once again Yamanaka is depicting the ahem, “lower class.” There’s actually a lot of very cynical deadpan humor interwoven into the more superficial comedy. The social content understandably dates the film somewhat but it never becomes particularly overbearing, a problem plaguing many modern film-makers. Just as equal important, is the relationship between Tange Sazen and his geisha (?) wife. Together they create moments that can range from tender to plain silly. It sounds corny, but their constant bickering eventually brings their makeshift family (complimented by the orphan boy) closer together.



4 responses

9 02 2008

Along with the Mizoguchi films that you watched recently, this is one of my must-sees.

9 02 2008
Michael Kerpan

Three surviving films (out of 30 or so listed on JMDB), three masterpieces. Each of Yamanaka’s remaining films is completely distinctive. Now if only someone would come out (at long last) with a subbed version of Kochiyama Soshun

If one has seen Rules of the Game, one will note in Million Ryo Pot an uncanny “preview” of a key scene in that somewhat later film.

9 02 2008
Jake Savage

Until subs appear, we can gaze in amazement at a young Setsuko Hara.

24 08 2012
Cem anos de Sadao Yamanaka « Ken Russell is Dead

[…] Sazen (1935) Cinema Talk Lard Biscuit Hkmania – Le Blog – La Passion du Cinéma Asiatique Wildgrounds – […]

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