Kaabee (2008)

7 08 2008

Yoji Yamada follows-up his samurai trilogy with a film more in line with his earlier dramatic set-ups. As one can expect, there are some sappy sentimental touches every now and then, but such problems are negated by the remarkable amount of attention and care that Yamada puts into each one of his characters. This is one of the warmest movies one could ever hope to see in fact, which bodes well for most of the humor, as well as most of the dramatic turns. If there is any one problem in Yamada’s characterization, it is that he is too gentle and nice, but that hardly sets the film back.

A university professor is arrested one night for “thought crimes.” His wife, Kabei, must take care of her two children, Teruyo and Hatsuko, while he is away. Yamazaki, one of the professor’s former students, checks on the family from time to time and plays somewhat of a father figure to the two young girls. As Kabei works on getting her husband out of prison, Japan’s conflict with China worsens. The second world war is on the horizon, and it begins approaching as soon as things seem to go right for the family.

Yamada should be given an enormous amount of credit for depicting the years leading up to the war, as well as the start of the war itself, from a much more realistic viewpoint. He shows us how certain characters are directly effected because of the nation’s struggle, but never does he operate on a vague, birds eye view of the world’s conflicts. Within the process of the war, he displays the drama (or anti-drama, even) of a family deprived of their patriarch. The content that follows is not the melodramatic tragedy that such a plot description would imply, but instead a very honest and moving portrait of a family trying to continue their way of living, in spite of an important figure’s absence.

This does all sound a tad bit mushy, I admit, and it certainly doesn’t help that Kabei, herself, tip-toes on the lines of being a realistic person and a tortured martyr. Thankfully, she ends up on the side of the former, mostly thanks to a wonderful performance from veteran actress Sayuri Yoshinaga, who has collaborated with Yamada since the earliest days of the “Tora-san” series. Mostly all of the other performances are wonderful too, which is essential for a film as actor-driven as this. Sometimes, the film is just a bit too cutesy and nice for me, but it is so in a mature and understated way.