enricioni’s review published on Letterboxd:
I love this film. I love the little gestures it captures, the faces, the games, and its depiction of a child’s discovery that his father isn’t the person he thought he was. The first time I watched this film, I thought this moment of heartbreak was made all the more poignant by the fact that the father isn’t revealed to be a crook or morally repugnant in any way, but rather someone who likes to make people laugh by pulling goofy faces; now however it’s obvious that pulling goofy faces is actually one of the many humiliating things he does to please his boss, and he’s more than a little embarrassed by it, and wouldn’t do it if he was higher up in his company’s hierarchy. So even though we are probably meant to find his goofy faces a little funny and sweet and humanising, we’re also very likely meant to feel humiliated on his part, and on his kids’ part as well.
I also love this film for the many questions that swirl through my head every time I watch it:
*Do sparrow eggs really make you stronger? Is that why I didn’t grow up to be a great fighter, because I never had any as a child?
*Is the “resurrection” loyalty test something Japanese kids really did in the 1930s? If so, how would seventeenth-century Christian missionaries (I’m thinking Bedraggled Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver With a Portuguese Accent) feel about this strange legacy of their largely failed attempts at bringing their religion to a people who mostly wasn’t interested?
*In the scene where the dad takes off his office clothes and puts on his kimono, why does the younger brother quietly draw the older brother’s attention to the fact the dad is wearing socks?
*Is Tatsuo Saitō as good in other films as he is in this? Would it break my heart if he isn’t?
*Why can’t I pull off a hat the same way the boss’s kid does?
*Why did the dad’s boss have someone film him accosting a pair of sex workers?
*Did any of the kids grow up to fight in WWII? Meaning I guess both the actors and the characters? Isn’t it a little sinister when we see them being made to line up and march like little soldiers, considering that Japan at the time had just invaded Manchuria and was gearing up for the Second Sino-Japanese War, which featured some of the worst war atrocities of the 20th century? Isn’t it a little sinister when the brothers unhesitatingly say they want to be a general and a lieutenant general when they grow up? I don’t think any of these things detract from the film’s moving humanity, and I’m certainly not suggesting that this film is in any way propagandistic—but the historical context in which it was made, and the way the film captures the ways Japanese jingoism filtered through to children’s lives at the time, do add a background hum of darkness to the whole thing, as well as something else that could follow the title’s “but…”.