Day four of the Tokyo International Film Festival. One of the most talked about entries is not one of the blockbusters that have chosen the festival as their Japan premieres, such as The Social Network, Despicable Me, or Tron: Legacy, but a little Japanese anti-war film called Postcard. Part of the awed reverence is due to the film being directed by Kaneto Shindo, the man behind some important classics of Japanese cinema, such as Onibaba and Kuroneko. It is also because Shindo is 98 years old, and has declared that this will be his last film as a director. That alone is worthy of respect, but what of the film?
Postcard tells the story of a single family living in a village somewhere in the region of Hiroshima. The oldest son is drafted into World War II, but since he is too old for active duty, he is assigned to a group responsible for cleaning and preparing barracks for younger recruits. Some of the men will be shipped out to Shanghai, and he loses the draw and will be sent away. He gives his bunkmate a postcard he received from his wife at home, and explains that army censorship would never allow him to write back what he would like. He dies, and his wife, who lives with his parents, is grief-stricken. She agrees to the parents’ plan that she marry their much younger son so they can stay and take care of them. He too is sent off with predictable results. Tragedy strikes again and again until the wife is left alone at the large farm house, where she continues to do back-breaking daily chores. The war ends and the bunkmate who know has the postcard learns his own wife has run off with his father in the interim, and decides to return the card as he has promised. A bond forms with the broken woman.
Postcard was in many ways better than I thought it would be. There are some comedic moments, mostly delivered by Ren Ohsugi, playing the village leader who delivers draft notices to the two brothers and later pokes his nose around when the new man arrives, and the get into a long, drawn-out fist fight, which was much more action than I expected in a film from a 98-year-old director. The anti-war message is literally shouted at the audience repeatedly. The message is overdone, as is the acting, but there is a nice simplicity and structure to the story which nicely shows how an enormous war effected a single household.