Silent Film Profile: Kosuzume Tōge
by Dennis Campbell
Japan has one of the longer and richer histories when it comes to cinema, and this film is a fine example of that. Fitting in the genre, Jidaigeki, or what the West would know as a Period Piece. As with most period films, this one takes place in the seventeenth century (generally Jidaigeki films ranged from 1603-1868). The film revolves around a small boy who makes a living by selling candies on street corners. He passes the time and garners attention by singing songs that he was taught as a child, though he cannot remember who sung them to him originally. The child uses the money he makes to help support his mother, as his father, a samurai, left home to go fight in an unnamed war. One day, a man hears the child singing, and recognizes the songs as the ones he sung to his son so many years ago. Father and son reunited once more, the two share a happy ending.
The director of the film, Kôroku Numata, was one of the most highly regarded directors of the time. Although he died a very untimely death at the age of thirty-six in 1927, he directed a total of seventy-nine films from 1915-26. One of the more famous being Kaguya No Sensei (1924), a film about an elderly samurai who spends his remaining days training his pupil.
There a several interesting tidbits about the film, the first of which is about the screenwriter, Rokuhei Susukita. He had a professional relationship with one of the actors in the film, Tsumasaburo Bando. Bando is one of the more famous actors in the history of Japanese cinema, and as such Susukita profited well from his time as his screenwriter, cashing in large paycheck after paycheck. Bando excelled in Jidaigeki films, as one of the main themes of them is that the character is separated from society, and he found a strength in this solitude. Susukita became such a well-respected screenwriter that he decided to take the next step and direct his own films, occasionally penning them himself. From 1930-48 he directed nine films, sadly though he could not replicate the success he had as a screenwriter. Unfortunately, by the time he reverted to screenwriting, he had fallen out of style. In 1959 his last film was released, Kagebôshi Monochromatic, he died just two years later at the age of sixty-one.
Another reason this film is worth a watch is because of the lead actor in the film, Banya Ichikawa. As a driving force in the early days of cinema, Ichikawa made name for himself in period dramas, and this is the oldest known example of him staring in the roles which made him so popular. Ichikawa appeared in sixty-eight films throughout his career, the most notable being Ofune to Tonbei (1925) where he plays a wise leader who has to leave his village to help aide an unnamed war. Another reason this film is so valuable is because it is the oldest example of Ichikawa in a Period Piece that survives to this day. Prior to this film’s release, Ichikawa had appeared in twenty-six other movies, none of which survive to this day.
It might be off the beaten trail, but Kosuzume Tōge, is worth a watch, if only for its historical significance alone.
Dennis Campbell is a Circulation Clerk at the Willowick Library.