Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Alone Across the Pacific
Excuse my absence, but it's been a heavy, heavy month. My dad died, so I've been on the other side of the world attending his funeral.
Immediately following his death, I confronted the reality that I will never wake up again with a dad. It's sobering and harsh.
The death of a friend preceded my dad's passing, and the death of another friend's brother has compounded the generally brutal tone of September.
I had a birthday, too, but the deaths outweighed the births this year.
After the Australian funeral, which was well attended by over a hundred people who remembered dad fondly, I headed to a New Zealand island to shoot a doco and, as it's turning out, another dramatic feature. That makes it four features I need to wrap up editing on in the next six months. Nice to be busy, but a little shameful to get so far behind in post.
Although I'd seen it once before, re-watching Kon Ichikawa's perfectly measured Alone Across the Pacific (Nikkatsu; 1963) seemed like the appropriate gesture on another windy night on the island.
Simple story. A young man, Kenichi Horie (Yujiro Ishihara), dreams of sailing a small yacht to San Francisco from Osaka. His family opposes the journey because they care about his safety.
I really liked the way Ichikawa handled the man's relationship with his father. It felt real. Although Ishihara works for his dad in a small engineering company, it's clear that the job is a means to an end. That end is building a yacht for his intended trip. The old man attempts on several occasions to convince Kenichi to abandon his plans, but Kenichi is stubborn in his determination. What's conveyed so beautifully by Ichikawa is the older man's grudging respect for his son, and acknowledgment that such endeavors are a natural for a boy proceeding forward to manhood. Kenichi's conversations with his mother about the trip are heartbreaking, focusing on the woman's fear of losing her only son.
As one would expect, the young and relatively inexperienced sailor faces physical and mental hardships at sea, and finds himself revisiting the concerns of his parents. Ichikawa stresses the details of a long sea voyage with a compelling sequence in which Kenichi's supplies are dutifully listed with enormous cinematic flair. The recreations of the long sea voyage are spectacular and emphasize the terrible loneliness.
Faced with the challenge of confining his hero to one location, Ichikawa's decision to break up the trip with fascinating scenes of family opposition to it pays off.
In the period in which Kenichi successfully crossed the pacific, Japanese were banned from such nautical risks as this.
The DVD, from the UK's Masters of Cinema, is a welcome addition to the available work of one of Japan's greatest directors. Fingers crossed that his Princess of the Moon will see release also.