The BFI Notes are usually a good place on which to sharpen my polemical wits. But today they disappoint me. For this one is good and useful, the only disagreement I can find is that of emphasis - Alexander Jacoby believes the film is about the need to revivify a tradition, while I am not so sure. In my view A Woman’s Uphill Slope is an advertisement for a new kind of Japanese capitalism: the heroine inventing an original synthesis through fusing the dynamism of the modern - America - with the refined craft of the old - in Kyoto. Such a fusion could, it is true, lead to the revivification of a tradition, but it can also produce something completely new - a 20th century company.
1. This is how Jacoby describes “the lantern” scene referred to in my last post:
“…the set is sharply illuminated by red and blue light filtering in from outside. Akie pulls back the curtain to reveal a flashing neon-lit concrete tower beside the wooden building which contains the factory… [T]he employment of this kind of visual rhetoric in a generally naturalistic film suggests the symbolic importance of the scene, which emphasises that tradition and modernity now co-exist in Kyoto.”
What this description misses is the beauty of the modern when it is refracted through a dilapidated past. This scene is not about coexistence but about the triumph of a modern spirit over a past that appears to have reached its sell-by-date. Later this idea is modified by the craft of the master sweet-maker. It is one example of over a century of argument within Japan about the value of modernity and tradition; an argument that has often been decisively won by the advocates of Western practices and styles of life; because it is only through copying the West’s techniques that the country could remain independent.
Unconvinced? Ok. Note the timing of the scene: it was after looking at these lights that Akie decides to turn the business over to textiles. It is only later when she sees the master sweet-maker at work that she decides to produce the old products.