Humanity and Paper Balloons

(Ninjo kami fusen)

Imported 35mm Print


Chojuro Kawarasaki, Shizue Yamagishi, Kan’emon Nakamura, Tsuruzo Nakamura,

One of prewar Japanese cinema’s greatest yet least-known masters, Sadao Yamanaka blurred genres to focus on social injustice, often collaborating with the famous leftist theater troupe Zenshin-za. Humanity and Paper Balloons is considered his finest accomplishment. Set in the eighteenth century, in what would become downtown Tokyo, in an impoverished area where the phrase “Did someone just hang himself again?” seems a common refrain, a masterless samurai mingles with commoners, thugs, and a barber whose quick thinking keeps him ahead of the merchants and lords . . . he hopes. “What a gathering of filthy swine!” says a landlord, but here, Yamanaka implies, lies the future of Japan’s class struggle. Yamanaka was drafted into the Japanese army the day that Humanity premiered; he died a year later on the Manchurian front at age twenty-nine. “Without him there would be no Ugetsu, certainly no Rashomon. He was among the first—and, until after the Pacific War, the last—to see the past in terms of the present and to see it undistorted” (Donald Richie).

—Jason Sanders

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  • Shintaro Mimura
  • Akira Mimura
  • Japanese
  • with English subtitles
Print Info
  • B&W
  • 35mm
  • 86 mins
  • The Japan Foundation
  • Janus Films