I know that I have sung the praises of both Criterion Collection and Hulu in the past, but today I am going to do it again. Through Criterion, I have spent many years cultivating my aura of obscure references that you see here today. I have known the cinema of so many great directors, actors, and screenwriters purely because Criterion decided that they were important enough to become a part of its collection. The partnership in the last couple of years with Hulu, Criterion has further cemented the painful fact that I won’t have anything in common with strangers that I am going to meet tonight. They post even more obscure cinema on this streaming site and due to its recent 101 days of summer marathon, they make certain films free for everyone to see for 48 hours. This enables me to watch a film that I have never heard of before by a director that isn’t even on my radar. I don’t know if you have ever experienced the feeling that I get every time I discover a new film. My feeling centers… They tingle with joy!
The Burden of Life is directed by Heinosuke Gosho. Gosho is a Japanese director from the silents and early sound era. The time of Ozu, Naruse and other great Japanese directors. He is famous because he made the first sound picture in Japan. But he didn’t get the job because he was well liked or famous at the time. He got the job because he hadn’t had a hit in some time and the studio that backed him gave him a now or never ultimatum. You see most Japanese directors that were more famous and respected than him, scoffed at the idea of sound, much like Charlie Chaplin did in the late 20s. But Gosho took the challenge and gave his country a comedy about a playwright who couldn’t write due to all the interfering sounds around him. This gave him an excuse to exploit the new medium and delight Japanese audiences. This film entitled The Neighbor’s Wife and Mine is very hard to find in the States, but Criterion released another one of his comedies from around the same time period and that is the film I will be reviewing today.
Gosho was known for depicting the small insular lives of the middle class in Japan. He took inspiration from Ernst Lubitsch by employing comedy for most of the stories he decided to tell. In the Burden of Life, we see a family that has three sisters and one much younger brother. The parents are on the eve of marrying their last daughter off. This process of marrying their daughters has proven a costly venture for them, and they are not looking forward to putting their nine-year old son through even more costly education. This worry manifests in two different ways for the parents. The mother is insistent that her son continue his education outside of school, despite his young age and his want to just go out and play. But the father is worse. He is constantly complaining how much of a burden this young boy is and how he might send him off to be an apprentice somewhere (seemingly a bad choice for a young boy) instead of putting him through college. This creates tension between the two parents. Of course this only complicated by their daughters’ respective marriages and their small problems in them. One is insistent on spending tons of money despite her husband being a painter that has yet to see income for an exhibition of his. So she borrows money from the already strapped parents. Another sister leaves her husband at the slightest provocation and runs to her parents house to vent. All of these events lay on the parents until they crack. And crack they do…
In a time period where Japan was slowly moving away from comparisons to the West leading up to World War II, Japanese middle class citizens were the same as middle class American citizens. We worry about the same things, have the same disparities between genders and laugh at the same awkward family moments. Despite the kimonos and the matchmaking, this story could have easily been set in the States. I think that is why I found it so pleasant. It’s ideas are universal. By the time I put this up, The Burden of Life will be put back behind the pay wall that is Hulu Plus, but I hope I have inspired you to at least keep an eye out for this director and his other works. Here’s hoping that Criterion Collection will release more of Gosho’s films on the streaming site or through their Eclipse Series.