Arigato-san (Mr. Thank You) (1936)
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Critic Reviews for Arigato-san (Mr. Thank You)
Audience Reviews for Arigato-san (Mr. Thank You)
lovely road movie about a bus driver who crosses the mountains interacting with many different people, portraying a changing japan during the depression years.
As short as it was, "Mr. Thank You" felt long--but I found myself appreciating and even basking in the slow pace, the quiet details of observation, the relative lack (or simplicity) of plot, and the meandering incident. I also found the film's central visual motif incredibly effective--the repeated dissolve as the car passes people walking down the road, approaching the subject from behind, and dissolving to a backward glance as they slowly recede into the distance. It occurred to me about halfway through the film that this may have been necessitated by bulkier cameras, which might have had a hard time panning to follow the action from a moving car (I don't know enough about the production to do more than speculate on that, but I do know that this was still quite early for Japanese sound film); still, whether or not it was motivated by the limitations of the technology, I loved the effect. While the narrative focused on the community that develops in the car, we are continually reminded of the larger community in which it exists--and we are given small, moving snapshots of people (and groups of people, and animals) on the road, an expressive and poetic fragment of a longer journey, with a haiku-like sense of visual symmetry, of immediacy in the concision of detail, and of expansiveness in the power of suggestion. Restricting the camera move to the forward or backward movement of the car (rather than the quicker side-to-side movement of a pan from a moving car) adds to the sense of quiet that pervades "Mr. Thank You," and creates a lovely, almost ethereal effect--we literally pass through these passersby, freezing them in the moments before and after, providing the physical frame for which we create a mental picture of the travelers actually moving out of the way for the car. In the same way, the film serves as a documentary of a time and place--the bustling city and the geisha's lifestyle are never seen, only alluded to, and the suggestion carries surprising weight. Even the approach to characterization is similar--we don't worry about backstory or psychoanalysis, we simply learn about the characters through the limited circumstances in which they interact with one another. We see the frame, and we create the picture. (Also, that guy with the mustache was great, as were his grunts. I don't think there's any culture with more expressive or rife-with-comedic-potential monosyllabic grunts than Japan.)
Although primarily a light travelogue comedy, the undercurrent of economic depression constantly lingers, particularly in the form of a teenage girl on her way to be sold into prostitution. The balance of comedy and drama (and a little romance) works pretty well and the film is breezily enjoyable. Not quite as interesting or entertaining as Masseurs and a Woman, but there are moments, and the repeated point-of-view visual motif is unique.
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