If you’ve ever wondered where 80-year old men in Tokyo hang out on Sunday afternoons you’ll be happy to know they’re mostly at the National Film Center 東京国立近代美術館フィルムセンター in Kyobashi. At least that’s where they were this past weekend when I caught the 1955 police drama, Police Station Diary 風流交番日記, aka (Koban Diary), screened as part of the fascinating series, Little Known Japanese Cinema, vol 3 よみがえる日本映画vol.3.
Shimbashi, Tokyo circa 1955, and a still from Police Station Diary (source). You’ll note in the first photograph an “A Avenue” sign, which crosses with “10th street”, west of Shimbashi station. (These alphabet signs date to the Allied Occupation of Japan).
A great film capture’s your attention with the sound off. I came across this quote years ago, perhaps in Peter Bogdanovich’s wonderful, Who the Devil Made it? Conversations with Legendary Film Directors. And while I’ve never followed this advice, I came close last weekend, as the film was in Japanese and without subtitles (as am I). Police Station Diary follows the daily life of a Shimbashi district Kōban 交番, one of the many small guard houses that still cover Tokyo and Japan. As the film is set in Shinbashi 新橋, some of the characters are prostitutes (as it is today) including the sweet Lily (Abe Sumiko 阿部寿美子), hopelessly devoted to Constable Wakui, played with humor, longing, and sadness by Keiju Kobayashi 小林桂樹. The young constable is similarly infatuated with Rumiko, a beautiful, cultured girl who lives nearby. She plays the piano, wears long dresses, and carries herself with a grace that feels slightly out of place in the neighborhood. The actress Kyoko Anzai 安西郷子has such delicate beauty that I was shocked I had never seen her in other films.
Kyoko Anzai 安西郷子
Anzai appears in A Holiday in Tokyo 東京假日 starring Yoshiko Ōtaka 大鷹 淑子, known to American audiences and myself, as Shirley Yamaguchi from Samuel Fuller’s House of Bamboo (1955), a movie you HAVE TO WATCH…pardon the capital letters, but I just love this high-camp classic. For motivation, check out stills from that movie.
While Keiju Kobayashi carries the film, the rawest emotional power is provided by Takashi Shimura 志村喬, whose Constable Ohtsubo stoically plays the role of father figure to the younger constables, even as he secretly endures great pain from the loss of his runaway son. (You may recognize Takashi Shimura from his roles in the original Godzilla ゴジラ Gojira (1954) and many of Akira Kurosawa‘s 黒澤 明 films.
Takashi Shimura 志村喬
Themes of loss and acceptance run through this film. The young constable is crushed as he watches his love leaving a wedding chapel, newly married. A father reunites with his orphaned son who lives on the street selling newspapers; instead of claiming the son as his own he decides to leave the past alone as his son has found a measure of happiness in his self-sufficiency. The loose plot climaxes around the prostitute Lily, who is beaten by her John when he suspects she is working with the police (she had peered longingly at her beloved from her window). The constables come to her rescue, a gunfight ensues, and order is restored.
Although I speak almost no Japanese, and the film was without subtitles, the masterful acting, scene blocking, and clarity of direction made watching Police Station Diary a real pleasure. There were moments when the audience laughed at verbal humor that I couldn’t possibly understand, but much of the humor rested within the physical performances, including the somewhat predictable, yet remarkably funny and touching handcuff scene, where the young constable accidentally handcuffs himself to the piano playing beauty.
In addition to the acting, the on-location filming in and around Shimbashi station provides a lively and realistic backdrop. As a historical time capsule, this film provides wonderful moving images of the architecture, automobiles, and fashion of Tokyo circa 1955.
Behind-the-scenes photos from the filming of this movie:
Selected Details & Resources:
Note from March, 2016: when I first wrote this post, I was new to Japan and was not very familiar with the word koban 交番 (kōban), meaning the small, neighborhood police stations that dot Tokyo to this day.
Also: this photo of the edge of Shimbashi circa 1950s completely perplexed me until later when I learned that the canals and rivers in this area were filled-in after WW2:
- Title: Police Station Diary 風流交番日記 (Koban Diary) – Black & White, 91 minutes （91分・35mm・白黒）: JMDB entry (Japanese)
- Film Company: New Toho (New East) 新東宝
- Director: Shūe Matsubayashi 松林宗恵
- List of films from Japanese Movie Database
- Producers: Masumi Fujimoto 藤本真澄 and Kaneko Seikatsu 金子正且
- Comments about this film: “Pleasing scene steeped in pathos and excellent work” 微笑ましい情景とペーソスに彩られた秀作。