Monday, November 16, 2020

Use of Tropes: Hanagatami

We have looked at director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s work before in the form of short film Emotion: densetsu no gogo = itsukamita Dracula and the magnificent House. Hanagatami was his dream, a project that took forty years for him to bring to the screen and it would be his penultimate film – the director being diagnosed with stage four cancer before shooting began.

It is a long, often surreal movie about the impact of war upon youth. Set in 1941, the Second Sino-Japanese war was being waged and the film starts before the attack on Pearl Harbour. It follows Toshihiko Sakakiyama (Shunsuke Kubozuka), a young student who has returned to his home town after living with his mother in Amsterdam. The family house is to be his, as a marital home, and is next door to the home of Keiko Ema (Takako Tokiwa), a war widow whose husband feigned wellness in order that he might fight. She is caring for Toshihiko’s home whilst he lives in dorms.

Toshihiko enjoys a meal

Keiko cares for her young sister-in-law, Mina (Honoka Miki), who is suffering from tuberculosis as her brother did and, when we first see her, she coughs up a large quantity of blood. Toshisiko makes friends with fellow students, the active and cool looking Ukai (Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Tokyo Vampire Hotel) and his polar opposite the nihilistic Kira (Keishi Nagatsuka). They are involved with Mina’s two friends Akine (Hirona Yamazaki) and Chitose (Mugi Kadowaki) and the various characters orbit around each other. So, where are the vampire tropes?


I looked at the film via this lens as IMDb listed vampire as one of the keywords describing the film and, certainly, Nobuhiko Ôbayashi understood the genre. Mina might be short for Minako but the use brings Dracula to mind. This is tied to the fact that she has tuberculosis, which was blamed on vampirism in some cultures (the 19th Century vampire panics in the US springing straight to mind). Keiko tells her it is best to throw up all the bad blood and, should it be difficult for Mina to do so, she’d suck it all out – this is after we have seen her kiss her sister-in-law who still had blood on her mouth.

drawing blood

The vampire tropes aren’t thick and fast but a blood theme does prevail, with a spilled red wine being drunk from a broken eggshell looking like blood and with a memory/fantasy of Keiko biting her husband’s finger and drawing blood that dribbles down her chin. In a moment representing blossoming sexuality, Mina bites Ukai on the chest, drawing his blood. Indeed, Mina seems to be more beautiful the more ill and pale she becomes, this fits in both with a Victorian view of the disease in which tuberculosis chic was a thing, but also often used in vampire media as a description of women succumbing to vampirism. Mina, incidentally, suggests that she is scared of mirrors and later says that she has never seen herself naked.


At a dinner party thrown for Mina, when Pearl Harbour has been attacked and Ukai is already in uniform, a record is put on to dance to. Looking at the record label it is called Nosferatu, a Phantom Recording – the subtitles saying it is a ‘Rhapsody for the Dead’ – and a definitive clue that the tropes used were deliberate. When having dinner Keiko had been wearing a traditional kimono but walks into the room, when the rhapsody is played, in a red dress. Later Mina, on what seems to be her deathbed, comments on how beautiful the red dress is and Keiko responds that it is “Because I’ve been sucking your blood”. Mina comments about feeling one with her and her brother (also consumptive remember) and we get a hint that Keiko was the cause of their illnesses, tying them together by drinking their blood. Of course, in a film so thick with layers, this is just one layer of symbolism in a massive whole. Keiko is not a vampire but vampirism fits into the allegorical tapestry.

the red dress

The film is long and ponderous, yet takes you with it. The characters are fascinating, the anti-war message clear, but the various metaphors come one after the other and it is a film that will take many watches to fully appreciate. The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

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