by Jason Suzuki
Much like Twilight Samurai (also released by Twilight Time), Yamada uses the device of temporal setting, letting us know the specific time frame his story will take place in, as a way to contrast the personal with the historical, further using the knowledge an audience has of major impending changes to Japan as a way to almost center the drama. In the case of Twilight Samurai it was the precipice of the Meiji restoration and in The Little House he sets the action in 30s Japan, events like the rape of Nanjing are referred to in passing by the characters, the impending moment we all know is World War II.
With this film though Yamada introduces a frame story, letting the period drama take the form of flashback, as Takeshi (Satoshi Tsumabuki) reads the memoirs of his late aunt Taki (Chieko Baisho in the present, Haru Kuroki in the past). Not only do we get flashbacks to Takeshi reading the memoirs as his aunt is writing them, able to discuss what he deems to be her romanticizing the past, but from there we flashback to the times mentioned in her memoirs, when she was the housemaid for the Hirai family in the 30s and 40s. This interaction between generations is one of the more interesting aspects of the film, the other being how the emotional pains of one’s life are made trivial by war and later in the film we see them made trivial when in the presence of stories decades in the making.
Takeshi knows his history, and takes issue with the way the Hirais lived when war was going on in China, and the World War II about to begin, going so far as to accuse his aunt of not writing the full truth. Taki promises she is and continues with the story of Tokiki Hirai’s (Takako Matsu) taboo romance with Itakura (Hidetaka Yoshioka), a coworker of her husband. We see how the appearance of Itakura changes the family dynamic just as much as the war will soon do, but since it’s from Taki’s perspective, we are allowed how these things change her life, not just Tokiko’s.
Twilight Time puts The Little House on a dual-layer disc, the feature taking up about 30gb of space, an average bitrate of about 33 mb/s. It looked great, low light scenes (one in which a major moment for Tokiko and Itakura) in particular stood out. Overall a nice presentation for a film elegantly shot.
As is the case with most Twilight Time releases we have a theatrical trailer, a booklet, and an isolated score track (Joe Hisaishi provides the score to the film). Despite the lack of features for the price of a Twilight Time release, the Japanese release of this goes for around $40 with no English subtitles. And these days, it’s almost a special enough feature that companies will release films like this (i.e. non-wacky Japanese films) in the states. The accompanying booklet features photos from the film as well as an essay by Julie Kirgo, whose appreciation for the film really shines in her words. The package overall is reminiscent of the film: simple, nothing too amazing (though I have a feeling this one is rewarding with more viewings), yet well put together with small yet welcome touches like a shot from the film on the reverse of the cover. Twilight Time has shown a fondness for Yamada’s work with this and Twilight Samurai and hopefully they will steadily delve further into his oeuvre. Imagine how much a box set with all the Tora-san films would cost were it to come from Twilight Time…
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift