All Kinds of Guests (1936)

When the young lady of the manor Irma (Ester Toivonen) goes off on a trip, her feckless nephew Erkki (Jorma Nortimo) hits on a money-making scheme with his new-found drinking buddy Mauri (Toivo Palomurto). Posing as hoteliers, they rent out rooms in Irma’s country mansion, persuading the gullible house-maids that all the new residents are long-lost friends. Comedy, such as it is, arrives with the titular All Kinds of Guests, including a honeymooning couple, a hypochondriac lawyer and a randy retired colonel.

This adaptation of Kaikenlaisia vieraita, a 1934 stage play by “Agapetus” (Yrjö Soini) is not quite as low on laughs as the earlier Scapegoat (1935), but nevertheless struggles with a cast so large that it sometimes forgets where the plot should be going. Matters are not helped by a tediously unfunny ten-minute sequence in which Erkki misses his train and gets falling-down drunk, watches a drunken Finn murder “La donna è mobile” from Verdi’s Rigoletto, and is then mistaken for a thief when he sneaks into his aunt’s house at night. There are, however, some genuine laughs to be had from the servants – stern Finnish farm-girls who collapse into giggles at the sight of a handsome man – and the widow Mrs Salo (Emmi Jurkka), who is at first repelled by, then extremely enthusiastic about the overtures of the bawdy Colonel Sora (Aku Korhonen).

Still struggling after the death of its founder, Erkki Karu, the Suomen Filmiteollisuus studio seemingly slapped this together with whomever and whatever it had lying around. Nominal director Toivo Särkkä shares the credit with Yrjö Norta, although the film is notable for a surfeit of camera trickery, as if the cinematographer has been left to his own devices and wants to play with a new toy. The first sign comes in the opening credits, as each on-screen card transitions out with a wipe. This innocuous innovation is soon creating special effects between matched shots, such as a “magic trick” in which newly-wed Paavo (Kaarlo Kartio) gets his wedding ring to jump between his fingers, or a stunt in which he hurls a record across the room to land squarely in place on the gramophone. The most obvious use comes in the dual role of Laila Rihte, who is called upon to play both the honeymooning Hilkka and the house manager’s daughter Elli, whose identical appearance is introduced as a costly but ultimately minor plot device. Rihte’s sister Lea occasionally appears as a body double in long shots featuring the two – presumably, the crew were planning on making much more of the peas-in-a-pod subplot, but gave up on it partway when the set-ups proved too fiddly.

Gently stereotypical humour pivots on the minor characters, including a fat German couple (Uuno Montonen and Eine Laine), who descend on the dinner buffet like vultures. Writer and future director Turo Kartto has a supercilious turn as The Englishman, a monocled twit who is aghast at the state of Finnish food and frustrated by the Finns’ inability to speak English. Even in silence he exudes a snooty desire to be elsewhere, fishing from the back of a boat while the rest of the cast try to enjoy a day out. His spouse, played by director Särkkä’s real-life wife Margarita, remains silent throughout, possibly because as a Russian-Lithuanian, she wouldn’t have sounded very English if she spoke.

Inevitably, the lady of the manor returns – Ester Toivonen sporting Nosferatu eyebrows – and wryly plays along with Mauri as he flirtatiously tells her she can have the best room in his “hotel.” Surprisingly forgiving of the man who has invaded her home and sold the contents of her larder to strangers, she falls for him in what passes for the film’s romantic denouement; one of several couples formed in the course of the story. All is revealed, of course, when Erkki comes face to face with his aunt – he runs off into the distance in cartoonish double-time; the second occasion in this film where the cinematographer plays that trick.

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland

Advertisements

Scotland Loves Anime 2018

I’m back home from ten days of guest wrangling, crowd control, film-pushing and jury slapping at Scotland Loves Anime, which had a wonderful ninth year. As is becoming traditional, a round-up of the jury deliberations has been released as a podcast, in order to give the public an insight into the kind of arguments and positions involved in selecting a single winner. Jurors Roxy Simons, Kim Morrissy, Callum May and Almar Haflidason had to deal with the trade-off between immediate, gut reaction (which snagged the Audience Award for the weepy I Want to Eat Your Pancreas), versus a more objective, considered assessment (which left Penguin Highway with the Golden Partridge, controversially beating Mamoru Hosoda’s acclaimed Mirai).

Yet Another Corner

The director Sunao Katabuchi has just announced that he will be re-releasing his Hiroshima film In This Corner of the World with half an hour of bonus footage, interleaving other scenes from the original manga. I am rather surprised that everybody appears to be pleased about this, and not kvetching that they have already paid to see the film once, and now will have to pay to see it again, at a bum-numbing 159 minutes.

In This Corner is arguably a special case, since it was crowd-funded from the start, and its director might, presumably, genuinely have other bits he wants to tinker with. Art is never finished, as they say, only abandoned, and it’s easy to see why creatives given the chance to fiddle with their work will jump at the chance to improve it. One of anime’s worst-kept secrets, after all, is the number of releases that are buffed up after their hasty cinema release or TV broadcast, toshed up a little before anyone gets the chance to spot mistakes and fudges on home media.

But I’d like to register a possibly lone protest about the ongoing fetish for “director’s cuts” that, far from honing work of art a little bit closer to perfection, simply hang adornments on it in a cynical attempt to fleece customers of more money.

Culturally, there seems to be a fetish in Japan for making films as long as possible so that everyone feels that they are getting their money’s worth. I used to think this was a hold-over from the pre-video days when TV serials were re-cut for cinema release, whereby producers felt that if they couldn’t show you anything new, they could at least give you a long film. But such economies simply don’t work in the world of original anime, where every frame you see has to be painstakingly created from scratch. Whisper it, then: sometimes this is really counter-productive.

As a case in point, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, for which the film-makers actually boasted in their publicity that they had taken a taut, lean 90-minute thriller and bloated it with half an hour or unnecessary filler. Sometimes less, really is more, and I am baffled by creatives’ willingness to test the patience of their audience. Sometimes I wonder if some film-makers are really making films for human beings at all, and instead have an eye on appeasing a robot at a streaming service, that only counts minutes accessed, rather than stories told.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #180, 2018.

Penguin Highway

Up on the All the Anime blog, I write about Penguin Highway, which has its European premiere at Scotland Loves Anime this month.

“The original award-winning 2010 novel, reprinted multiple times in its native Japan, adds a single word to Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic-realism.’ Since Aoyama is only ten, it barely seems to occur to him that penguin apparitions and a bizarre ‘silver moon’ in the nearby forest are any weirder than any other puzzle to be solved.”