Director: Shin Togashi
Cast: Aya Ueto, Kokone Hamada, Pinko Izumi, Goro Inagaki
RunTime: 1 hr 49 mins
Released By: Encore Films and GV
Opening Day: 17 October 2013
Synopsis: The story is set in the Meiji period and revolves around the young daughter of a poor family in Yamagata Prefecture who’s sent away to work for a wealthy family to earn a living. The overarching theme of perseverance through hardships became a trademark of the Oshin character, which made the original series incredibly popular throughout Asia and throughout the world, reaching viewership numbers that have yet to be matched. The original drama spanned most of Oshin’s life, but the movie will focus on her childhood.
Oshin, or more commonly known to Mandarin speakers as 阿信(Ah-Xin), is one the most commonly known personalities popularized in the 1980s. It was such a strong cultural icon of Japan that even the American President of that time, Ronald Reagan, said that Japan has an applaudable spirit just like Oshin. Oshin had such significant presence in the Japanese culture and became standard for many at one point of time.
This year, Oshin the movie is released to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the hit television drama series of the same name. Whilst the television drama series followed the entire life of Oshin, the movie chose to focus only on her childhood. Oshin, being born to a poor family, has to be sent away to work in order to support her family’s living. She sets off in winter, and can only return in spring.
The movie spent a great deal of time setting up the backdrop of the story, where poverty and gender inequality are pretty common back in the Meiji period. The movie was shot at picturesque Yamagata and it is remarkable to think that this entire movie was shot in modern times. Its convincing visuals make you feel as though you’ve been caught in a time capsule and transported back to Meiji Japan.
The beginning of Oshin’s life as a stay-in servant didn’t come as easy. Like any young child, Oshin also has her willful side and the longs only to stay with the family. However, her innate nature and circumstances forces her out of her comfort zone to embrace her destiny. There are three main story arcs in the movie, with her encounter with the runaway soldier Shunsaku (played by Shinnosuke Mitsushima) possibly being the most crucial turning point. Oshin’s natural virtuous character proves that she may live in the slit but not imbrued. Her poverty and circumstances may have made things difficult for her but she stood strong and did not bend on her principles.
The movie speaks a very coherent story not only on Oshin’s perseverance and tenacity, but also explores the theme on love and bond. “Women do not work for our own benefit. We work for the sake of our parents, husbands and children.” was one of the exchanges she had with her employer that stood out. Although the gender inequality undertone is rather apparent here, it is a pie of the reality out there even today, and reminds us about the sacrifices our parents have made for us.
One of the biggest credits of the movie owes to child actress Kokone Hamada who plays as Oshin. She stood out of over 2000 auditionees to nab this role. The fact that this first time actress is chosen over so many candidates really speaks for itself. Even though she is young (only 9 years old!), she was able to manage the development and balance the maturity of the character while maintaining her childlikeness. She also has a very likeable disposition, which you would totally be able to understand why her employer grew to like her so much. A scene that made me take my hat off to is when her grandmother died. Instead of focusing on the death, the director made the focus on Oshin. Her pouring out of emotions with deep regret and sorry certainly made this scene a lot more powerful and tear jerking.
Apart from the Oshin character (aka おしんの精神or 阿信精神), the movie speaks of a very relevant message on love and bond. However, the first half of the movie felt a little sluggish, and the second half was rushing to conclude. Nonetheless, the beautiful cinematography and moving story gives us one of the many perspectives to look at life. Last but not least just a reminder, do prepare enough tissue paper if you decide to watch it because either the people in the cinema were all having a bad cold, or they were sniffing really badly because they were tearing up.
(Oshin returns to the scene with a different cast and focus, yet remaining a moving and strong tale of an individual who was not crushed by her circumstances. A stirring and sincere work of art!)
Review by Tho Shu Ling