Third adaptation of the classic novel “Hakai” by Toson Shimazaki, after those by Keisuke Kinoshita in 1948 and Kon Ichikawa in 1962, Kazuo Maeda’s edition marks the centenary of the very first declaration of human rights in Japan, which argued that Burakumin (aka Eta and Untouchables), Zainichi Koreans, Ainu, and other “disadvantaged minorities” deserve the same respect and freedoms as others, and takes place during the Russo-Japanese War.
Ushimatsu Segawa is a respected teacher in an elementary school, cherished by both his colleagues and his students. However, he hides a dark secret, as he is actually a burakumin whose father sent him away when he was a child, insisting that he never reveal his origin, in an attempt to save him from the fate of the lower classes. The initial scene, where an older man is kicked out of a hotel after discovering he is an Eta, even though he is obviously wealthy, having two servants with him, the owner cleaning the entire establishment, highlights why Segawa still keeps his identity a secret. The incident also leads him to find accommodation in the local temple, where the abbot, his wife, and their servant, Shiho, treat him in the best possible way. More so, the two youngsters soon find a common interest in literature and poetry, and in particular the free-thinking writer and poet, Rentaro Inoko, whom Segawa adores, and a reluctant romance begins to unfold. Rentaro, however, doesn’t want to continue, as the girl comes from a samurai family and doesn’t want to cause him any trouble with her secret.
At the same time, the appearance of a teacher from Tokyo, the election campaign that involves a man whose wife is also Burakumin and also hides the fact and his opponent, for whom Rentaro is actually advocating, intensely complicates matters, and Segawa’s secret is not sure. not at all.
Kazuo Maeda has gotten his hands on some pretty complex literature, as “Hakai” includes a plethora of characters, arcs, and sociopolitical commentary, all of which revolve around prejudice for Burakumin and, on a secondary level, the consequences of War. Russian-Japanese. In this regard, the narrative includes Segawa’s antagonism with the newly arrived professor, who is a member of the aristocracy and has just arrived from Tokyo and the support and friendship of his colleague Ginnosuke. The romance between the two young protagonists is another element, as is the racism inside the classroom where the students have learned to distinguish the classes, alienating the Eta despite the efforts of their teacher. That the poor are suffering so intensely since their sons are sent off to war is another aspect, as is the political race, the dynamic between Segawa and the politician whose wife is also a buraku, and the whole abbot story. The gist of all of these elements results in a film that retains interest from start to finish through its many different elements, but also makes a more general commentary, about how the rich and powerful, no matter how they are established as such, always benefit from it. of the poor and the weak. The way in which a number of characters suffer throughout the story, solely because of their genealogy, is a central element of the film, which in fact explains the attitudes and reactions of all the protagonists.
Of course, the main medium of almost all of the above is Segawa, with Shotaro Mamiya giving an excellent, fairly measured performance, emphasizing his inner struggle in a terse but eloquent way. His monologues, however, could have been handled a bit better, a problem that actually comes up several times throughout the film, as some of them are too long, despite their obvious contextual value. Overall though, the cast does a pretty good job, with Anna Ishii portraying Shiho in the same style as Mamiya, while the inclusion of veterans like Naoto Takenaka, Renji Ishibashi, Shofukutei Tsurube, and Hidekazu Mashima as Rentaro Inoko definitely adds to the overall quality of the movie.
The same goes for the quality of the production, with the cinematography, production design, costumes, and hairstyle resulting in a rather realistic depiction of the era, and the onset of Westernization brought by the Meiji Restoration. . The editing results in a very appropriate and relatively fast pace that retains a feeling of tension throughout, although a few tweaks here and there would be welcome. On a final note, the occasional persistence of the camera in close-ups of the protagonists’ faces looks a little too TV-like, but not so much as to be a real problem.
Despite a few minor issues here and there, “Broken Commandment” comes across as a very rewarding film, both in terms of entertainment and context, with its commentary against racism, classism and militarism, and in support of human dignity and equality that still resonate quite well today. .