Essential Series: "Japan Sings! The Japanese Musical Film" Delights And Illuminates

Featured Critic; New York City, New York

It's a fact that's very easy to take for granted, especially if you've been living here for a long time, but New York is a city that offers nearly unlimited pleasures for movie fans, serious cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike. The city's repertory scene especially bears this out, where on a daily basis one can either revisit a cherished classic or seek out something more obscure or unfamiliar.

One institution that has consistently offered rewarding cinematic experiences for decades, and has especially done so in recent years, is Japan Society, where for just the price of a few film tickets, one can both get a graduate-level education on cinema and have a great time at the movies. Whether highlighting Nikkatsu action films, yakuza movies, and the avant-garde works of the Art Theatre Guild, or surveying the oeuvres of Sabu and Obayashi Nobuhiko, Japan Society’s film programs do a great job of curation and putting these works in historical and social context.

These virtues are delightfully demonstrated in their latest film series, “Japan Sings! The Japanese Musical Film,” screening from April 8-23. This 10-film survey, all screening in 35mm, illuminates a corner of Japanese cinema that, aside from dedicated experts, is known to relatively few outside of Japan. What makes this series - curated by professor and film scholar Michael Raine - a must-see is the inclusion of films from the 1950s and 1960s that are very rarely shown in this country, if ever. That fact alone makes it worth the trek, but as a bonus, these films offer the wonderful pleasures of lively atmospheres, catchy tunes, clever satire, and attractive actors and singers.

Click through the gallery below for my recommendations of particular series highlights. For more information on these and other films being screened, and to purchase tickets, visit Japan Society’s website.



The run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics forms the backdrop to this lively, charming workplace musical, which, out of the films screening in this series, comes the closest to the Hollywood-style musical. Japanese musicals were typically more like jukebox movies, in which seriocomic plots with regular dialog were periodically interrupted with songs by the popular singers who starred in them.

In You Can Succeed, Too, two rival tourism companies compete for foreign clientele, trying to one-up one another in landing the most lucrative deals. We mostly concentrate on one of these companies, and in particular on two salarymen who strive to get ahead in the atmosphere of cutthroat corporate shenanigans and the pressures placed on them by their superiors.

The film's central setpiece is a lavish, Busby Berkeley-esque number in which the company president's daughter (Yukimura Izumi) extols the virtues of American society and the American way of conducting business, especially its premium on individuality: "In America, you are yourself and others are others." However, another line of the song takes on a particularly sharp edge for today's viewers: "In America, guns are freely for sale." Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

(April 8, 7pm)

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