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Film / Older Brother, Younger Sister

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Older Brother, Younger Sister is a 1953 film from Japan directed by Mikio Naruse.

The setting is a small town that, despite seeming to be way off in the sticks, is actually only a short bus ride away from Tokyo. The story focuses on one particular family. Patriarch Akaza once had a prosperous business building earthen dams with stone, but now that concrete dams have become the standard in Japan, he is no longer in business and is a broken man. The family ekes out a living running a small snack shop, with Riki, the mother, usually being the one minding the store.

The older brother is Inokichi, who carves gravestones when he isn't drinking and carousing with prostitutes. Despite the English-language title of the film there are actually two younger sisters (the Japanese language lacks plurals). San is the "good girl"; she is going to nursing school. Mon (Machiko Kyo) is the "bad girl"; how she supports herself is left vague, but apparently at least in part she does so by accepting favors and money from men. This is problematic as the busybodies in the boring little village like to talk about Mon, and worse, Mon's reputation threatens Sen's romance with Taiichi, a local man. Worst of all, Ino is filled with rage about Mon's activities in Tokyo, and he takes it out on her whenever she visits.

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Tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Akaza routinely goes into the one dive bar that still gives him credit, and drinks himself into a stupor while he talks about the good times. In the one scene where he's shown behind the counter at the family snack shop, he looks humiliated to be there.
  • As You Know
    • Some chatter early on from one of Akaza's workers about how he used to have a thriving business building dams but now has fallen on hard times.
  • Fanservice: Yep, that's Machiko Kyo wearing nothing but a slip in the opening scene, mopping herself with a damp towel as she tries to beat the heat.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Ino rages that Mon should abort her baby, but she says she won't, that there's a bond between mother and child that men can't understand. Her pregnancy winds up in stillbirth, and there's dialogue to the effect that something changed in Mon after she lost her baby.
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  • Gossipy Hens: The village women seem to have little better to do than snipe about Mon. Unfortunately for San, one of those gossipy hens is her boyfriend's adoptive mother.
  • High-Class Call Girl: It's rather ambiguous. Taiichi's mother Tokiko comments cattily about how Mon gets "money from men", but immediately after says that Mon got fired from a job. Later, when Mon returns for her last visit, she is wearing a fancy kimono and has a much brassier, hard-shell manner, and also comments about how all men are bastards and she knows how to play them—it's strongly implied that she is doing sex work of some sort.
  • Hypocrite: Ino gets all high and mighty as he verbally abuses Mon about getting knocked up, but in his free time he visits prostitutes. Mon calls him out about this in the nasty confrontation that is the climax of the film.
  • Incest Subtext: Eventually it starts to become clear that Ino's violent rage about his sister's unchaste ways has its roots in this. When he confronts Mon's lover Kobata, Ino starts ranting about how he and Mon used to be inseparable, about how they were never apart until she turned 17, how when they were little he used to carry her to the toilet when she had to pee. It plays like Ino's real problem is jealousy of the men who are getting to have sex with his sister.
  • Jerkass: Ino is a mean, abusive asshole, who can't stop pouring insults on Mon every time she visits, even when their mother begs Ino to shut up so they can have a dinner in peace.
  • Momma's Boy: Taiichi, San's boyfriend, is a weakling who can't bring himself to stand up to his adoptive mother's disapproval of San and her sister. Eventually he comes to San and says that they should run away to Tokyo together. San calls him a coward, says that if he really loved her he'd stand up to his mother, and breaks up with him.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits!: Ino expresses violent anger about Mon's sex life and smacks around her boyfriend Kobata when he comes to visit.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with San and Mon, both of whom are turning their backs on their village for different reasons, walking away together.
  • Overly Nervous Flop Sweat: Kobata nervously wipes sweat from his brow when sitting down with Akaza—it's established that it's hot, but also he is clearly very nervous.
  • Seasonal Baggage: A shot of the house where the family lives, cut to another shot of the house covered in snow, cut to another shot of the snow gone, indicating that the better part of a year has passed.
  • Women Are Wiser: The male characters in this film are either asshole rageaholics (Ino), pathetic drunks (Akaza), or cowardly weaklings (Kobata and Taiichi, boyfriends respectively to Mon and San). It's the women that have courage and dignity and are taking care of themselves.
  • Would Hit a Girl: After Mon finally confronts Ino after finding out that he beat up her lover, he smacks her around for a while.
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