Sunday, May 24, 2020

Special Feature: A Free Feminist Movie about Renowned Japanese Tanka Poet Fumiko Nakajo

My Dear Readers:

In celebration of the Tanka Poetry Month (to expand the readership base for tanka through tweeting at least one tanka a day for the month of May, for more information, see Celebrate Tanka Poetry Month with NeverEnding Story), I am pleased to introduce you to Kinuyo Tanaka's The Eternal Breasts (乳房よ永遠なれ, 1955), a feminist movie about Japanese tanka poet, Fumiko Nakajo, author of Breasts of Snow, the story and tanka of one of the best tanka poets, Fumiko Nakajo (1922-54), who is, though almost unknown outside of Japan, considered to be the third in the three most famous Japanese female poets in the last century, right up there with Akiko Yosano and Machi Tawara (see my "Cool Announcement" post, "Breasts of Snow," that includes the bio, reviews, and selected tanka).

Roughly based on the autobiography of Fumiko Nakajo, who died of breast cancer in 1954, aged 31, The Eternal Breasts provides a window into Japanese society from a feminist perspective; it depicts a woman’s struggle through marital betrayal, divorce, single motherhood, and growing  independence in rural Japan, and most importantly, her tough fight against a male-dominated literary establishment to become a poet who successfully creates "a room of [her] own."

The Eternal Breasts, 1955, directed by Kinuyo Tanaka

Below are three tanka about her heart-wrenching struggle with breast cancer:

as the surgical knife
slowly slits open
the past
my fetuses appear
kicking each other in the dark

in search of a shore
where I might spot my breast
drifting along
with white jellyfish
I'll go to sleep again

that hill
shaped like the breast
I have lost
will be adorned with
dead flowers in winter
(translated by Makoto Ueda)


1 comment:

  1. ...The visual style of The Eternal Breasts is decidedly feminist and auteurist. While there are touches of Ozu’s rigorous formal style – especially towards the beginning of the film, when Fumiko is trapped in a disastrous traditional marriage – as Fumiko becomes more assertive and independent, so does the camerawork of the film. Tanaka’s fluid camera takes on the subjective point of view of the poet, as she becomes more and more daring and nonconforming in her manner of living. Facing death, she no longer attempts to be likeable or submissive. Her behaviour often shocks others, particularly when she sexually conquers the newspaper reporter, finding romance for the first time in her life.

    The Eternal Breasts is breathtaking in its honest portrayal of the female body – not only during the mastectomy sequence, but also later in the film when Fumiko defiantly displays her scarred chest to a female friend, Kinuko (Yōko Sugi). Though the camera angle blocks our view, we can see from Kinuko’s expression that she is profoundly shaken by what she sees. Clearly, Tanaka was ahead of her time...

    -- excerpted from "Kinuyo Tanaka’s The Eternal Breasts (1955)," written by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, accessed at