A heart-warming film by Hiroshi Shizuma based on short stories by Yasunari Kawabata
Mr. Thank You | Pyongyang Review of Books
If you are looking for a heartwarming holiday film, we suggest sitting down to watch the old Japanese pre-war black and white film Mr. Thank You (Jp. Arigato-san, 1935) directed by Hiroshi Shizuma.
To do this film justice, it is worth quoting the Criterion Collection synopsis in-full:
Hiroshi Shimizu’s endearing road movie follows the long and winding route of a sweet-natured bus driver—nicknamed Mr. Thank You for his constant exclamation to pedestrians who kindly step out of his way—traveling from rural Izu to Tokyo. Romance and comedy occur, and tragedy threatens his passengers, a virtual microcosm of depression-era Japan.
The film is based on a short story by Noble Prize novelist Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) called ‘Thank You’ (1925). ‘Thank You’ is one of Kawabata’s palm-of-hand stories, a very condensed and precise genre for which the author was famous, and occupies only a few pages in English translation from which we have the basis for the whole film. The film also has influences from his other short stories, including one with a Korea connection — ‘The Sea’.
‘The Sea’, also only three pages long, depicts a traveling column of Korean laborers who have just completed a road over the mountains of the Izu Peninsula and are walking towards the sea onto their next difficult job.
But before I can travel on the road I helped build, I have to go build one on another mountain.
A young Korean girl whose father had died in Japan falls back from the group with a stomachache, waiting by the side of the road. Her compatriots pass her by until the last man tells her ‘there won’t be another Korean coming by’. He demands her to be his wife, and she agrees to go with the man despite her father’s wish that she marry in Korea. Her condition is that he take her to where she cannot see the sea.
There is an old Korean saying that ‘over mountains are mountains’ meaning that one challenge follows another. In the island Japan as in the peninsula Korea, the back-breaking mountains eventually come to an end, but the open sea and the end of the familiar can be equally freighting.
The same Korean character appears in Mr. Thank You in an equally poignant and equally brief scene. Like in the story before the group of Koreans is moving on to their next job—the film incorporates actual footage of Korean laborers eerily walking in white along the roads of the Izu Peninsula — and like in the story before the woman’s father had passed away in this foreign land.
Yet in the film rather than be left alone to be picked up by the last man to pass her by, she is one of many along the road to be touched by Mr. Thank You’s kindness. She asks Mr. Thank You, and he agrees, to take care of the grave of her father as she leaves to build another road, lamenting she wished she could have ridden in his bus.
‘But before I can travel on the road I helped build, I have to go build one on another mountain.’
Over mountains are mountains, yet both Kawabata and Shizuma show us that on the roads in between it is possible to find human decency and kindness among the people we meet along the way.
Check out Walk Japan for walking tours at the Izu Peninsula.