In modern Japanese cinema, public housing is often depicted negatively or indicative of decay and loss. Recent examples include 2013’s クロユリ団地 Kuroyuri Danchi (aka “The Complex”) and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “After the Storm” 海よりもまだ深 (2016). But during the postwar years, the depiction of danchi was far more complex, reflecting boy joy and ambivalence at post-war prosperity, conformity, and various social transformations that played out across Japanese society.
The following is a list of movies from 1958-1980 in which danchi played a role. Many of these films were noted in paper by Masashi Sogabe 曽我部昌史 titled 団地映画を通してみる公共空間の活用についての研究 (“Research of utilising common space: Observing the public space through the movie filmed at Danchi (housing apartment)”), though I have supplemented it with a few that I’ve personally discovered.
Zero Focus ゼロの焦点 (Zero no shoten): based on a work by Seicho Matsumoto 松本清張, in this film, a woman from Tokyo travels to snowy Kanazawa to find her missing husband. The woman, played by Yoshiko Kuga 久我 美子, plays the role of detective in a film noir, traveling to far-flung villages, interviewing coworkers and acquaintances, and uncovering long-lost secrets (perhaps the better comparison is to Jimmy Stewart’s character in Vertigo). It’s a good, atmospheric film, rich with flavor of the isolated Japan Sea coast of Honshu; there also are references, subtle and otherwise, to the American Occupation of Japan.
This was a big year for danchi in film.
An Autumn Afternoon 秋刀魚の味 (Sanma no aji / “The Taste of Mackerel Pike”)
The genteel Yasujirō Ozu, who lavished the attention of his camera on traditional Japanese interiors, allowed his camera to linger on the mosaic of drying blankets in An Autumn Afternoon:
From The Japan Society: “This brilliant satirical comedy about self-interest and postwar recovery penned by Kaneto Shindo (Onibaba) centers on the cutthroat Maeda family, who manage to lie, cheat and steal their way out of poverty in order to maintain a comfortable bourgeois life in a Tokyo apartment. The only person that can out-manipulate them is Tokie (Wakao), a clever entertainment agency accountant who plays the men in love with her to her own advantage. Set almost entirely within the Maeda apartment, Kawashima mines every possible camera angle and utilizes ingenious blocking for maximum dramatic and comic effect.”
This title can be translated as “Many Citizens”, as the TV drama follows the lives of the residents of a large “New town” ニュータウン danchi.
Described as follows (source): “高度成長期に、人間関係の愛の形を探った「ＮＨＫ劇場」。その一編「大市民」は当時誕生しつつあった大規模団地ニュータウンを舞台に、誰もがテレビ、洗濯機、冷蔵庫の３種の神器に憧れていた時代を描く。ごく平凡なサラリーマン家庭のとある一日、子供の水難事故、トイレットペーパーの押し売り、夫の会社引き抜き…等の騒動に巻き込まれる。果たして、本当の「幸せ」とは何か？”
“‘NHK Theater” which explored the shape of love of human relations during the period of high growth. One of them, “Large citizen” is set in the large-scale apartment new town which was being born at the time, and draws the time when everyone longed for three kinds of sacred treasures, television, washing machine and refrigerator. A totally mediocre office worker One day in a family, a child ‘s water accident accident, a toilet paper pressed away, a husband’ s company pulling out … etc. Well, what is real ‘happiness’?”
Outlaw: Gangster VIP 「無頼」より 大幹部 (Burai yori daikanbu): while primarily set in the Shinjuku area, one scene takes place at the danchi in Kami-Fukuoka Station 上福岡駅, Saitama.
The Shadow Within 影の車 (Kage no Kuruma)
Based on a work by author Seicho Matsumoto 松本清張. In this film, the enormous new town feels culturally isolated from the heart of urban Tokyo and also from the rhythms of traditional small-town Japan. Includes scenes of a wooded hillside being cleared for more hosuing. An excellent, unsettling, bizarre film.
『団地妻 昼下がりの情事』 Danchi Wife: Affair In the Afternoon / Apartment Wife: Affair In the Afternoon / From 3 to Sex (Danchizuma: Hirusagari no jôji) だんちづま・ひるさがりのじょうじ (pic 1) (pic 2). According to Wikipedia, “The success of Apartment Wife: Affair In the Afternoon inspired 20 direct sequels—four in 1972—and numerous unofficial sequels and series.”
This sounds like a Japanese version of The Exorcist. Per Letterboxd, “Masako, a five-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Chiba, gets a tiny scratch on her finger while playing with mud in a marsh. After that, she suffered all kinds of horrible spasms including biting her tongue…It seems like the devil has come to dwell in the little girl’s body…The once peaceful family has changed completely and the three have been cast into a bottomless hell.” See also this Blog, and a clip on YouTube at 0:19.
The housing complex can be seen at the bottom of the DVD cover below:
Links and resources:
Japanese films 日本映画: the tokyo files: media 東京ファイル・メディア
Danchi & film:
- 曽我部昌史 titled 団地映画を通してみる公共空間の活用についての研究 (“Research of utilising common space: Observing the public space through the movie filmed at Danchi (housing apartment)”). (link) (PDF) (alternate PDF, page 27)
- Danchi in movies: “The Projects”, aka Danchi 団地
- List of notable Japanese cinema: Japanese films 日本映画
- The Toho Studios Story: A History and Complete Filmography
Danchi in general:
- The rise and fall and rise of Asagaya Housing danchi 阿佐ヶ谷住宅
- Ghosts of Showa: the Karasuyama apartment complex, gated communities, & the fight for Tokyo’s soul
- For more about danchi and public housing in Japan, see: the tokyo files – danchi 東京団地萌え