JFDB Column

The ‘Magic of Cinema’ Infused Morita Yoshimitsu’s Films – Fueled by His Sense in Acutely Grasping the Zeitgeist

‘Do you believe in magic?’

This phrase from an unrelated song from yesteryear popped into my head when I revisited Morita Yoshimitsu’s adorable coming-of-age romance “Main Theme” (1984), which features Yakushimaru Hiroko at the apex of her popularity as a Kadokawa star.

The association was prompted by Yakushimaru’s costar Nomura Hironobu in the role of an apprentice magician, but upon further thought, Morita’s films themselves are infused with the magic of cinema. His films are like dreams and yet real. His richly experimental visuals were already described as ‘brilliant,’ and the themes and characters’ sentiments intensify the cinema.

Each of the main characters in “Main Theme” has his or her own desires. So each character’s core is authentic, but Morita doesn’t expose that core. He surrounds the characters with perfectly fitting visuals, sounds and settings, just like having them wear the appropriate attire. One highlight is the festival excitement amidst a huge traffic jam in front of the motel. Could the elation of that chaos be the mental landscape of the heroine seated fixedly in the passenger seat of the car? Rousing emotions arise mysteriously. And in that moment, the director’s magic takes hold.

The source of that magic is Morita’s sense. His sense of visuals and music, and his sense in capturing the things that are truly cool and interesting… I could go on, but most important is his sense in acutely grasping the zeitgeist.

His filmography after his self-produced 8-mm films and feature-film debut “Something Like It” (1981) reads like the timeline of Japan. Is there another director who continued to capture with such certainty the mood, fashion, culture and street vibe as it changed with each era? In regard to “Main Theme”, the photographer Shinoyama Kishin told producer Misawa Kazuko that ‘this film is youth itself’ and ‘during this era, Japan was youth itself’ (‘Morita Yoshimitsu’s Complete Films’ editors: Utamaru, Misawa Kazuko, Little More Books). Aptly said. Japanese then innocently dreamed of being more and more ‘grown up,’ just like the heroine.

Morita followed up with the masterpiece “And Then” (1981), the overripe “Sorobanzuku” (1986) and the downturn-predicting “Kanashi Iro Yanen” (1988), and then shot “Ai to heisei no iro otoko” (1989).

In “Ai to heisei no iro otoko”, the playboy protagonist as played by Ishida Junichi lives in a thoroughly stylish world where love is utterly unproductive and shallow, so very shallow. The vacuity amidst all that wealth is a harbinger of the bubble era end. Morita shows such things, and not on a grand scale. “Kitchen” (1989) was released a few months later and is also amazing for anticipating the shift in perspective among Japan’s youth.

He continued to capture the era’s mood after that. What would he shoot now? I have no doubt that many people have wondered the same thing.

ONDA Yasuko
ONDA Yasuko
Yomiuri Shimbun editorial board member. Joined Yomiuri Shimbun in 1990. Mainly handled film in the culture department after working as a reporter in the Hokkaido office and elsewhere. Has covered numerous international film festivals including Cannes and Venice. Has been writing film-related articles and reviews for Yomiuri Shimbun Online since 2022. Reporting work includes the book ‘Ihara Takatada ganso terebiya gebageba tetsugaku’ (Aiikusha).
Abacus And Sword

Abacus And Sword (2010)

  • Drama
  • Children/Family
  • Historical
  • Feature
Director
MORITA Yoshimitsu
Cast
SAKAI Masato, NAKAMA Yukie, MATSUZAKA Keiko
It's on me

It's on me (2009)

  • Drama
  • Feature
Director
MORITA Yoshimitsu
Cast
Koyuki, KUROTANI Tomoka, ISAKA Shunya, OZAWA Yukiyoshi, KOIKE Eiko, NAKAMURA Toru
SOUTH BOUND

SOUTH BOUND (2007)

  • Comedy
  • Feature
Director
MORITA Yoshimitsu
Cast
TOYOKAWA Etsushi, AMAMI Yuki
Sanjuro

Sanjuro (2007)

  • Action/Adventure
  • Drama
  • Feature
Director
MORITA Yoshimitsu
Cast
ODA Yuji, TOYOKAWA Etsushi, MATSUYAMA Kenichi
THE MAMIYA BROTHERS

THE MAMIYA BROTHERS (2006)

  • Feature
Director
MORITA Yoshimitsu
Cast
SASAKI Kuranosuke, TSUKAJI Muga (DRUNK DRAGON), TOKIWA Takako
Umineko-Inseparable

Umineko-Inseparable (2004)

  • Feature
Director
MORITA Yoshimitsu
Cast
ITO Misaki, NAKAMURA Toru, SATO Koichi
Like Asura

Like Asura (2003)

  • Feature
Director
MORITA Yoshimitsu
Cast
OTAKE Shinobu, KUROKI Hitomi, FUKATSU Eri, FUKADA Kyoko