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NOMUGI PASS

Japan, 1979 (MIFF 1981)

Director: Satsuo Yamamoto

Prior to World War I the silk-spinning mills of Japan employed hundreds of young women recruited from destitute iamilies. The families were happy to lessen the number of mouths to feed. The girls were humbly grateful for the chance to bring home some money. The mills were situated at Okaya, and to get there the hapless girls had to cross the snow-covered Nomugi Pass.

The film follows the Hues of several of the young girls, observes their treatment and contrasts their lifestyles with those of the influential government officials and industrialists who control such things as prices.

The film builds up a catalogue of evils, often melodramatically (girl falls prey to evil foreman, girl falls in love with boss' son. etc.) but despite its emphasis it still gives a gripping picture of the life and times they endured Particularly memorable are the scenes following the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war. its effects on working conditions and the hypocrisy of the mill-owner.

Satsuo Yamamoto is a veteran director whose work is little known in the west. He is best known for Sunless District, about a strike in the 1920s. and for War and People, which chose militarism for its subject.

Nomugi Pass is effectively made and holds attention throughout its length Many moments are especially moving though some may find the film excessively tearful Its statement about the social and human problems of the past remains relevant and its popularity in Japan cannot be disputed More than three million people have seen the film. making it the biggest box-office attraction of the year.

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© Melbourne International Film Festival 2013.

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