FILM: FROM SHINODA, 'MACARTHUR'S CHILDREN'
By VINCENT CANBY
Published: May 17, 1985
MASAHIRO SHINODA'S ''MacArthur's Children,'' which opens today at the Cinema Studio, is an extremely peculiar film about the United States occupation of Japan, as reflected in the experiences of the citizens on one small, ideally pretty island in the Inland Sea. The people of Awaji haven't been fire-bombed into submission. The island hasn't been physically damaged, though everyone has suffered emotional losses.
In ''MacArthur's Children,'' Mr. Shinoda tells a story of almost gentle, cultural humiliation, but in terms that are themselves virtually a demonstration of that humiliation. More than anything else, ''MacArthur's Children'' looks like a Hollywood movie of the 1950's, photographed in rich, sunny colors, covering a wide range of fairly familiar characters, with everything treated rather superficially, neatly and sentimentally.
It's possible, though I doubt it, that Mr. Shinoda's intent was to underscore his point by making a culture-shock movie that looks as American as Hershey bars and chewing gum. Whatever the intent, the movie is no more or less successful than Mr. Shinoda's earlier films, including ''Double Suicide'' and ''The Ballad of Orin,'' each of which has a clearly developed sense of style that doesn't necessarily translate into content.
Seen mostly through the eyes of two precociously prankish, fifth-grade schoolboys, both of whom have lost their fathers, ''MacArthur's Children'' manages to squeeze at least a half-dozen different plot lines into one film. These include stories about a young war widow, a brave naval officer who is tried for Class B war crimes, a barber who cashes in on the occupation by turning her shop into a barroom and, of course, about the two boys who, each in his own positive way, come to terms with their country's defeat.
''MacArthur's Children'' is most interesting when it is remembering specific events identified with the early years of the occupation - the ways in which schoolbooks had to be changed to recognize the once-divine Emperor Hirohito's newly mortal identity, and the release of the first Japanese movie in which the lovers actually kissed on screen. Mr. Shinoda's fiction is of a far lesser order, concluding with a baseball game - a spunky team of Japanese kids against an American Army team - that could have come out of ''The Bad News Bears Go to Japan.''
''MacArthur's Children'' doesn't do particular honor to a complex subject. There is far more about the real ''children'' of General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the Allied occupation forces, in almost any postwar film by Yasujiro Ozu, including his great ''Tokyo Story,'' as well as in Wim Wenders's fine documentary ''Tokyo-Ga,'' recently shown at the Metro.
''MacArthur's Children,'' which has been rated PG (''Parental Guidance Suggested''), contains some mildly vulgar language in its English subtitles.
Culture Clash MacARTHUR'S CHILDREN, directed by Masahiro Shinoda; screenplay (Japanese with English subtitles) by Takeshi Tamura, based on the novel by Yu Aku; cinematography, Kazuo Miyagawa; edited by Sachiko Yamaji; music by Shinichiro Ikebe; produced by You-No-Kai and Masato Hara; an Orion Classics Release.
Running time: 115 minutes. This film is rated PG. Ryuta AshigaraTakaya Yamuchi Saburo MasakiYoshiyuki Omori Mume HatanoShiori Sakura Komako NakaiMasako Natsume Tadao AshigaraShuji Otaki