[From September Issue 2011]
Cupola, Where the Furnaces Glow (Directed by URAYAMA Kirio)
This is a drama set in Kawaguchi City, Saitama Prefecture, where numerous foundries stand side by side. The “cupola” in the movie’s title refers to a furnace for heating and melting metals. Released in 1962, the film is famous for having won the Blue Ribbon Award in 1962 for Best Film and YOSHINAGA Sayuri won the Blue Ribbon Award for Best Actress. That same year, the film was also entered in the Competition Category at the Cannes International Film Festival.
Kawaguchi City, Saitama Prefecture, located right across the Arakawa River to the north of Tokyo, has been known as a foundry town since the Edo period. Jun (Yoshinaga) is a third-year middle school student whose father works as a laborer at a small foundry. But the foundry is bought out, and her aging father is fired. That night, her mother gives birth to her third brother.
Her father is invited to work at an automated modern foundry, but as a proud artisan, he resists the idea and soon quits. The family cannot survive on the income from the work that her mother does at home. Moreover, it is Jun who takes care of her naughty brother, a sixth grader, instead of her mother and father.
Jun, who has good grades and likes studying, wants to go on to a prefectural high school. She tries her best to pay for her tuition by doing a part-time job, but her father, who is out of work and always drunk, objects to her going to high school, saying, “You have to work after graduating from middle school.” Feeling disgusted with her mother, who has started working as a hostess at a bar for good money, Jun gives up on taking the high school entrance exam and decides not to go on a school trip.
Before long, Jun starts skipping school, telling herself, “If I can’t go to high school, there is no point in studying.” Her homeroom teacher pays her a visit and urges her to attend night school while working, saying, “If you have the motivation, regardless of where you are, you find some way to study.” Around that time, a North Korean friend of hers decides to move to her father’s native country along with her father and younger brother.
Jun goes to the station with her teacher and classmates to see her friend off. Despite feeling sad about leaving Japan, where she was born and raised, her friend expresses concern for Jun, who has been absent from school. That encourages Jun to choose to work her way through school. At the same time, the foundry where her father used to work expands and he begins to work there again at the start of the New Year. For the first time in a long while, laughter and peace returns to the family.
Despite this, Jun tells her parents that she will work her way through school without relying on her father. Although they can’t understand Jun’s way of thinking, her parents don’t object to the idea. As he prepares to go on to middle school, her mischievous brother comes to keenly realize the difficulties confronting his sister and starts a part-time job as a newspaper delivery boy. One morning, on the way to a job interview, Jun asks her brother, who is delivering newspapers, to see her off at the station. The film ends with a shot of their silhouettes fading away as they head towards the station.