Humanity and Paper Balloons

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Humanity and Paper Balloons
Humanity and Paper Balloons poster.jpg
Directed by Sadao Yamanaka
Screenplay by Shintaro Mimura[1]
Based on A play
by Shintaro Mimura
  • Chojuro Kawarasaki
  • Kanemon Nakamura
  • Shizue Yamagishi
Music by Chu Ota[1]
Cinematography Akira Mimura[1]
P.C.L./Zenshin-za Production[1]
Distributed by Toho Eiga
Release date
  • 25 August 1937 (1937-08-25) (Japan)
Running time
85 minutes[1]
Country Japan

Humanity and Paper Balloons (人情紙風船, Ninjō Kami Fūsen) is a 1937 black-and-white film directed by Sadao Yamanaka, his last film.


The film is set in the 18th century, the Edo period[3][better source needed], and depicts the struggles and schemes of Matajuro Unno, a rōnin, or masterless samurai and his neighbour Shinza, a hairdresser, in feudal Japan

The story depicts a slum where a small group of families live by menial jobs. Mr. Unno lives with his wife. Shinza makes his living by conducting illegal gambling and pawning his goods. Mr.Unno is the son of Matabei Unno, a great Samurai. Since his father's death, Unno is struggling to find work and approaches his father's former master Mr. Mouri, hoping that he would hire him. But Mr. Mouri avoids Mr. Unno and rejects his father's letter asking him to hire his son. Nevertheless, Mr. Unno attempts to see Mr. Mouri everyday, following him wherever he goes. Mouri tries to get rid of Unno by sending men to beat him up and telling his gate guards not to let him in.

Mr. Unno's wife waits for the news that he is hired but is disappointed everyday when he tells her that 'he'd meet Mr. Mouri tomorrow'. While her husband is between jobs, she supports the family by making Kamifusen[4] (Japanese paper balloons). She urges him to find work and and takes care of him when he comes home. Unno doesn't tell his wife that he is being rejected by Mouri and starts drinking to forget his humiliation. Although he sinks into poverty, he manages to hold on to his pride by avoiding borrowing or taking favours.

Shinza's story runs parallel to Unno's with more commotion. Shinza often gets beaten up by the men of a local pawn shop owner Shiroko Ya for the money he owns him or for conducting illegal gambling in their territory. However, Shinza, fearlessly repeats them which upsets Shiroko's hit men and their leader Genshichi Yatagoro. Once, after he gets chased by Yatagoro's men from a gambling site, causing him to lose his money, he goes to Shiroko's shop to pawn his hairdressing equipment. When he reaches Shiroko's house unannounced, he interrupts the romance of Shiroko's daughter Okoma and his shop keeper Chushichi. Okoma's marriage is already arranged against her will by her father and Mr. Mouri with the son of a very rich domain elder, a Samurai. Shinza is rejected and beaten up again and he returns, making his mind up to avenge the constants insults.

In the mean time, Unno's wife is going to visit her sister's family. She reminds Unno that since he had recently recovered from an illness, not to drink sake too much. He promises her that he wouldn't drink.

Shinza, in order to teach Yatagoro a lesson, kidnaps Okoma when she was out with her lover at a festival and brings her to his house. After learning of this, Shiroko sends his men with Yatagoro to bring Okoma back by settling things quietly with Shinza with a ransom so that the girl's name will be saved from shame since she is soon to be married off. Shinza convinces his neighbour Mr. Unno to hide Okoma in his house while Yatagoro and his men come to raid his house for the girl. Yatagoro offers money to Shinza but he refuses it and instead asks Yatagoro to shave his head and beg forgiveness to him. Insulted by this demand, Yatagoro furiously goes back and sends one of his men to his master to inform him that Shinza is not letting Okoma go. Shinza's landlord, seeing this as an opportunity to make some money (because neither Shinza nor other tenants pay him rent often), goes to Shiroko and negotiates the release of the girl for a huge ransom. Shinza, though he wasn't interested in ransom, is forced to take his share of money in return of the release of Okoma. When her father sends a palanquin to pick her up, Okoma comes out of Mr. Unno's house and gets into the palanquin, revealing to the neaighbourhood that she had been hidden in Unno's house- a shameful act to get involved for a Samurai. Okoma, when she comes back home, is promised by her hesitant lover Chushichi that they'd run away from her father's house.

Shinza, in celebrating his victory over Yatagoro and his master, takes all the men from his neighbourhood to a local bar to buy them sake. He forces the hesitant Unno to go with him to the bar while Unno's wife comes back from her sister's and sees her husband going to drink in spite of her request. Unno, though not willing to drink at first, when learns that Shinza's kidnapping of Okoma did some damage to the reputation of Mr. Mouri, is happy to join Shinza for drinking sake. When Unno's wife approaches the house, she overhears the events that happened in her house from the women of her neighbourhood talking ill of Unno to each other. She learns that her husband has lost all his pride and honour of a Samurai and is disrespected by their neighbours. Shinza, while buying drinks for his neighbours in the bar is summoned by Yatagoro for a sword fight. Shinza, knowing that he is no match for Yatagoro, decides to defend his honour by fighting him.

Mr. Unno comes back home drunk to be confronted by his wife and he lies to her again that he'd go to Mr. Mouri next day and try to give him his father's letter. When he passes out on the floor she finds out that his father's letter is still in his pocket and understands that her husband has been mistreated and insulted by Mouri all these days. In order to protect their honour, as a last resort, she takes the tantō[5][better source needed] and performs seppuku[6][better source needed] on her husband and herself. The next day their dead bodies are found by the neighbours. For them Unno's and his wife's death is only another Samurai suicide in the slum (when the film begins, we learn that another Samurai had hanged himself due to poverty and his death is mocked by his neighbours that he should have performed a Samurai suicide seppuku/ harakiri. But because he didn't even have his Samurai sword he couldn't do it on himself).

It is to be understood that Shinza didn't survive either. It is assumed that he died in the combat.

The film ends with a scene where a kamifusen falls from a boy's hands while he runs to the landlord to inform about the suicide of Unno's family, drops into a water channel and flows along with the current, away from the screen.



Humanity and Paper Balloons was written by Shintar Mimura and based on his play.[1]


Humanity and Paper Balloons was distributed in Japan by Toho Eiga on 25 August 1937.[1] It was released as Humanity and Paper Ballooons with English subtitles in August 1982 in the United States.[1]


Largely unknown outside Japan for years, the film has been hailed by critics such as Tadao Sato and Donald Richie, and Japanese filmmakers including Akira Kurosawa, as one of the most influential examples of jidaigeki, or Japanese period films.[citation needed]

Jasper Sharp of Midnight Eye described the film as "a fascinating time capsule of a movie that not only reframes the feudal period in which it is set to present a harsh critique of the social and political conditions of the time it was made, but also demonstrates just how tight, coherent, and entertaining films from this period actually were."[7] In 2012, Spanish film programmer Fran Gayo listed the film as one of the greatest films of all time.[8]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Galbraith IV 2008, p. 15.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Edo period
  4. ^
  5. ^ Tantō
  6. ^ Seppuku
  7. ^ Sharp, Jasper (21 September 2005). "Midnight Eye review: Humanity and Paper Balloons". Midnight Eye.
  8. ^ Gayo, Fran (2012). "Fran Gayo - BFI - British Film Institute". Sight & Sound.


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