REPORT  − report −

NANKOKU HIDAIreportreport   Vol. 15 Nankoku‘s Favorite Things

Vol. 15 Nankoku‘s Favorite Things

After the death of Nankoku’s wife Shoha in 1972, his children and their friends gathered lively at the dinner table of Nankoku. It was customary for everyone to talk loudly about their likes and dislikes of food and alcohol, starting with stories about Nankoku's hardships in Europe and the United States and the artists he met. After the meal is over and things settle down, the conversation shifted to calligraphy, art, and music. There was almost no discussion of literature or film.

Once, when the topic of their favorite novels or movies came up, Nankoku spoke up unusually. One of the novels that left a lasting impression on Nankoku was “Der arme Spielmann (Poor Musician “ 「ウイーンの辻音楽師 <The Street-Musician in Vienna>」) by F. Grillparzer. " As for the movie, he mentioned Carl Theodore Dreyer's “The Vampire”.  Nowadays, it seems that few people know both names of them, but how did they captivate Nankoku's heart?

1." The Street-Musician in Vienna"

Franz Grillparzer (1791~1872) was an Austrian dramatic poet of the Biedermeier period (Note 1) who gained fame for his classic tragedies such as “The Ancestor Woman “(1817) and “Sappho” (1818). The Poor Musician (1847), Der arme Spielmann, originally titled, is a representative novel of his transition from romanticism to realism.

The author (narrator) depicts the life of an old violinist who is a performer in front of a music stand and he met by chance at the Brigitta Festival in Vienna. He is shabbily dressed and not very good at the violin, but he seems to be an elegant and learned old man. Although he has a serious and delicate sensibility, the author calmly depicts the sentiment of a human being who is too helpless to survive life, owing to his lack in a realistic way of life, through the eyes of the narrator.

The old man was born as the son of a court adviser, but because of his poor knack, he grew up lonely, alienated by his father. While working as a clerk at the government office, he looked forward to playing the violin to the tune of the song sung by Barbara, the daughter of the general store next door. Although he was not very good, he was full of enthusiasm and respect for the authentic music of great composers, and he taught himself to practice the violin every day. He dared to ask her to write the notation for him in order to play Barbara's song accurately. He was methodical and full of respect for music, and so he couldn't play roughly in his own way. It was the first time he had spoken to Barbara. She was surprised, but didn't say she didn't like it, and a few days later the music sheet was ready.

However, one day, his father died suddenly, and he was naïve and was deceived of most of his inheritance by a man who was his father's secretary offering to set up a fake office. Barbara, the daughter of the general store, scolded him strongly to be distrustful of people and to pay more attention to reality.

Presently the daughter married elsewhere at the order of her parents, and he was left, then lived standing on the crossing to play the violin while wishing for Barbara's happiness. Although he was despised by the audience, he felt happy when he was playing the violin. Subsequently, the suburbs of Vienna were flooded by flash floods. "I" (the narrator) visited the residence of the old man for worry, but the old man had died of a cold after he dived into the water on the day of the flood to save the children of the residents. When "I" offered to take over and buy the old man's violin, the butcher’s wife (Barbara) vehemently refused, saying, "This violin belongs to an old musician." Tears were pouring down her cheeks.

(*1) A general term for a form of civic culture that arose in the first half of the 19th century, mainly in Germany and Austria, to pay attention to familiar and daily matters. From the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to the March Revolution in Vienna and Berlin in 1848, the Biedermeier era was a fleeting period of peace. He expressed various aspects of a humble civic culture, lying the age between war and revolution, between romanticism and realism.


2.” Vampire”

Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889~1968) was a Danish film director. In 1928, he presented " La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc「裁かるるジャンヌ」)”. In 1932, he produced his first talkie film, “Vampire”, in France and Germany. After that, he was forced to make " Day of Wrath" (1943), "Miracle(The Word)" (1955), and "Gertrude" (1964), at a pace of one film every 10 years. However, "The Word" won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. "Gertrud" also won the International Federation of Film Critics Award at the Venice International Film Festival, and his films were highly acclaimed internationally. In his lifetime, he directed 14 feature films, all of which are said to combine mysteriousness and realism.

” Vampire (Vampyr)” (1932)

A young man named Allan Gray comes to an inn close to the village of Courtempierre, France. In the middle of the night, while Allan is lying down, an old man enters the room. The man leaves a package with the inscription "To be opened after my death." Following the man's shadow, Allan escapes from the inn and reaches a castle. In the manor, he witnesses the old man being shot and killed.

There are two daughters in the manor, and the eldest daughter, Léone, is seriously ill and is being cared for by a nun. When Allan opens the package according to the old man’s will, a book describing vampires appeared. The village where Allan stays now was a village cursed by Marguerite Chopin, a female horrific demon called vampire who was sentenced to death 25 years ago. The book describes that the village doctor is also a minion of vampire. Léone goes outside like a sleepwalker and is bitten in the throat by a vampire and sucked out of her blood. The village doctor draws as much blood as he can from Alan to give her a blood transfusion.

Dazed by being drained of blood, meanwhile, Allan realizes that the younger daughter, Gisèle, is missing and goes to search for her. On the way, Allan collapsed on a bench and wandered like a ghost in an out-of-body experience, finding the daughter imprisoned in a doctor's house, but the lock did not open, and he entered the coffin inside the house. He dies with his eyes wide open, and a female vampire peers into the coffin, then Allan is looking at the castle and the world from the coffin in which he is carried. Eventually, when the coffin reaches the bench, he wakes up and the funeral procession disappears.

The servant of the manor goes to a large sarcophagus of the grave to kill the vampire before dawn. When Allan wakes up, he joins the servant and drives an iron stake into the heart of Marguerite Chopin, the female vampire in the coffin. When Allan hits the stake with his hammer, the female vampire turns into a skeleton. Having destroyed the vampires, the eldest daughter, Léone, recovers. Alan rescues his younger daughter, Gisèle. The vampire's minion, the doctor, dies in a flour that is slowly being ground in a flour mill. Alan and Gisèle escaped in a small boat.

This is Dreyer's first talkie film, and instead of developing the story through dialogue, the whole story is spun by a book about vampires. It is said to be the work of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873), who is famous for” Carmilla” (1872). But it's not so much the story, it's the close-ups of the Dryer (close-ups of the face and eyes to show fear and anxiety), the effective use of light and shadow in the footage, and the scenes where the whole thing seems to be hazy and misty, especially the scene where Allan has an out-of-body experience to look for Gisèle and see the world from his coffin, which is why the film has been remembered and admired to this day. To create this special effect, Dreyer applied a fine gauze filter in front of the camera lens to blur the characters, sets and properties, making the audience feel like they were in a dream.

"Vampire" is considered to be Dreyer's only expressionist film, but as early as 1919, German director, Robert Wiene's " Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari " was the first to deal with somnambulism and psychotic plots, distorted sets with an out-of-balance of columns, doors, walls, and roofs, and no use of natural light. It is characterized by a fantastic and grotesque stylistic quality that shows the influence of Cubism, such as the strong contrast between light and shadow using the effect of shadows by lighting.

The first vampire movie was F.W. Murnau's “Nosferatu” (1922), which was based on the famous Bram Stoker's "Dracula the Vampire" (1897), but the film rights could not be obtained, and the Slovak name "Dracula" was used for "the one that brings the plague" (Bram Stoker's “Dracula” was made into a movie by Universal of Hollywood in 1931 as "Dracula" starring Bela Lugosi).

Dreyer's "Vampire" was made in 1932, which was later than Hollywood's, but it was greatly influenced by the German Expressionism, “Caligari," and from the "chamber play" that depicted dense psychology by Dreyer up to that point, he distorted and transformed the external world and depicted spirituality through bizarre stylization and abstraction. After this, Dreyer sought a "transcendental style" that would bring spirituality (transcendence) to the external world without transforming it (Note 2).

(*2)  According to Paul Schrader's " Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer”(1972), (1981, translated by Kikuo Yamamoto, Film Art Co., Ltd.), which reviews the evolution of Dreyer's 14 films alongside Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson.


  1. Nankoku's Favorites

The first translation of " Der arme Spielmann, (1847)" was published in 1934 by Iwanami Bunko (translated by Ishikawa Kenji). In 1934, Nankoku was 22 years old, graduated from the Tokyo Koto Kogei Gakko (Tokyo Technological College), and began working for the Land Survey Department of the General Staff.

“Vampire (1932)” was released in Japan, November 1932. At that time, he was 20 years old and in his third year at the Tokyo Koto Kogei Gakko. Both works moved the heart of Nankoku, an impressionable adolescent.


(1) " Der arme Spielmann (The Street-Musician in Vienna)" must have been a poignant story for Nankoku, who aspired to become a violinist in junior high school. For Nankoku, who is introspective and not good at socializing, the figure of the main character, an old musician who is serious and powerless how to get along in life, may have overlapped with him. The violin pieces that the old musician plays on the street at festivals and other occasions are not waltzes that are welcomed by sightseers and the public, but legitimate classical pieces by Bach and Mozart, whom he admires. Even if he practices them day after day, he is still too immature to play them well, and they are rejected by the public as harsh and incomprehensible music. But for the old musician, it was his pleasure to play the classical music of the great musicians, whether on the street or in a corner of the street. For Nankoku, he might have been able to project himself into this story just as he repeated his daily Rinsho to get in touch with the depths of the classics of calligraphy.

(2) "Vampire" was an exciting encounter with an unknown image for Nankoku, who was studying design. Free from the habitual and gloom daily life, he must have become a great encouragement to the challenge of his own unique artistic world, even if no one understands it. Rather than being content with the habitual and everyday world of naturalism, it would have been the conviction that there must be an unshakable universal essence behind the outward appearance of the world. The techniques of “Vampire” (chiaroscuro, exaggerated gestures, non-realistic devices, bold and unrestrained fantasy scenes) are characteristic of German Expressionism, and Allan Gray is not the protagonist of a chamber drama that tries to force his inner emotions outward. His emotions are already externalized. It is presented in his own figure, on a dark staircase, in an arched doorway, in a coffin. With the collapse of traditional values and the mobility of society after World War I, we are trying to represent this real world, where everyday life is already covered with anxiety and fear, and the unshakable spiritual behind it. Dreyer borrows Wilhelm Worringer's "Abstraction and Empathy (1907)" to describe the film's intention. He defines his "expressionism" as "abstraction," the transformation of the unstable state of space into a geometric form, and says, "Abstraction allows us to step outside the enclosure of naturalism that surrounds our medium, which makes cinema not just visual, but spiritual." (Note3)

 Nankoku grew up surrounded by the tradition of calligraphy under Tenrai and Shokin. From the 3rd or 4th year of the old junior high school (Prefectural 6th Junior High School, now Tokyo Metropolitan Shinjuku High School), he entered Yoyogi Shogakuin and immersed himself in the Rinsho of ancient calligraphic books and other books. At the Koto Kogei Gakko, he studied design, printing, and platemaking techniques while exploring his future. While immersed in traditional calligraphy, he learned the attitude of his father's calligraphy and aspired to change the bound and inertia of calligraphy. It was during this sensitive period that he encountered this film, and he must have been strongly moved by its bizarre expression that tried to change reality.

(*3)  Paul Schrader's " Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer”(1972) Sacred Film" (1981, translated by Kikuo Yamamoto, Film Art Co., Ltd.), p. 189.