Alan G. Chalk Guides to Japanese Films
Lesson 10: Snow Country (Yukiguni)
Reading: Snow Country, 1935-47 novel, Kawabata
Film: Snow Country, 1957, Toyoda
Suggested grades: mature 10th and 11th grade students, otherwise 12th and college.
What follows is a love affair, yet it is a love that can never be fulfilled. Shimamura tends to observe and participate in life from a detached, aesthetic distance which allows him to separate himself from the realities of human existence. He is, in the end, incapable of love. Komako, on the other hand, lives in the center of love and life, vulnerable to her emotions and the forces of life which must inevitably bring her disappointment and tragedy. She is the heart of this story, as she, before Shimamura's and our eyes, matures from a young girl to a passionate woman aware of and resigned to the passing of the seasons of nature and her life.
The approach suggested is through images selected from the novel and reinforced by the film. "The Mirror of an Evening Scene," as Kawabata entitled the original story which became the opening of his novel, focuses on the multi-layered image which Shimamura observes in the train window next to him. With a finger he associates with the immediate memory of the young woman he is going to see, he draws a line across the misted-over glass. He is startled by the reflection of a beautiful eye and face of a young girl floating across the snow country landscape. It is a mirror image of the young woman across the aisle from him. She is attending a young man who is very ill. The image establishes the triangular relationship in the novel of Shimamura and the two women as figures passing across the snows and shadows of the winter mountains. Further, Kawabata seems to anticipate the cinematic imaging of his prose. He writes:
Because of Kawabata's style, it is important to establish in the beginning the need for reading the text carefully with close attention to images, metaphors, and symbols. Throughout the study of the novel, selected film clips can reinforce and extend the students' understanding of the text.
Suggested film clips correlated with key passages in the text:
Following the study of the novel, students can work with the film as a separate artistic interpretation. The 134-minute film requires three to four classes for showing and another class for discussion. A teacher's guide Japanese Literature On Film (New York Japan Society) includes a useful analysis of the film by Professor Keiko McDonald.
Although Kawabata's Snow Country is a relatively
short novel, it is a work with many levels of meaning. His Nobel Prize
speech, "Japan, The Beautiful, and Myself," introduces the students to
Kawabata's drawing from traditional poetry to express his themes of a
Buddhistic emptiness which is "not to be taken as the nihilism of the
West, but rather, seen as "the spiritual foundation of the
of Dogen, a Buddhist poet-priest of the 13th century, Kawabata suggests
how his own writings might be viewed: "even as [Dogen] sang
of the beauty
of the seasons he was deeply immersed in Zen."