There´s a lovely review of The Balloon by Hayley Scanlon that well conveys the plot and main themes of the film and can be accessed here so I won´t linger much over those aspects. I do want to underline how moving and beautiful I find The Balloon to be. It´s a film that grows on you. There´s nothing formally inventive that sweeps one off one´s feet. Yet this is closely observed work on social mores in postwar Japan, beautifully structured and tightly plotted. The film is built around a series of oppositions: The national vs the foreign, the modern vs the traditional, Tokyo-Kyoto, art vs commerce, rich-poor,-men-women, home vs nightclubs, respectable women and women living on the margins, two sets of siblings (brother and sister), two mistresses (one a kind widow, the other a worldly and cynical showbiz adventuress), two patriarchs — our hero who knows who he is, and his double but opposite, who´s like a balloon, going where the wind takes him, and changing his views depending on what´s convenient.
Yuzo Kawashima is generous and open hearted. Everyone has their reasons. But this does not mean he does not judge. Rich young men who think all women are whores, who seem to have no empathy, and think everything is a transaction are shown in a bad light. as are cynical young women who want to be stars and think nothing of destroying others for sport. But the film understands even as it condemns. What´s especially lovely in The Balloon is the way the film sides with those women who are most fragile and most vulnerable. Money´s important but it´s not everything and at the end father and daughter find happiness in a smaller city, with parks, poorer but gentler people, and traditional culture. It does not feel as conservative as it sounds.
It´s telling that the film made my fingers itch to capture so many images but it was really to covey dialogue rather than visuals (though those are very nice and work very well too.
With Hiroshi Nihonyanagi, Masayuki Mori, Tatsuya Mihashi, Izumi Ashikawa, Michiyo Aratama, Mie Kitahara, Sachiko Hidari).