I had an opportunity to speak with legend Sir Ben Kingsley about his complex portrayal of Adolf Eichmann in Operation Finale.
There are few actors in this world as renowned and captivating as Sir Ben Kingsley for delivering all-time great performance after all-time great performance. In Operation Finale, Sir Ben Kingsley portrays a man known for pure real-life evil, the architect of the holocaust, in a multi-deminesonial performance. Initially, Kingsley’s Eichmann is presented in Operation Finale as a seemingly ordinary father, who’s disappointed in his son Klaus after he lashes out against his (unknowingly) Jewish girlfriend. He poses the question, “This is how I raised you?” and to go make things right with Sylvia. The audience is then presented with an image of Eichmann sitting with his younger child, enjoying watching trains pass. An innocent activity out of context, a truly surreal, horrifying visual in-context as Eichmann.
It’s the first time in a film we see Eichmann in the context of his family life, showing the audience, these are in actor Lior Raz’ (who portrays Isser Harel in Operation Finale) words “real, real people” who did these horrible things. They are not otherworldly beings or monsters crafted in a book but real people who did the unspeakable. It’s of vital importance to note this fact because as Lior Raz has commented, “It could still happen today.”
One of the most enduring images in Operation Finale is that of an Eichmann being more preoccupied with wiping ink off his shirt sleeve as Jews are shot without mercy in trenches. Eichmann describes that he might have seen Peter Malkin’s sister among them holding her baby, asking for it to be saved, during what appears to be a flashback. Yet, is referenced by Eichmann as what he thinks Malkin believes happened right after. Leading the question if Eichmann recounted what did truly happen or not in the film. Yet, Kingsley’s Eichmann attempts to plead that his crimes were that of his superiors and he was just doing his job. That he should not take the brunt of the blame, or as he calls it in Operation Finale, be the “scapegoat” to Peter Malkin’s [Oscar Isaac] people in Israel.
Eventually, Kingsley’s Eichmann agrees to go willingly to answer for his unspeakable crimes if he is allowed the promise of seeing his wife again. Earlier Eichmann is constantly concerned if is family is safe until Oscar Isaac’s Peter Malkin confirms that they are indeed safe, “What do you think we are?” It’s ironic that Eichmann is so concerned about what might happen to see family when he saw through a plan to see millions of other ones to be permanently ruined.
Sir Ben Kingsley told me that he “was was very privileged to look at him (Eichmann) from the perspective of his victims.” How the “perception of the role was not defined by his [Eichmann’s] ideology,” and rather his preparation for the role, ‘was defined by acquaintance and friendship with his victims.’
Interview with Sir Ben Kingsley on Operation Finale :
Sir Ben Kingsley: Hello Nir!
Nir Regev: Hey, so you played a character that was very complex. I felt you brought a lot of sympathetic elements.
Sir Ben Kingsley: Good.
Nir Regev: It was an interesting character where even after he got caught initially and tried denying it, where I felt maybe again they caught the wrong guy. I’m really interested to hear your research and general inspirations to play this kind of completely new perspective, on what people envision as just evil, and the architect, and all that kind of stuff.
Sir Ben Kingsley: I think that the actual trial showed us how he was perceived from the point of view of his victims. The first time ever I think, that such a trial was televised worldwide and the world had an opportunity to see his victims point to him. In other words, he seemed to be in that glass box shaped and defined, not by his ideology but by his victims. That’s where the truth emerges. I spent time as you probably know with Simon Wiesenthal when I portrayed him in Murderers Among Us, the HBO series. He was the great Nazi hunter, who in fact discovered that Eichmann was in Buenos Aires. And I’ve already played that man, which is very interesting.
Then of course, I moved into Schindler’s List under Steven’s guidance and met the Pfefferberg family and other survivors on the list. And then I was graced with the opportunity of playing Otto Frank, the remarkable father of Anne Frank. In the film footage of the trial, you see the enormous grief unleashed from the witnesses’ perspective. I, from all the wonderful people that I’ve mentioned, including Miep Gies who hid Anne Frank in the attic with her family, was at the receiving end in them of a tidal wave of grief… Accompanied by an extraordinary dignity. And it is that wave of grief that defines what these people did to people. So my perception of the role was not defined by his ideology. And my preparation for the role, was thank goodness, defined by my acquaintance and my friendship with his victims. I was very privileged to look at him from the perspective of his victims.
Nir Regev: The scene in which you wipe off ink and it’s kind of almost like a flashback. I was wondering when I was watching the movie was that supposed to have actually happened? Or was that you just trying to kind of hone in on Peter [Malkin] and try to say ‘Oh, this is what you think I did?’
Sir Ben Kingsley: In the film, he mentions the child had some blood splashing on him. There is a very bizarre connection between cruelty and sentimentality. And also when a soul is stained, there is some obsessive, repetitive gesture that sometimes accompanies that. Like the famous washing of the hands of Lady Macbeth. And it’s a similar kind of dramatic gesture, that I think encapsulates the bizarre combination of utter indifference to the fate of people and yet making sure that his shoelaces are tied properly, and his tie is straight. It’s a very odd combination but it does exist.
Of that fastidiousness, in the dress. And also of course the scientific process, mechanical process, military process of the fastidiousness with lists and film footage, and photographs of destroying as many of Europe’s Jews as they possibly could. It’s very hard for us to understand but it is an extraordinary combination.
Nir Regev: Thank you very much!
Sir Ben Kingsley: Thank you!
See Operation Finale in theaters starting today.
Katharina Kubrick was a featured speaker at the Museum of Moving Image’s ‘Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey’ Exhibit Press Presentation.
Stanley Kubrick’s daughter Katharina Kubrick took part in a Q & A with media attendees during a full fledged presentation of the MoMI’s prized exhibit. Kubrick, discussed Stanley’s legacy, the timeless nature of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a desire to open more such exhibitions around the world. Barbara Miller (MoMI Director of Curatorial Affairs), Ellen M. Harrington (Director of Deutsches FilmInstitut Filmmuseum), Tomoko Kawamoto (MoMI Director of Public Information), and Eric Hynes (MoMI Curator of Film) all introduced the esteemed new addition to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York.
Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey will take over MoMI’s Changing Exhibitions Gallery from January 18 – July 19, 2020. A special exhibit Introductory Discussion with Katharina Kubrick takes place tonight (Jan. 17th) to lucky ticket holders at 7 pm sharp.
Katharina Kubrick answers The Natural Aristocrat’s question at 28:50 (timestamp) about Stanley Kubrick’s brave choice to drop composer Alex North’s already completed 2001 soundtrack in favor of classical pieces he’d used as temporary music. Katharina discussed Stanley’s deep connection to music as a whole, and a certain Waltz he listened in the editing room of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“If you think about the film, everything is spinning and whirling and very slow and graceful. So a Waltz worked perfectly.”
Katharina elaborated further on just how vital the use of music is to a film, naming Spartacus‘ soundtrack as one she wasn’t highly fond of.
“Music is terribly important, and very emotional. I think a lot of people use music badly. I watched Spartacus recently and I thought the music was appalling! And completely overwhelming and in the way of the movie. Stanley’s films used music to enhance the scene or to be the scene.”
Be sure to check out The Natural Aristocrat’s tribute article to Barry Lyndon’s use of Handel’s ‘Sarabande’ as a prominent piece overlaying the film.
Japan Society presented a fresh 4K restoration of 1977 film ‘Tora-san Meets His Lordship’ last month, a picture that truly teeters on the tightrope between comedy and tragedy.
While Tora-san Meets His Lordship’s 4K restoration at Japan Society opened to roaring crowd laughter with a quaint parody right off the gate… The film soon descended into the depths of calamity and ego humiliation that could make a Greek tragedy playwright blush. If Tora-san’s Runaway pulled the band aid of Tora’s hope for love right off, Tora-san Meets His Lordship might as well have taken an arm and leg. It’s teased in the movie that Tora will finally be given a real chance at romance and marriage. That the sun gently dances with him instead of upon him for the first time.
It’s all an elaborate ruse to trick both Tora and the audience as the picture soon pulls the rug out from under its plucky hero and its followers… Then kicks them out the door to a desolate, unforgiving cold world. Their only possession? A non-refundable bouquet of roses with no one to give it to. Though Torajiro ‘Tora’ Kuruma played by actor Kiyoshi Atsumi is happy go-lucky in nature, the ‘loss of face’ in this picture is astronomical.
From his family not so secretly naming a stray dog after Tora, to being made to feel he will never be good enough to win a wife’s hand at the film’s conclusion. That any figurative ring will forever stay in its box, gathering dust… As yet another suitor is forever picked over him. All the while Tora has to pin a smile on his face out of polite civility. A mental torture of an exercise seemingly drawn up in the depths of an imagined Hades. Tora, the perennial vagabond has to eternally watch others enjoy dinner and courtship together through a window.
Tora-san Meets His Lordship’s strategic ploy to game the audienceTora-san Meets His Lordship (1977) – Kyōko Maya as Mariko Tsutsumi – Screenshot/Photo Credit: © Shochiku Co., Ltd.
Mariko Tsutsumi [Kyôko Maya], a widow, is at the heart of Tora’s affections in Tora-san Meets His Lordship. Initially, Tora is asked by a local daimyō (Feudal style Lord) named Tonosama [Kanjûrô Arashi] to help him located his recently deceased son’s widow. At first, Tora takes the search in stride, deciding on a youthful plan to literally visit every residence, house, or store until a ‘Mariko’ is discovered. Just when Tora’s resolve begins to waver after hours of searching the first night, Mariko happens to show up on her own. Tonosama is called upon to meet Mariko while Tora is slowly but surely falling love with her.
Tonosama sheds tears, commenting that Mariko must have taken great care of his son before his passing. In a letter penned later in the film, he invites Mariko to live with him at his mansion-like residency. Even requesting she marry a new husband, with an exceptional specific recommendation. At first Tora’s rage is brewing inside of him, worrying at who this ‘chosen one’ would be… Until a sparkling revelation that the Lord’s recommendation for Mariko’s new husband is Tora himself!
Tora’s sister Sakura [Chieko Baishô] decides to personally deliver the request to Mariko’s work place, sans mention of marriage but with a hint of an additional request. Mariko arrives to Tora’s household to politely decline the request to move to the Lord’s house as she’s recently fallen in love with another worker. Shattering Tora’s heart into a million pieces to be swept off the floor casually, broom in tow, out of civility. Tora and his sister Sakura never mention the Lord’s request of Tora as her new husband. He simply sits smiling out of necessity, nothing left inside.Tora-san Meets His Lordship (1977) – From left to right: Kyōko Maya as Mariko Tsutsumi and Kiyoshi Atsumi as Torajirō Kuruma – Screenshot/Photo Credit: © Shochiku Co., Ltd.
Tora-san Meets His Lordship ends on a comedic high-note of the Lord Tonosama wanting Tora to live with him anyway even without Mariko… And Tora wanting to leave as soon as possible as he’s chased by Tonosama’s assistant to stay. The real meat and potatoes of Tora’s struggle however, somebody to love him back, remains unresolved. A distant hope, that becomes more dream than reality everyday.
Be sure to read The Natural Aristocrat’s impressions of Tora-san’s Runaway 4K Film Restoration at Japan Society!
NYC locals! Follow along Japan Society’s busy Film Schedule and attend a future film screening.
Tora-san’s Runaway returned to the silver screen 49 years later after its 1970’s debut in crisp 4K at New York City’s Japan Society last Friday. The dark overtone message of the comedy film? Hard work doesn’t necessarily pay off at all. Romantic, fairy tale style endings are for the imagination. Tora-san’s imagination that is…
This article contains spoilers for Tora-san’s Runaway.
Tora-san’s Runaway is an exhibit of fallacy in the promise of hard work always paying off. Throughout the film, lead character Torajirō Kuruma is pushed by his sister Sakura Suwa to make an honest living. That a man is meant to toil under the sweat of his brow. She urges Tora-San to stop living day-to-day, lackadaisically wandering through life, with no true planning for the future.
Tora-san takes his sister’s words to heart, knowing she wants the best for him… In fact, Tora-san takes the words so literally, he desires a job where he ‘can sweat and become oily’ over the course of the work day. Thus, Tora-san played by star Kiyoshi Atsumi, decides to reform his street life ways, first superficially through wearing a sharp suit and hat. Then eventually by taking a job selling fried Tofu. More on that later!
Initially, he consults with his uncle Tatsuzō, aunt Tsune, and sister Sakura on the most fitting job for him over dinner. His uncle suggests tempura if he wants to get “oily working” but Tora-san waves the idea off. Making it clear he dislikes tempura. Tora-san’s uncle is already skeptical of Tora-san’s grand, seemingly overnight promise to change…
Lack of uncle Tatsuzō’s blessings for Tora-san
Tatsuzō, played by Shin Morikawa, is not exactly the biggest supporter of Torajirō, outside of getting him out of the house. At the onset of the film, Tora-san’s aunt plays a relatively cruel practical joke on him… Informing Tora his uncle was about to pass on over a phone call.
Tora-san wants to do right by his uncle, and actually sets up all funeral arrangements… Only to discover his uncle is completely fine and well, just sleeping. As a result, his uncle is embarrassed by local town residents arriving to grieve and pay their respects.Though Tora-san’s uncle is mad at his wife for leading the practical joke in the first place, he is furious at Tora-san. Stating he’d rather be dead that have to see him. Even getting a full blown makeshift rope noose around his neck to make a statement. A vulnerable, weakened Tora-san decides to leave but more than hints he’d like someone to stop him, and sister Sakura [Chieko Baisho] obliges.
Why Tora-san really decides to change his life
Tatsuzō later goes to see his old boss, who’s actually dying… And has a railroad conductor son who refuses to see him. At first, Torajiro pushes and pushes for the railroad conductor to go with him and his vagabond street pal to see his dying boss. However, after the railroad conductor speaks of how he went to see his father once in his youth, only to see his dark side, beating on someone… Tora-san gives up silently. This moment changes Tora-san’s life. His boss passes on and never sees his flesh and blood to apologize, which his son called a selfish demand.
Tora-san tells his fellow vagabond street pal to leave, go back home to his father. In fact, hitting him when he wants to stay with Tora-san. From this point forward, Tora-san returns to his sister’s words and wants to be the type of person she spoke of. Instead of drifting through life and ending up like his boss.
Reality Hits for Torajirō Kuruma
After being rejected for several local jobs post-reform, Tora-san leaves in shame to the next town over. There the people don’t know of his reputation, and he gets a job as a bicycle-riding fried tofu salesman. The true apple of his eye, however? His new boss’ peer-aged daughter, Setsuko [Aiko Nagayama] who seems to take a liking to Tora-san. She laughs at all his jokes and visits him each night. Tora-san works harder than ever, and proudly tells his sister he might settle there over the phone.Tora-san’s Runaway – Pictured from left to right: Aiko Nagayama as Setsuko and Kiyoshi Atsumi as Torajiro Kuruma – Photo Credit: © 1970 Shochiku Co., Ltd.
Everything seems to be going in storybook fashion for Tora-san, his sister was right all along… Or was she?
A local tofu costumer arrives for dinner one night when Torajirō is at his most happiest… Torajirō had been asked the prior night if he’d be willing to stay on with the family’s Tofu business on permanent basis instead of as a replacement. When he said yes, Setsuko was grinning from ear to ear, telling Tora-san how happy he’d made her.
Tora-san comments at his most confident that the tofu costumer reminds him a lot of his sister Sakura’s husband Hiroshi [Gin Maeda]. A smiling Setsuko then explains how she and the ‘customer’ (a railroad conductor) had actually been meaning to get married for a while now. However, they needed a replacement at her mother’s tofu shop. Setsuko’s mother Tomiko [Tokuko Sugiyama] tells Torajirō they need to find a nice girl for him too, what type does he like? He replies, “someone like you” joking but crushed.
Moonlight Devastation and a Broken HeartTora-san’s Runaway – Pictured from left to right: Aiko Nagayama as Setsuko and Tokuko Sugiyama as Tomiko – Photo Credit: © 1970 Shochiku Co., Ltd.
The next day, a devastated Tora-san heads back home. His sister chases him down as he leaves his uncle’s residence for a moonlight aimless walk. Tora-san earnestly tells her how he tried so hard but the honest life is not for him, holding back tears. He reunites with his younger vagabond pal the next day on the beach.
The more Tora-san attempted to escape his fate, the more life pulled him right back on track to his destiny. No happy ending to be found. In fact, Setsuko seems partially oblivious why Tora-san left in the middle of the night. Only starting to comprehend the feelings Torajirō held for her… But she does not go searching for him in some kind of audience warming epiphany. Rather, the credits roll just as Tora returns to the comfort of his old life. Hard work failing him.
The 4K Restoration Film Screening of Tora-San’s Runaway occurred on November 1, 2019 in New York City’s Japan Society. A new 4k screening of film, Tora-san Meets His Lordship, will be playing at Japan Society on December 6, 2019 at 7 p.m. EST. Purchase tickets to the event at this link.
Follow along Japan Society’s busy Film Schedule as part of their Tokyo Stories: Japan in the Global Imagination series.