Picture Bride

Key film techniques used in Picture Bride were setting, costume, makeup, camera angles, lighting, and sound effects. The setting of this film was the 1800s. To establish the time; the film had wagons instead of cars, and it displayed the cabin-like home of Riyo and Matsuji without electricity. Also, they had no running water, and had to carry their water. The best use of makeup was Riyo’s complexion. When she first arrived in Hawaii as a city girl, her skin was extremely pale, and by the middle of the film, she had a very sun-tanned complexion on her face from the grueling work on the sugar cane plantation. Matsuji’s complexion was very dark; which proved all his hard outdoor labor. A key film technique was also the use of costumes to depict each ethnicity and social class. The working immigrants wore dirty baggy clothing that showed they were from the lower working class. The Japanese women wore Kimono’s and robes; showing off their Japanese heritage. The plantation manager was wearing clean clothes and a nice red handkerchief, to show the viewer that he was English. The only American woman in the film was the woman they showed receiving her clean laundry. She wore a nice long skirt, and a feminine blouse; showing her American ethnicity. Camera angles were used to show the difference in the social classes, as well. When the camera was on the plantation supervisors, they were close-up, only fitting one to two supervisors in a frame at a time. When the camera was on the immigrant workers; it tended to show many workers at a time. The supervisors were made to look larger; showing their dominance. The camera angles also looked up at the supervisors on their horses. This showed that they were higher in class and were in control of the immigrants work. The lighting of the movie was mainly dim, and dusty. A sharp contrast was the bright fire. Sound effects were used in this movie when the worker’s were in the sugar cane fields. The horse’s feet could be heard as they approached, and the viewer could hear all the hoes vigorously hitting the dirt. The night-time sound effects were also very effective in symbolizing the peaceful time away from work. The wind blowing through the sugar cane fields, and the sounds of the night creatures, both aided in the sense of peacefulness.

The Japanese immigrants had to develop ways to help them adjust to their new lives in Hawaii. To adjust to the harsh toiling in the sugar cane fields, the immigrants sang joyfully. Their songs would tell stories, and even make fun of the plantation supervisors. The immigrants also kept a Japanese tradition, called Toro-Nagashi; which was a lantern floating ceremony to guide ancestors’ spirits back to the other world. Riyo sent two lanterns out to sea; one for Kana and her son, and one for her parents. The joyful singing and the floating lanterns of the Japanese immigrants, showed their inner peace with their new life in Hawaii.

Picture Bride represented many different ethnicities. There was an American woman, an English plantation manager, a Portuguese plantation supervisor, and Japanese and Filipino immigrants and laborers. The American woman was very kind to Kana and Riyo, but it was obvious that she held an upper-class status, and Riyo and Kana did not speak of their personal lives to her. And example of this was when the American woman asked Riyo how her arranged marriage was, and Kana answered quickly for her; saying that it was fine. The English plantation manager was exhibited as a ‘nice guy’ when the Portuguese plantation supervisor was yelling at Riyo and was about to strike her. The English manager said that times had changed since slavery and put a stop to the Portuguese supervisors’ harsh actions. The Portuguese supervisor was jealous towards the English manager’s quick promotion, while the Portuguese supervisor had been their ten years. The Japanese and Filipino’s were treated unequally when it came to pay. The Filipino’s received less pay for the same amount of work. This showed that Filipino’s were viewed as being the lowest in status. In chapter 19 in the text Out of Many, a similarity of the explanation of immigration, was that many immigrants came to the United States for better opportunities; only to change their mind, and try to work hard to save enough money to return home. The text also explained that in the late 1800s, unfair treatment based on region, class, race, and gender did not ease as the economy prospered. In Picture Bride Matsuji and many of his Japanese friends, drank allot. In comparison, chapter 19 of the text Out of Many, pointed out that in many immigrant communities, alcoholism rates soared.

The working conditions for the different ethnic groups were completely different. The Japanese and Filipino’s had to work on their feet all day, and some even walked to work. They had to do heavy duty labor in the fields to plant, fertilize, and harvest the sugar cane. The English manager and Portuguese supervisor worked on horses. Their job appeared to be solely supervision and poor uses of motivation. They did no heavy labor, and did not have to walk to work. In chapter 19 of the text, immigrants could live better here in the United States, but they had to work much harder.

There were many gender relations in the film. The Japanese women appeared to be responsible for cooking and child care because Riyo would do the cooking for Matsuji, and Kana always had her child in her arms. When Riyo and Matsuji went to take bathes, Matsuji told Riyo to go first and get the warmest water, which showed his chivalry, along with when he went to help her off the wagon in the beginning of the movie. A difference within the genders was the status difference. The American woman most likely did not have to work, because her husband made enough money. This is assumed, because she could afford to have her laundry washed by the Japanese immigrants.

The director’s intended message in Picture Bride was to inform people of the inner strength and coping of the immigrants of the 1800s. The immigrants’ hardships included the racism and unequal treatment, and the miserable living and working conditions. The director wanted people to see the quiet determination of the immigrants; especially expressed through their joyful singing.

Picture Bride appears to be fairly historically accurate. For the Hawaiian sugar cane plantations of the late 19th century and early 20th century, thousands of workers were needed to plant, hoe, fertilize, irrigate, weed, burn, cut, harvest, load, and mill. The movie did only show a small number of immigrants working at one time, however; it was a representation of the many workers that a plantation required. Research shows that the wages of the hard labor were even more disappointing than the harsh living and working conditions, which was shown in the movie when Riyo got paid for the first time. Historically, the time of picture brides was from 1908 to 1924. The picture brides’ purposes were to take care of the home, children, and to work along side their husbands in the fields; which was also shown accurately in the film. Research shows that some plantations had camps that were temporary homes for immigrants, which was not shown in the movie. A part of research that is interesting and would have benefited the film is that pictures of men were taken by professional photographers who often used the same suit over and over, so the laborers would look more distinguished. This would be important because the film showed Riyo’s disappointment of having received an old photo, and would add to that falsehood of the men’s photo’s.

Works Cited

Bill, Teresa. “Field Work and Family Work: Picture Brides on Hawai’i’s Sugar Plantations, 1910-1920.” http://www.naatanet.org/picturebride/idx_field.html, 1995 [accessed February 8, 2003].

Ogawa, Dennis. “The Japanese in Hawaii: 1885-1920.” http://www.naatanet.org/picturebride/idx_japan.html, 1995 [accessed February 8, 2003].

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