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Eien no hito / Immortal Love

Eien no hito / Immortal Love (1961)

Only a French DVD exists I think. English people, you disappoint me.

Director: Kinoshita Keisuke
Writers: Kinoshita Keisuke
Date: 1961

Genre: Drama
Description: Forced marriage, unhappy marriage, not quite a love story

Cast: Nakadai Tatsuya, Takamine Hideko, Sada Keiji, Otawa Nobuko, Tamura Masakazu, Totsuka Masaya, Ishihama Akira, Fuji Yukiko, Nonomura Kiyoshi, Kato Yoshi, Tôno Eijirô

Crew of note: Music by Kinoshita Chuji

Runtime: 103 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Heibei has just returned crippled from the Sino-Japanese war. He is the son of the town’s leader, living on what the village calls the family’s “mound”. He spots Sadako, who has turned into a beautiful woman in his absence. He immediately falls in love with her (more like lusts for her), but she in turn is in love with Takashi, who has yet to return from the war. Using his father’s position and influence, Heibei forces Sadako to marry him, and we witness 29+ years of their miserable life together. Also, Spanish flamenco music in Japanese?

review
Sounds like your average troubled marriage film, but unlike many such films that are either totally pessimistic or totally optimistic about the fate of the marriage, Eien no hito is.. sort of different. Reason: Heibei and Sadako are both jerks. Yup, a story about a married couple trying to make each other f’ing miserable. Sounds delightful!

Under some less able director or with a less talented cast, many of these characters would just end up as one dimensional charicatures, annoying and unbearable to watch. Nakadai is at his most vile (even worse than in his later Gosha starrers) and Takamine pumps out every last bit of her sarcasm and passive aggressiveness (accumulated from her Ozus and Naruses), yet it is not possible to say that they go so far as to become detestable. Their relationship is pretty messed up–and by that I mean really complex–and it’s a wonder why they’re still together apart from making each other miserable.

It sounds depressing, but not really. These periods of exceptional bitterness are sandwiched between longer periods of relative peace, where, I assume (because they aren’t shown), nothing really terrible happens. They just happen to be stuck in the same house together, is all.

The English title is Immortal Love, which makes you think it’s supposed to be a love story, or that there’s any love at all between Heibei and Sadako, and the title can be misleading, I think. In Japanese it only means “eternal person”, not necessarily someone you love (that would be “koibito” or some other term of affection). And perhaps this title is more accurate, granted a lot more ambiguous. They are just two people stuck together for life (under the social construct that is marriage). Whatever there is between them, love or hate or something else, well, you get to see and understand eventually.

But the film would not be what it is if it weren’t for the music and the matching cinematography. It’s 1961, and Kinoshita throws a curve ball straight at your head by using what is probably Spain’s national music style (I’m too lazy to research), flamenco, with a singing narrator. Sounds cheezy, maybe, but it works perfectly. The angled, abrupt start-stop style of music fits well with the characters’ similarly rigid and confrontational personalities. The film is also decidedly underexposed during many scenes, with flickering light and darkness and jagged outlines of rocks, mountains, and blades of grass. Quick, rapid cuts, slow pans and zooms, still shots are all used in a striking blend; you will notice when one is used over another. There are also some of the most beautiful looking clouds I’ve seen in a black and white movie: dark, ominous, lying low in the sky. Kinoshita probably used a red filter to get this look, maybe. It’s very pretty?

Nakadai Tatsuya in Eien no hito

Hatching an evil plot and recounting fond childhood memories look exactly the same, apparently

So, interesting characters, good story, amazing music and pictures. A good ending too.

conclusion
It’s an unlikely mix. In no way does the music resemble anything Japanese, except for the language, yet it works perfectly, and that in itself is a great achievement. It’s also surprising how a chronicle of two people’s crappy hate-filled relationship can be more interesting than a feel-good love story. I generally try to avoid definitive comparative statements, but to me, this is Kinoshita’s best film.

Takamine Hideko and Sada Keiji in Eien no hito

Insert el_flamenco_de_hapon_loco.mp3

things to take note of
The music!
The backgrounds/setting
Those clouds are purty

best moment
Whenever there is music

why you should watch this
The best use of flamenco music in a Japanese movie ever. Also, it’s my favorite movie among those I’ve seen in the past 2 months (out of around 40-50).

rating: 9

scorecard
Plot: B
Cast: B+
Cinematography: B+
Music: A++++
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
…that use flamenco? Nope, nada.

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Kokoro / The Heart

Kokoro / The Heart (1955)

Their faces make it clear enough: this isn't a sappy romance film?

Director: Ichikawa Kon
Writers: Hasebe Keiji, Inomata Katsuhito, Natsume Soseki
Date: 1955

Genre: Drama
Description: Husband-Wife relationship, troubled marriage, sins of the past, a haunted man, friendship, buddhism

Cast: Mori Masayuki, Aratama Michiyo, Mihashi Tatsuya, Yasui Shoji, Tanie Kitabayashi

Crew of note:

Runtime: 122 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Nobuchi and Shizu are a married couple, but something from their shared past has troubled their relationship since its beginning. Nobuchi mostly keeps to himself, his books, and his thoughts, with few friends except for one sympathetic student with whom he feels an odd affinity with. This dark secret that only he knows haunts him day and night; will we ever find out what it is?

review
A surprisingly deep film with very complex and difficult characters. At first it seems the movie will just become another marital affair film, but in fact it is more about the past, one’s sins, living on with what you have, and difficult circumstances. Barely anything happens, and most of what is shown is directly related to the main plot, with very little diversions, not a frame wasted. Yet the movie is also very still, very silent, very somber, an incredible effect that Ichikawa achieves with close and mid-range shots and characters that are constantly in flux of emotions and movement. The voices are muted, but never totally silent, and the economy of their words is very Japanese. Another great factor in this film is the almost inexplicable bonds between Nobuchi, Shizu, and Kaji. A movie that seems boring and uneventful on the surface, but the characters and their respective performances make this a real wonder.

There is something very raw, very base about the characters in the film, as if they were acting upon their deepest, simplest desires. The transition between the present and the past is also done well, with flashbacks inserted into the most appropriate moments. Movies that use multiple flashbacks cut into the main timeline usually feel very fragmented and confusing, yet in Kokoro, the past is so significant, so a part of the present that the breaks in continuity are barely felt. At the end of the film, once everything is revealed, it is not sympathy, and perhaps not even compassion that one will feel with the main characters. It is something more complex, more conflicted. I am at odds at what word is best, so I guess I’ll just leave that idea incomplete and let you find out for yourself.

Aratama Michiyo in Kokoro / The Heart

❤ (The first pun ever made with symbols? Quite possibly!)

conclusion
Although nothing much happens on the surface, there is a pot (maybe a barrel) of boiling water (note: emotions, if you suck at metaphors) underneath. With three sticks of dynamite. If you appreciate the importance of character, and the exploration of a man’s psychology, his past, and his conflict, then this’ll be a real treat. Few can surpass Ichikawa’s study of Nobuchi captured on film.

things to take note of
Kaji’s buddhism
Nobuchi’s conflict
Shizu’s repression

best moment
Whenever Kaji and Nobuchi argue

why you should watch this
Incredibly complex emotions
Some of the most well developed characters evar

rating: 8.5

scorecard
Plot: B+
Cast: A
Cinematography: B+
Music: C+
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
Meshi / Repast, directed by Naruse Mikio
Both versions of Spring in a Small Town (1948 and 2002)

Xiao cheng zhi chun / Spring in a Small Town

Xiao cheng zhi chun / Spring in a Small Town (1948)

I don't think I remember him ever wearing a suit

Director: Fei Mu
Writers: Li Tianji
Date: 1948

Genre: Drama
Description: Romance, a love affair, a small town, trapped in a marriage, life, learning to live on

Cast:Wei Wei, Shi Yu, Li Wei, Zhang Hongmei, Cui Chaoming

Crew of note:

Runtime: 93 mins.
Color: BW
Trivia: #1 on the Hong Kong Film Awards’ 100 Greatest Chinese Films list

summary
A decade after the war, Yuwen and Liyan try to rebuild their lives and their ancestral home in a small, nameless town somewhere in China. Stricken with a heart ailment, Liyan spends his days bedridden, cared for by his wife, sister and caretaker. Zhicheng, a friend from Liyan’s childhood, returns as a doctor to stay with the family, and it turns out he and Yuwen also share a past. At first, his arrival brings familiarity, but many changes are afoot.

review
Seemingly simple yet immensely deep. For a movie made right after the war and during a confusing and tumultuous time in China, the movie feels very assured, confident, and complete. While the cinematography and music only serve its purpose, the movie’s characters and the depth of the story are enough to make this film deserve its spot as a classic.

The story focuses on Yuwen, who is torn between Zhicheng (modernism) and Liyan (tradition), but the premise of the film is literally years ahead of its time. The movie was made 2 years after WW2, but takes place 8 years after, and the China that the movie paints remains one of the most real depiction of that period, despite being made earlier. The hopelessness, lack of enthusiasm, loneliness, destruction, and dividedness of the characters are all unique allusions to period.

Liyan with his sickness and sincere feelings, Yuwen torn between responsibility and love, and Zhichen struggling between his friendship and his desire, are all complex and modestly approached with hand gestures, body postures, silence, and simple dialogue. The internal conflict here is obvious, and it is heart wrenching. It is intimate, balanced, and nonjudgmental. In fact, that may be the film’s greatest achievement.There is no antagonist in this movie, and despite the conflict between the characters, it is impossible to say that one is better or worse, deserves more or less, than any of the others. When the film is resolved, it is difficult to say whether it is right, appropriate, or morally good. All three are equals, and must make their own decisions. Fei Mu is able to pass on his nonjudgmental attitude to the audience, and we can only watch as the story unfolds.

The movie is also filled with symbolism: the shots of the crumbling wall, the handkerchief, the house’s broken wall, etc. It is a joy to try and find the many subtleties Fei Mu has included in the film. The only shot outside the small town’s wall occurs during the last scene, when everything is resolved and the characters are no longer trapped within themselves.

conclusion
SEE THIS MOVIE NOW, AND THEN WATCH THE REMAKE.

things to take note of
The architecture
Wei Wei’s gestures and expressions
Shi Yu’s posture
The internal conflict

best moment
Their afternoon walks along the wall

why you should watch this
A rare glimpse at post-war, pre-communist, semi-rightist Chinese cinema. Considered #1 for a reason, though of course the choice is debateable.

rating: 9

scorecard
Plot: A
Cast: B+
Cinematography: B
Music: C+
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
Tian Zhuangzhuang’s version

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