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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

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?

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.

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

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

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

Joi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu / Samurai Rebellion

Joi-uchi: Hairyo tsuma shimatsu / Samurai Rebellion (1967)

I guess it's obvious he gets chopped to bits. Another movie spoiled by cover art

Director: Kobayashi Masaki
Writers: Hashimoto Shinobu, Takiguchi Yasuhiko
Date: 1967

Genre: Chambara
Description: Ninjo vs giri, cruel samurai tradition, a good wife, true love, fight against the daimyo, stupid politics, true internal rebellion, fight to the death

Cast: Mifune Toshiro, Kato Takeshi, Tsukasa Yoko, Nakadai Tatsuya, Hamamura Jun, Yamagata Isao, Koyama Shigeru

Crew of note: Music by Takemitsu Toru

Runtime: 128 mins.
Color: Black and White

The movie opens with Isaburo (Mifune), one of his clan’s best, displaying his sword skill–drawing it seems like a mere ritual after decades of peace. Tatewaki (Nakadai) is his best friend, who patrols the borders of their clan. Eventually Isaburo will rebel (no surprise there) for a very good reason, and swordfights ensue! [note: Crappy summary for your benefit]

This is one of those films where it is best to enter with your preconceptions, expectations, and high hopes. This is the kind that’s most difficult to review, because those said expectations are part of the experience, and revealing anything more than a bare-bones background and a technical rundown may be a disservice to the potential viewing public. It’s best to see this film knowing only its title, Samurai Rebellion, as I did. Also, you should already have seen a least a couple of chambara, and know its tropes genre standards.

Let me just say a few things, though. This is one of the most complexly plotted rebellion films in chambara, and it is one of the things that makes it most interesting. As with all of Kobayashi’s work, there is a rich undercurrent of political and social commentary, about the cruel and incomprehensible traditions of the samurai, and about modern life as well. The story is treated with much restraint, just as the characters in the story control their emotions in order to fulfill either ninjo or giri. The dialogue between characters is meaningful, occasionally metaphoric, and always addressing some social or personal concern. Fidelity, loyalty and the acceptance of one’s fate are traits esteemed by bushido, but sometimes, enough is enough.

Expect a great film about a real rebellion.

Harakiri is definitely Kobayashi’s most popular film, perhaps his best. Even The Human Condition receives more notice than this movie. Those two are justifiably must-sees, but this one deserves some recognition as well. One of the most intelligent, emotional, and down-to-earth rebellion chambara you will ever find. This isn’t an unknown movie by any standard, but it still deserves more than it’s so far received.

things to take note of
The rebellion
Mifune’s dialogue

best moment
Mifune + Nakadai
The last stand
The last duel
Conversation between Ichi an Isaburo in the rock garden

why you should watch this
Mifune + Nakadai!!!!
A chambara with a love story that also proves your expectations wrong, and even bests them

rating: 8.5

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

similar movies, maybe:
Harakiri, also directed by Kobayashi
There are other “rebellion” chambara, but none are very similar to this kind of rebellion

Jigokuhen / Portrait of Hell

Jigokuhen / Portrait of Hell (1969)

It just screams of horrors of hell doesn't it

Director: Toyoda Shiro
Writers: Akutagawa Ryonosuke, Yasumi Toshio
Date: 1969

Genre: Horror
Description: Painting a picture of hell, stubbornness, Heian period, living hell, really really scary and depressing, insanity

Cast: Nakadai Tatsuya, Nakamura Kinnosuke, Naito Yoko, Amamoto Eisei, Oide Shun

Crew of note:

Runtime: 95 mins
Color: Color

Poverty, cruelty and evilness in general during the Heian Period have disillusioned Yoshihide, a famous painter, of life in Japan. Lord Hosokawa, aware of his talents, employs him to make fabulous painting. Yoshihide declines, however, stating that he sees nothing worthy of painting, that all he sees is.. hell on Earth. The lord, at first, is angered by his callousness, but soon decides to challenge him to make a painting so frickin’ amazing and real that even he will be impressed. Painting and crazy shit ensue.

I labeled this as a horror movie, because any film about hell on Earth should be considered pretty horrific, right? I suppose a more appropriate description might be “freaky psychological inquiry into suffering and obsession that will make you very depressed, or possibly want to paint.”

Okay, so it isn’t so much about a physical hell on Earth (no demons, no monsters, not even a sexy mistress of destruction) as it is about obsession and cruelty. Nakadai’s character isn’t really a bad person, and when compared to Nakamura, Nakadai is an absolute bambi. But all men are capable of some evil–can painting be evil, too?

It’s a very interesting premise, one that could have gone very far, especially with the right music, appropriate set design, and frames that subtly emphasize this hell on Earth–crowded rooms, sharp objects, shadows, fire, etc. The movie, though, is but average in 2 of those 3, only excelling in set design. The music fails to create an atmosphere that is haunting/scary yet beautiful, opting to stick with instruments and perfectly progressing harmonies and neglecting found-sounds and odd unnerving notes. This hell on Earth sounds more like a stuffy oldtimes concert. I also don’t think that sliding transitions and a spinning upward-tilted camera works in this context.

Despite my gripes, there is enough in this movie to warrant seeing. The dynamics between Nakadai and Nakamura carry the film, and their respective talents shine. Not quite a horror, not quite a drama, not quite a psychological thriller, but probably something in between.

For some reason, whenever a Japanese film contains the word “jigoku” (such as Jigokumon and the aptly titled Jigoku), I feel compelled to see it, even though I hate being scared out of my pants by movies. With an intriguing premise and two great leads, there is enough to recommend even to those who are chickens in the theater like me.

things to take note of
The painting
Nakadai’s cameleon-like face
Hell on Earth?

best moment
The fire. Crazy.

why you should watch this
Stars two of the most popular actors of the day
Nakamura Kinnosuke in his craziest role
Nakadai in his wimpiest role

rating: 7.25 +.25 for Nakamura’s obnoxious expression + .25 for Nakadai’s facial hair = 7.75

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

similar movies, maybe:
I generally don’t watch movies that will freak me out, so I’m not sure? I guess other films with “jigoku” in the title.

Kiru / Kill!

Kiru! / Kill! (1968)

Possibly the most spoiler-free cover ever

Director:Okamoto Kihachi
Writers: Yamamoto Shugoro (novel), Murao Akira, Okamoto Kihachi
Date: 1968

Genre: Jidaigeki / Chambara
Description: Killing, assassinating evil, backstabbing, traitors, double crosses, complicated plot, subversion of the genre, friendship, the samurai

Cast: Nakadai Tatsuya, Takahashi Etsushi, Kubo Naoko, Kishida Shin, Tamura Nami, Nakamaru Tadao, Tsuchiya Yoshio, Tono Eijiro, etc. etc.

Crew of note: Score by Sato Masaru

Runtime: 114 mins.
Color: BW

Genta, a world weary yakuza, meets Hanji, a farmer who has sold his land for a sword in order to become a samurai, along a dusty road of an abandoned town. They part, with the latter wishing to become employed by Ayuzawa Tamiya. It turns out that 7 samurai from his clan are hiding out in town in order to assassinate one of the clan’s higher-ups. Naturally, Genta gets mixed up with this bunch, and he must use his smarts to save them from themselves.

PS. The plot is too convoluted, and too exciting, to reveal in detail in a summary.

Whoahooo. This is one crazy movie. Part parody, part deconstruction of samurai lore, part epic chambara, there is just too much fun and intelligence in this movie not to recommend it to everyone. There will be some comments about how out of place or shallow its comedy is, but if you know enough about Japanese history, the chambara film genre and this film’s contemporaries, and Okamoto’s other films such as Akage, you will be able to pick up on a more substantial level of laughter. Many of Kiru’s funniest moments aren’t even jokes; it is simply the situation the characters find themselves in, and the events that seem inevitable to take place. In fact, the pace of the movie is perfect, and none of the twists seem absurd, even though this film somehow relies on the absurdity of the period it is set in.

A great performance from Nakadai that ancors everything. He is almost like a switch, moving from feigning cluelessness, to noble samurai, to sneaky yakuza, to badass swordsman in only one expression or less. Everything he does seems natural, and his transformation into the character is amazing. His expressions, his slightly absent gaze, his awkward, teetering stance and walk add to his portrayal. He has never been this funny, and if you’ve mostly seen him as a badass samurai (Dai-bosatsu toge, Goyokin, Kagemusha, etc.), the change really is quite amusing. The supporting cast full of strange personalities and quirks also do well. The gambling head priest, the innocent and unambitious old chamberlain, the fidgety constantly moving henchman… characters so out of type yet fit into the world Okamoto creates.

If you watch this as an entry into historic, period-correct, existentialist chambara, this might not work for you. But if you’re up for some funny deconstruction, this is a must see.

Perhaps not a starting point for those just getting into chambara, but this should definitely be in everyone’s “to watch” list. Maybe after you’ve seen 20 or so important films in the genre, and have read enough about the period and its culture, this will be a great experience.

things to take note of
Nakadai’s performance
Genta’s comments and insights into the situation
The against-stereotype characters
How many times they say “kiru” (in any of its forms)

best moment
Hanji’s conclusion about his wish

why you should watch this
One of the funniest chambara ever
A great genre piece that defies expectations
My favorite Okamoto, beating out Akage and Dai-bosatsu toge

rating: 8.5

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

similar movies, maybe:
Akage / Red Lion
Hana yori mo naho



November 2020