Two for the Road (1967)

18 04 2019

It has been quite some time since I’ve written much of substance on film, be it here on elsewhere. For better or worse, life has gotten in the way in the past two years, and while I’ve still maintained a diet of cinema, I’ve basically taken a break from thinking about it critically. The only film during this period that legitimately inspired me to almost come back to this was First Reformed, a film which effortlessly balances the pragmatic cynicism that is the destruction of our planet with the hope for some sort of revolutionary change. The dire rubs up against the triumphant, but the final note is a sour one. Two for the Road, which could be described as Stanley Donen’s most experimental film but shouldn’t be declared as it, strikes a similar chord. It is both misanthropic and playful, accurately portraying the oscillation between sweetness and bitterness that happens in a relationship.

Henry Mancini’s swooning romantic score opens up an artful title card sequence, which eventually gives way to an equally romantic image: a wedding. The newlyweds in questions don’t look particularly happy, though. This exact observation is made by a woman passing by in a car. She is Joanna Wallace (Audrey Hepburn) and she directs the remark to a man, Mark Wallace (Albert Finney) who we can quickly identify as her husband. He somberly adds, “why should they be happy? They’re married.” Mark and Joanna are about to begin a vacation, but there’s very little excitement between the two of them. The pre-flight drink they share is met with an astonishing amount of indifference. They don’t hate each other, although they will both say so later on, and they don’t love each other either, though they will also say that later on. Instead, they treat their traveling as another chore. Their present-day flight passes over the past, where the two first met. Back then, Mark was also losing his passport and Joanna was also still finding it for him. The film immediately announces a playful interpretation of time.

All of Two for the Road operates with the temporal understanding as the sequence described above. By situating most of the actions on a literal road, Donen and screenwriter Frederic Raphael, brilliantly set themselves up to bend with time. Sequences aren’t arranged or driven by the limitations of time, but instead are connected through space. At one point, Mark remarks “If I ever have a car, I’ll never pass a hitchhiker” while a car passes by him. The driver of that car is him in the future blissfully ignoring some hitchhikers in the same location. The collections of moments that make up the film, then, are not even related by the emotions shared between the two lovers.

In fact, the most brilliant moments of Two for the Road come when a moment of intense romantic happiness is punctuated by one of two things: the couple’s aforementioned indifference towards each other or an outright disdain for each other. The characters themselves position the timeline of the relationship at twelve years, which provides ample time to show the highs and the lows that occur in a relationship. Saying a relationship has “ups and downs” sounds like a cliché recited by an armchair therapist, but there’s a truth to it, albeit a shallow one. What Donen challenges here, then, is the very nature of what romantic love looks like in cinema. Although Two for the Road is not as outright self-reflexive as Godard’s similarly bitter romantic road movie Pierrot le fou, it does meditate on the understanding of love we have in cinema. Since most of our first examples of romance are ones on screen, the ones we eventually dream for ourselves are shaped by these depictions.

Cinema shaping our understanding of love is likely not a healthy thing, since most popular depictions of love fit within a three-act structure. There is the meeting, the turmoil, and the eventual overcoming of it. The temporally loose nature of Two for the Road’s structure bears a closer resemblance to the reality, since we’re never quite sure what “stage” of the relationship we are witnessing. We get the impression that the most bitter moments are towards the end but there is hostility shared in the beginning as well. Henry Mancini’s score often plays under the bickering, reminding us of what once there. Two for the Road eventually ends on a hopeful note, perhaps too hopeful for my liking, but it doesn’t underdo the rest of the film, which exposes the nature of relationships. They are hard work, and sometimes hopelessly so. But sometimes they are worth it.

Hikô shôjo / Delinquent Girl (1963)

31 08 2017

In 1962, Kirio Urayama released the brilliant Foundry Town, a late shomin-geki that effortlessly weaves labor and Korean-Japanese relations into the rich tapestry of a studied family drama. Released by Nikkatsu, a production company associated with slick and energetic crime dramas, Urayama’s film is a rare breed. It lacks the fervor and chaos one may read into anything adjacent to the Japanese New Wave. At the same time, it would be unwise to pin him down as old-fashioned, even if that would bring him into contact with Naruse and Ozu, two of the greatest filmmakers ever. Delinquent Girl, made only a year later, brings him closer into contact with something that resembles the New Wave’s concerns. A film about unruly youth and their agitated politics, its surface is not far from something like Cruel Story of Youth. Yet it switches up a melodrama with exploitative potential into a sympathetic, albeit broadly drawn, study.

Saburo returns from city life in Tokyo to his rural hometown. There, he is reminded of the resistance he faced during a period of youthful organization. His parents and siblings are equally confused by his inability to find steady work. In particular, his conservative brother, sees this idleness as inseparable from a leftist politics and an urban life. Saburo befriends Wakae, a young girl whose academic struggles are greatly overshadowed by the way the townspeople use her.

Wakae’s potential is seen by Saburo alone, who undergoes an attempt to Pygmalion her into an intellect like himself. He tries to finance her scholarly life, but she uses the money to attend to her more immediate needs. His reservations about her are buoyed by the endless gossip around town. Her reputation is constantly under attack, and despite Saburo’s own history of facing the town’s ire, he cannot completely believe Wakae.

Urayama sets up a melodramatic love story, a would-be apprenticeship between the titular “bad girl” and the optimistic scholar returning from the big city. Everything is drawn broadly here. The ridicule that Wakae faces seems stretched out for a fifteen year old girl. Yet, the film establishes that she’s already spent most of her life with her youth undervalued or unseen by those surrounding her. The implication of past sex work sets up a bulletproof explanation for a population of lecherous drunks that Wakae ignores in favor of the “new life” that Saburo’s interest promises. If the film unfolded in such a way, I would roll my eyes and dismiss it. But it switches from a set-up where Saburo is a master then lover to one where he is woefully unprepared to provide for Wakae. He might love her, but love is not enough for the forces bearing down on the couple. Their repeated misses with each other might read to some as graceless narrative developments, but they flesh out a romance that is initially lacking in explanation.

The film’s crucial shift, that from Saburo’s perspective to Wakae, suggests that the opening thirty minutes are a red herring. This is not a triumph of romance, but a continuation of Wakae’s hardships. Life of Oharu might be a helpful reference point here, but Uriyama does not linger in the tragedy of his heroine’s continuing disappointments. Unlike Oharu, Wakae moves on, steadily and with the hope provided by her youth. Saburo, who we once thought was our hero, becomes another detail in her life of hardship. To be skeptical of their romance is not to be skeptical of Uriyama himself, who wants us to question the impulse to buy into a relationship that seems to be tainted from the start. In cinema, it is not always right to fall in love.

Dni zatmeniya / Days of Eclipse (1988)

4 08 2017

Regarding the films of Aleksandr Sokurov, an acquaintance of mine one emphasized the idea that his films are “not bound to Earth.” For whatever reason, this phrase has always stuck with me. There’s a precedent for this in art film, of course. Filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky often looked up to the heavens and towards a life after this one. I think this phrase, “films not bound to Earth” probably stuck with me more because of its poetry. I kept returning to that it while watching Days of Eclipse. While it is not an entirely untrue description, I find the reverse equally accurate. In other words, Days of Eclipse is deeply bound to Earth and invested in exploring its finite quality.

Sokurov opens his film with an overhead shot of a desolate Turkmenistan town. Complimented by a saturated sepia filter, one is hit by the dry heat of the landscape. Housing is visible, but family units seem bunched up together, as if they are trying to blanket themselves from the dead, unoccupied space that dominates it visually. The camera’s acceleration express discomfort. This is the territory most of us only dare to inhabit through the filter of Orientalist anthropology. We can’t actually stay here. Alas, the camera plummets into the ground. In this instance, Sokurov’s film is quite literally “bound to Earth.” More importantly, we are stuck in a village destined to vanish in the haze of its stiff climate.

The crash of the camera is followed by a extended montage of the town’s people. They are often elderly, sometimes grotesquely malnourished, and always displaying the bruises of the inseparable twin forces of climate and poverty. When I first saw Days of Eclipse years ago, I particularly loved this sequence because it reminded the edgy budding cinephile I was of Harmony Korine’s Gummo. In that film, a disaster from the past has reshaped the space of a city’s inhabitants. By extension, it has also reshaped their lives. In Sokurov’s film, there is no one disaster from the past. Instead, it is a natural disaster occurring, the disaster that is our current geological age. It should be emphasized that none of this “natural” even as it pertains to nature. Malyanov is a physician and in this context, represents the idealism of science. Perhaps he and it (“it” being science) can find a solution, but his devotion runs into countless obstacles.

Unlike GummoDays of Eclipse ties its attention towards one individual. The aforementioned Malyanov is our hero, and he is an impressive one. He is youthful, optimistic, and strikingly handsome. It is unclear how long he has been in this village and why he continues to stay. The film’s first line of dialogue is him, perhaps jokingly, informing us that he is on vacation. He is endlessly reminded that he can and should return to Russia. His research is also unclear, but he maintains that he is invested in the region. Despite this, he seldom leaves his house, never interacts with the locals, and accomplishes little. The strangeness of the space overwhelms him, and he is also bogged down by the inseparable forces of poverty and heat, although he gets more relief from it than the townspeople do.

With Malyanov’s perspective privileged, we never reach beyond the surface of the “everyday life” of the other people in the town. When they are present, Malyanov is usually not far off, drifting aimlessly around a local congregation and gazing at them in bewilderment. We are treated to a few more montages resembling the one in the previously described opening. For a film in which the camera often lingers on its protagonist, it seems all too eager to speed through the surrounding population. On the surface, this is a criticism. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky set the film’s source text, Definitely Maybe, in Saint Petersburg. Sokurov has relocated the action to rural Turkmenistan. As a drama about the end of the world, or as I prefer to describe it, a world-ending drama, one would not be without evidence to suggest Sokurov’s move as Orientalist fantasy.

Yet, Malyanov never becomes the European hero to the repressed and darker third-world. Russia’s historical identity is in flux. Today, we now know it as Europe. Cultural imaginations of race or ethnicity can be, at the same time, tightly enforced and vaguely understood. An enormous continent was once Asia, but now it is Europe. In Days of Eclipse, we are in a timeline when the Soviet tentacles stretch towards and sap the energy and resources of places like Turkmenistan. The landscapes has been redesigned to fit the iconography of Soviet’s historical heroes and yet it has also been left behind. It speaks to Sokurov’s power that he can communicate this relationship in one shot, and then extend this imagery by lingering on the spatially-induced heartbreak felt by Malyanov’s closest friend, Vecherovsky. He was forced out of Russia with his mother and father, both of whom he never sees because “they live on the other side of town.” His anguish, it should be said, occurs in the film’s most impressive interior space, a spacious house that his parents left for him before they moved.

It is not all that novel a concept to link science fiction with climate politics. If anything, it has become increasingly unavoidable. Middle-brow Hollywood films, financed by the pockets of industry liberals, make enough noise at the box office to demand a return to the well. Smart mainstream critics can single out these films as “interesting” and speaking to our specific moment. They make the rising tides and record heat-waves the thrilling catastrophes they already are, hinting at the urgency with which we should approach this epoch. In real life, we linger. Like Malyanov, we sit in our rooms, curious for the answers, but unproductive. The reserve energy of the youth is surpassed by a deteriorating landscape that doesn’t even make our leaders blink. Days of Eclipse does not play to our fears of a dystopian future, but instead captures the lassitude of our present. Sokurov’s wide-angle lens fits every inch of beauty possible in the neglected spaces. He has made a movie tenderly bound to Earth, speaking to its beauty and pain in the same breathe. As a result, those rising tides and record heat-waves are not thrilling, but heartbreaking.

L’Enfer (1994)

3 08 2017

My appreciation of Alfred Hitchcock tends to fall short of the fanatical devotion that his rich filmography rightfully deserves. His work is endlessly fascinating, but as someone who spent probably too much time in the world of academia and the cinephilia and the places they overlap, his omnipresence is overwhelming. Perhaps that’s why I never attempted to familiarize myself with Claude Chabrol, who is commonly described as French cinema’s Hitchcock. To me, though, my prior disinterest comes from an unfair association I made between his films (especially his later ones) and the idea of a “French mainstream erotic thriller.” The type of movie that American critics love because it balances the right amount of lasciviousness with competent filmmaking. In watching L’Enfer, I can see why I made such an association but I now see no reason to impulsively reject such a thing.

L’Enfer is a conspiracy film, albeit a sexual conspiracy. In the film’s opening moments, Chabrol gives us Paul and Nelly. We see quick flashes of their initial meeting, their courtship, their marriage, and then the birth of their first child. These happy moments, we will later find out, are fleeting. They are brilliantly presented by Chabrol as slippery to begin with. Each “big” event is given barely a minute, if even that, and then abruptly fades out. With the couple’s happiness established, we immediately move on. What follows is Paul’s gradual descent into madness.

One might feel the need to correct my description of L’Enfer as a conspiracy film. A more accurate reading would be that it is a film about paranoia. While the two often go together, they are not interchangeable. Conspiracy suggests a plan formed by powerful individuals, which often masks an uncomfortable truth about the status quo. If we are to map this onto Paul and Nelly’s relationship, it feels a bit forced. Nelly’s possible infidelity is not a secret plan devised by a group to mask the truth from poor Paul. However, the film achieves status as a conspiracy when the infidelity is framed as something that is done to Paul. This sounds uncomfortably anti-woman, a minimizing of Nelly’s potential to be a fully formed character. In L’Enfer, she isn’t one.

This sounds like a criticism of the film, but I’m not quite sure. In typical conspiracy films, the paranoid protagonist pursues their suspicions, which often provide enough tension between the real and the fake. They dive deeper down the rabbit hole, yet remain aware that they are “going too deep.” In these films, the paranoid individual’s perspective is privileged, and a good conspiracy film can do a lot with this playing of fact and fiction. Chabrol does this brilliantly halfway through the film when a friend of Paul and Nelly projects his summer home video. At this point, Paul’s reality has already been compromised. He’s suspicious that Nelly is being unfaithful, but this is the first instance in which his perceptions have been filtered through technology. A “film” should be hard evidence, and even in the contemporary world, it is often viewed as something objective. Grainy home video of Nelly merely talking to other men is quickly thrown up against glossy, highly stylized compositions of her being explicitly erotic towards them. Paul finally breaks, but it is more about him than it is about Nelly. We cannot pick out the “evidence” from the images his insecurities project. Furthermore, there is no need to.

From this point on, Paul is an unquestionably abusive spouse. His tactics before could be described as mentally violent, but following the home video, he becomes physically violent. He interrogates Nelly’s every breath. Flustered by her husband’s brutality, she seldom produces answers that are satisfying to him. Chabrol deprives us of any moral balance. Nelly does not get revenge, nor does she even escape from Paul’s suffocating grasp. Instead the film ends in ambiguity, explicitly so, as the title card reads “Without End.” It’s difficult to describe L’Enfer as feminist. It chronicles an abusive relationship and does so through the eyes of the abuser. He remains unscathed, save for a self-inflicted cut on his head. Yet, I find something deeply critical in Chabrol’s position. There are countless “erotic thrillers” where the mean, jealous man gets his comeuppance.  These victories are short-lived, not to mention merely fiction. The pain of the individual woman turns out to be temporary, but the moral re-balance, sets the stage for the continued pain of women in general. The former is a short-lived satisfaction, but a satisfaction all the same. There’s something deeply upsetting about the place where Chabrol leaves us. We should be upset.

India Song (1975)

3 01 2017

There’s something that strikes me as intellectually dishonest to describe a film as being “about boredom.” On one level, it feels like posturing, re-writing the experience of a particularly slow film as being a reflection on the particular emotion you felt while watching it. However, there are plenty of films that, if they’re not specifically “about” boredom they indeed reflect on the tension that feeling creates while watching a film. This tension is present in India Song, but in addition to this, much of the film’s discourse comes from the privilege associated with boredom. It is a movie composed of bored, listless subjects and meditates on their actions, or lack thereof.


In the contemporary film world, “slow cinema” is often attached with CriticSpeak by the word ennui. While I think something resembling ennui permeates throughout Duras’ film, I feel it might be instructive to move her film away from that description and the type of films associated with it. While there are technical similarities to the work of Antonioni and Tsai (and everything that comes between), I think Duras’ approach is interested in something entirely different. As a film about boredom, the erotic in India Song is not rendered as something sick, or violent. Instead, eros here is attached to the crushing boredom that Delphine Seyrig is afforded as the wife of a diplomat. Her boredom lends way to her unique sense of time, a sense of time that is shared by the film itself. It is a time that tragically devoid of any consequences.


In his writings, the Situationist Constant argued that technology had already evolved to the point where all labor could be automated. This progress was not reflected in reality because those in power were terrified by what would happen when the working class were stripped of the main instrument of orienting their time. This would be more than just a surplus in leisure time, as leisure time suggests a return to work. Our lives would free of the largest chunk we had sacrificed. Free from the demands of capitalist time, we could now devote unlimited time and energy to creative and “fun” (the Situationists loved games) endeavors. The ruling class live by “capitalist time” as well, but as Duras shows, their conditions are far less demanding, albeit still stifling. This is not to say the film sheds tears for its colonizing subjects, but instead the opposite. As isolating all the material to their unique orientation of time, it shakes up the stability of their position. It is worth pointing out here that the colonized individuals that are hinted at through voiceover (Calcutta, Lahore, and so on…) and their own cries are visually absent from the film. A lesser work would find this population ripe for one-dimensional characters that would comfortably reinforce the position of Seyrig and her losers. Their absence, instead, instills an unease that hangs over every frame.


It is perhaps unfair, but Marguerite Duras is typically linked with one of her earliest collaborators, Alain Resnais. Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet made Last Year at Marienbad, another film that muses on alternatives of time and is (superficially) focused on bourgeois romance. In that film, time and space are the cinematic elements whose conventional linking is broken up. The couple may have might in Marienbad last year, but of course, maybe they also didn’t. The formal trickery of that film relies on the permeable nature of memory. As cold and distant as the film is formally, it plays upon a very human problem of how and what we remember. This is evident in India Song as well, but Duras doesn’t place it as an element of surreal intrigue. The evocation of memory is far less sexy, but she also manages to break up the conventional cinematic linking of time and space. The house in India Song is located right outside Paris, but any audience member realizes it can be anywhere. As the camera pans over a map, space/place are complicated. The link between the house’s architecture and its suggested locale are broken up. The powerful are, regardless of their physical geography, neighbors. Such an idea might have been a stretch in 1975, but it is irrefutable in 2016.


Tsuma wa kokuhaku suru / A Wife Confesses (1961)

20 01 2016

In his 1958 film, Giants and Toys, Yasuzô Masumura emerged with a quickly-paced and sardonic indictment of modern Japanese culture. It was and remains the type of fiery and energetic film that, coupled with the youth of its director, suggests a career of highly critical work. While the film was championed by New Wave figurehead Nagisa Oshima, Masumura did not follow that path. Instead, he stayed with his studio, Daiei, and produced melodramas throughout the 1960s. A Wife Confesses, centered around a love triangle and a murder trial, is one of these films. The elements of his earlier film spill onto the frame from time to time, but otherwise, he has made a handsome and prestigious middlebrow art film. If this reads as reductive, it is, to a certain extent.


Ayako Takigawa enters the court room to much fanfare. Cameras shutter as she ducks through a crowd outside to get to the trial awaiting her. She’s suspected of murdering her husband, Ryokichi, who fell to his death while mountain climbing. Ayako cut Ryokichi’s rope, but the question remains whether or not this was an act of self-preservation on her part. Through flashbacks, we learn that their marriage was never particularly healthy, and that Ryokichi frequently acted abusive. Kouda is also in the picture and while he maintains a naive innocence, Ayako openly seeks his attention. However, he is already engaged to be married and his wife is a bit more wise to Ayako’s tricks.


Masumura opens his film with a stampede of journalists and photographers straining to get Ayako’s attention. The spectacle of modern culture so cynically addressed in Giants and Toys appears to be present yet again. In that film, the camera was the apparatus that constructed Kyoko as an idol. As explained in the dialogue itself, Kyoko’s “everyday” appearance (evident in striking gap between her two front teeth) was the very thing that made her an icon. Ayako becomes an icon in a similar way, her juicy story is made all the more exciting by her typical standing in the world. She jokingly remarks at one point, “My picture is everywhere, I’m a star.” It’s hard to argue otherwise when the media greets her trial with such fervor.  One journalist adds, “Adultery is all the rage these days.” For twenty minutes, Masumura’s winking cynicism seems to be in place. Unfortunately, once the trial gets going, it seems to disappear.


A Wife Confesses isn’t a comedy so perhaps it is unfair to expect more humor poking the spectacle machine of media. However, Masumura seems to lose some sort of edge when the action becomes achingly serious. His “elliptical” editing is rather conventional, well-guided flashbacks triggered by testimonies made in court. In earlier films, he managed to successfully hide the stuffiness of studio sets with his crafty editing and camera work. He seems to soak it in here, which is likely the point for a court room drama. Once again, we’re hinted at something promising early on as the film jumps in-between the cumbersome court room to the vast mountains. Like Masumura’s humor, this interesting conversation on spaces also seems to fade away. It is not that Masumura or his cinematographer, Setsuo Kobayashi, fail to do interesting things with the camera. Rather, it is that they fail to convey anything meaningful about the spaces around them. The arty visual grammar of say, Antonioni and Yoshida, can be seen here but it feels like a pale imitation. Both filmmakers saw the space they filmed as crucial to the story, and not something separate from the actors. Masumura gestures towards the “nicest” compositions and, perhaps, captures them, but everybody and everything is lost. The space is an ornament to the actors, and the actors are ornaments to the space.


This might be expecting too much from a filmmaker, but it was Masumura himself, who equated Akira Kurosawa’s work to “modern architecture.” He seems to “get” it to a certain extent, yet this doesn’t translate in A Wife Confesses. He wrote that piece before Kurosawa filmed High & Low, which this film resembles somewhat. In Kurosawa’s film, the design of a room is constantly in conversation with the actors, the smallest movement of the camera provides an entirely new idea. Meanwhile, Masumura’s performers, even the wonderful Ayako Wakao, overshadow the spaces they inhabit. Nothing feels distinct, a bedroom becomes a court room with different lighting. Maybe this is the point, and maybe I’m being too hard on the film, but it focuses on a simplistic “moral quandary” seems to reflect a similar limitation in the visual style. The film is a noble failure on a design level, even as it is very fascinating.


Tsuki wa noborinu / The Moon Has Risen (1955)

28 12 2015

Penned by the legend himself, it’s tempting to think of Kinuyo Tanaka’s The Moon Has Risen as an honorary Yasujiro Ozu film. While it show signs of his very specific poetic flourishes (via pillow shots) and one of its chief concerns is generational conflict, I think it would be a bit reductive of Tanaka herself to say she’s simply made an Ozu film. Instead, she’s taken the best elements from Ozu’s script and paired it with her unique understanding of the world. Ozu’s fingerprints are all over the narratives and indeed, some of the stylistic choices, but Tanaka brings an energy to the film that is unmatched by any filmmaker in the 1950s. She has undone some of the threads woven by Ozu in a film like Late Spring, the father here is in the background, and our focus becomes squarely on the daughters. As Chishu Ryu fades into the background, Mie Kitahara and Yoko Sugi emerge to the front. Their sibling conflict seems flimsy and light, but Tanaka grants it a value and respect unequaled in cinema. Ozu made the quotidian dramas between generations both palpable and poignant, Tanaka has done the same for a drama within one generation.


Setsuko Asai is the youngest of three sisters. The women, along with their father, Mokiahi (Chishu Ryu, of course), live in the quiet and unassuming town of Nara. The tranquil location is best known for its deer, which is not the ideal attraction for someone in their twenties. Setsuko longs to return to Tokyo, the family’s home prior to the death of her mother. Mr. Amamiya, an engineer for Dai-Nihon Electricity arrives in Nara to investigate the town’s radio tower. Setsuko sees his presence as a chance to act as a matchmaker for her sister, Ayako. However, Ayako is resistant, and Setsuko continued focus on this coupling serves as a wedge between her and her boyfriend, Shoji.


Outside of Kinuyo Tanaka’s directorial chops, the nicest surprise in The Moon Has Risen is the presence of Mie Kitahara, who is otherwise known for her role in Kō Nakahira’s Crazed Fruit. She would go on to appear in a handful of noir films for Nikkatsu, as a dangerous siren. She’s given much more to operate with here, not reduced to the potential hazards of misguided male desire. If anything, male desire has little value to Tanaka. It is not difficult to imagine the same material in Ozu’s hands as spending more time with the family’s father. Instead, his sadness, which is respected, is concisely conveyed in two or three sequences. Kitahara drives the drama, especially in the film’s first half, where her desperate attempts at playing cupid fall comically flat.


Kitahara’s hijinx gives the film a lighter, fluffier tone, but there is something bubbling under her screwball-esque matchmaking. In one of the film’s most beautiful sequences, Setsuko and Shoji hide behind the pillars of a temple as they spy on Mr. Amamiya, who has been tricked into meeting Ayako. The problem, of course, is that Ayako is not actually ever going to show up. The “plans” were made by Setsuko herself, to see if Mr. Amamiya would be willing to meet up with Ayako in the first place. Dwarfed by the architecture of the place, Setsuko wonders out loud, “how long will he wait for her?” before hatching another scheme to inform him that Ayako isn’t coming. The moment is heavily reminiscent of a set piece by Michelangelo Antonioni and the question of “how long will her wait for her?” seems to be a different phrasing of the question posed at the end of L’Eclisse: “will the lovers ever find each other?”


Tanaka’s camera frequently finds the surrounding architecture as either harmonious to the bodies inhabiting it, or acting in complete interference with them. Sometimes this is brought up in the dialogue itself. Setsuko, wistfully clamoring for a return to Tokyo’s urban space tells her father that she’d love to see what the family’s old house looks like today. He, comfortable in the rural quiet of Nara, responds pragmatically “all covered in weeds.” Mokiahi brings up a similar thought towards the end of the film, when he wonders why “dusty and dirty” Tokyo is so appealing to the younger generation. This disconnect is mirrored by his absence in the film, although his loneliness and the melancholy brought on by time’s passing register to the audience, he isn’t given the slightest bit of authority over the lives of his daughters.


While it appears for no more than two or three scenes, the second half of the film does indeed feature a particularly fascinating dialogue on communication. Mr. Amamiya has returned to Tokyo, but he’s kept in touch with Ayako. Embarrassed by the potential for her family’s wandering eyes to lock on to their correspondences, Ayako communicates to Mr. Amamiya through Man’yōshū, the oldest collection of Japanese poetry that still remains. The family studies their love letters, but they fail to reach a conclusive reading. It sounds supremely corny, but their deeply visualized way of communication feels like a precursor to texting. One characters even asks, “Is it really old fashioned (referring to the Man’yōshū referenced in the letter) or really modern?” Ayako doesn’t say much throughout the film, yet she manages to convey something crucial in these letters? And yet, we don’t know what it exactly is.


This is the second film directed by Kinuyo Tanaka, and the second that I’ve managed to see. I hesitate to compare her to the male directors that made careers out of putting her in front of the camera because I find reductive. However, these were her filmmaking peers in the 1950s. Her understanding of design, both interior and exterior in relation to bodies is something that shows the influence of Naruse, but her own way of rendering this relationship is entirely unique and something that anticipate dominant trends in 1960s European arthouse films. The Moon Has Risen feels like the work of Ozu at times, but there are key moments that feel like something he couldn’t have done and I say that as someone who regards Ozu as the best ever. When Ayako and Mr. Amamiya walk along the garden, admiring the titular full moon, the camera follows them. They don’t do anything, but Tanaka’s observing of their bodies feel free and unforced. The performers, Ko Mishima and Yoko Sugi, have unlimited possibilities. Their slight hesitation is so simple, but it is so exciting.