The Affair (1967)

19 01 2008

My personal relationship with the Japanese New Wave has always been a bit unpredictable. Perhaps it’s fitting considering the fact that the movement’s key figure, Nagisa Oshima has similar ups (The Sun’s Burial, Shonen) and downs (Death By Hanging, The Man Who Left His Will on Film) as well as no particular stylistic choice. Many of the films that make up the new wave can be considered immature in just how earnest they are to revolutionize Japanese cinema. Judging from this film alone, Yoshishige Yoshida is quite bit different. Where his peers focused on making their films as spontaneous and documentary-like, Yoshida is closer to the contemplative side of cinema and go beyond superficiality. Again, I’m judging this only on The Affair (Joen) but that’s just my way of saying it’s that good.

Oriko (Mariko Okada) is married and unhappy. Her husband is having an affair and seldom comes home. At a poetry party (?) Oriko sees Mitsuharu, a sculptor and one-time lover of Oriko’s now deceased mother. At some other point in time, Oriko witnesses her sister being raped, well sort of. Soon after, she makes love to this man in a fashion similar to her own sister’s rape.

A meticulously composed elliptical love story, The Affair sits better along side Michelangelo Antonioni’s filmography instead of any Japanese New Wave film. The fragmented style will throw-off many but it’s a testament to Yoshida’s mastery that the film is so easy to comprehend. It’s also worth noting that this predates the start of Nicolas Roeg’s directing career by four years. Roeg’s most complex (and in my opinion, best) film, Bad Timing, wouldn’t come out for another thirteen years after this was made and yet, Yoshida seems to be on the same page.

The fragmented narrative is supported by some of the best black and white scope cinematography I’ve ever seen. The sequence where Oriko makes love to her sister’s rapist is an amazing achievement. Aesthetically, this is more on the detached and rigorous side of things but it also has a Woman in the Dunes-esque sensory visual style. These two approaches tend to be separated from each other. Both have their own merits but Yoshida is able to find the perfect mix. Never does the film feel like a director trying out multiple styles. The visual style that Yoshida created is his very own and cannot be described accurately.

There are some problems, though. The score is a very out-of-place Twilight Zone piece. Sometimes it works simply because it is so out of place that it creates a jarring effect. Most of the time, it’s just annoying and intrusive. I can’t say that Yoshida had a good ear for dialogue, either. It seems like he tried to make every line as poetic as possible. There’s even a few instances when characters just stare at one another while their voice overs chat. This isn’t close to being a talkative film so the tiny problems don’t really taint this beautiful picture. It’s a masterpiece, with sound or without.

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3 responses

19 01 2008
Jake Aesthete

This sounds great!

19 01 2008
Jake Savage

Definitely up your alley.

1 02 2008
gaston

It’s her sister-in-law not sister 🙂

Great film.

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