The fact that I was able to somewhat enjoy this, in spite of the very unpleasant dramatic tone, is a testament to my admiration for widescreen black and white cinematography. Especially when it’s Japanese film from the early 60s, also see When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (among other Naruse films from the 60s) and The Insect Woman. This film actually has a lot in common with the latter film, but unfortunately, Kinoshita’s cinematic sensibilities don’t align quite as well with my taste as Imamura’s do. Even with a great cast (Tatsuya Nakadai and Hideko Takamine together again!) there isn’t really much to appreciate beyond some wonderful visual moments.
A big problem I have with Kinoshita’s “drama” is how frank, straight-forward, but also simple-minded it all is. In the film’s opening chapter (Kinoshita divides the story into seven sections) we see Takamine’s character, Sadako, being forced into a marriage with Nakadai’s, Heibei. To make things worse, Sadako is raped by Heibei, which results in a child, Eiichi. The narrative jumps forward a couple of years to the still unhappy couple dealing with three children, one of them is Eiichi. Due to the context of his creation, some tension exists between Sadako and Eiichi. The setup between these two characters could have been great, but it only becomes another element to mention in Sadaoko and Heibei’s arguments.
This is where all potential seems to go out the window. The couple argues in the most frank and unrealistic manner, eloquently expressing their complicated feelings in a way that no human being could ever do. Their bizarre ability to accurately convey their feelings is pretty embarrassing on its own, but to add salt in the wound, it’s these interactions that make up the entire film. That’s not to say there isn’t some nice moments here and there, but it is a bit of problem when someone is either crying or yelling 95% of the time. To get a idea of how frustratingly perfect the dialogue is, it made me think of what is left unsaid in most of Ozu’s film. The conversations in Kinoshita’s film are the inverse of the one’s in Ozu. Some people will prefer Kinoshita’s approach but needless to say, I don’t.
Hideko Takamine, even though she has to work with a rather ridiclous script, does deliver another fantastic performance. There’s a few times where she steps into the melodramatic realm that Kinoshita seems to be desperately pushing for, but she maintains her trademark charm throughout the film. Tatsuya Nakadai, on the other hand, doesn’t fair too well. He’s a great actor when he’s given something solid to work with, but he isn’t in this case and unlike Takamine, his acting can’t transcend a pedestrian storyline. I hope Kinoshita’s other films will deliver on some of the potential present here, but I have a strong feeling that they won’t.