Flame and Woman (1967)

27 01 2009

So far, this is the only Yoshishige Yoshida film I’ve seen that his lived up to his masterpiece, The Affair. Akitsu Springs is definitely on the same level as it, but it is also one of Yoshida’s more old-fashioned features. Good-for-Nothing is okay for what it is, and Escape from Japan is painfully bad. In his defense, it seems like Yoshida didn’t really start with the formal sensuality of The Affair until the mid sixties. Thankfully, he continues it here. On a purely visual level, this is one of the best films you could ever hope to see, but in terms of characterizations, it comes off a little flat and empty.

Overall, I’d say this film is very much a success for Yoshida. After all, I get the feeling he is much more concerned with his aesthetic than he is with drama. This isn’t a problem at all, because he is one of the most technically accomplished directors imaginable. The film stock here is a little grainer than that it is in The Affair but it still looks fantastic, and gives each shot the look of a still photograph. Perhaps this is intentional as one of the characters’ interest in photography plays a large part early on. Ultimately, said character’s subplot is completely abandoned. Not a huge loss anyway, but I do think the story could have benefited from a few diversions.

Almost every Yoshida film I’ve seen so far has been strictly incident-driven, which is absolutely fine when it looks as gorgeous as this film does. On the other hand, this does create a rather large problem. There’s too much story and for that matter, there’s a bit too much talking too. The characters, none of which are all that likable, never seem to develop beyond being human observers to the (seemingly) much more important dramatic arc. I don’t think I should see every character as a respectable and charming person, but do they have to be so amoral and emotionless?

The funny thing about all this is that every person in the film seems a lot more interesting and complex than they really are. The same statement could be applied to The Affair as well, but it wasn’t nearly as obvious in that film. It might just be because Yoshida is obviously modeling his films (on some degree) to the ones Antonioni made in the early sixties. After all, Mariko Okada is wonderful and works perfectly as a Monica Vitti-esque character, but her actions and choices are based on such vague and silly dramatic turns. It’s all a bit bizarre, even more so since Yoshida’s formalism does everything but scream dramatic extremism. As slightly frustrating as the film’s dramatic arc is, it is greatly overshadowed by Yoshida’s technical accomplishments.

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