Ai yori ai e / So Goes My Love (1938)

19 10 2014

A brisk comedy that runs under an hour doesn’t seem like a film ripe for social discourse, but this effort from Yasujiro Shimazu (the “newest” of which I’ve seen from him) is loaded with conversations about the ever overused idea of “modernity.” Shimazu doesn’t restrict the iconography of the modern city into simplistic signs, but instead has them collapse under their own supposedly concrete implications. So Goes My Love is a rich text for anyone interested in Japan in the 1930s, which might be a limited crowd in the film world, but it is vital to any film scholars that even bother with just one Japanese film. This sounds like hyperbole, but so much of western film academics misread into Japanese history is alluded to and playfully mocked here.

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Shigeo is an unemployed writer living with his girlfriend, Minako. Minako makes the money to support the both of them, as Shigeo’s aspirations for a writing careers seem less possible with each day. The couple is no serious financial peril, though. While Minako is not exactly making a comfortable amount of money as a barmaid, Shigeo’s parents are still very much in the picture. In fact, Shigeo only ran away to live with Minako after his father refused to approve of the couple’s marriage. While Shigeo struggles on the surface, his woes and frustrations all happen over the financial safety net of his parents, who are willing to welcome him back once he breaks things off with Minako. Toshiko, his sister, comes to visit and in doing so begins to build something of a bridge between Minako and the family that wants nothing to do with her.

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Shuji Sano, who is perhaps most famous for his roles in Early Summer and Carmen Comes Home, plays the brooding Shigeo here and if one thinks he might come off as a little bratty, that’s the point. This isn’t a tendency film, and if it were, Shigeo would not be the downtrodden subject. He’s struggling and finding himself in the world, to borrow but one cliche to help us construct the idea of the serious male writer. Shimazu is teasing his performance of this role, not the actor’s but the character himself. He’s not the breadwinner in the relationship, hell he doesn’t make anything, but one should look at the scene where Toshiko (played by the great yet forgotten Mieko Takamine) shows up. In this scene, he is intentionally standoffish. While Minako invites Toshiko to sit down and have tea, he quickly and rudely tries to dismiss her. What right does Shigeo have to do this in the first place? This isn’t his apartment, yet his voice, because he is a man, ultimately wins out. At the same time, Shimazu himself frames this sequence with limited camera movement and from a distance. In the surveillance quality of the shot, we are able to understand that he is silly. It’s not that his masculine posturing is unsuccessful, it actually is successful, but that’s why it is so ridiculous.

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While much of the narrative is centered around Shigeo, Toshiko and Minako both occupy an important part of the film’s conversation. For whatever reason, there is an increased emphasis on questions of modernity from western film scholars viewing Asian cinema. I personally believe this comes from a rather simplistic idea about how gender functions in non-western cultures. Women are oppressed there but not here. It’s an idea that has long been used to justify colonial occupation, “White men saving brown women from brown men” as Gayatri Spivak puts it. Out of this line of thought, many western academics shift their attention to how women dress. The question of modernity is a valid one for Japan, a country whose infrastructure was rapidly reshaped only 40 years before this film. The conception and development of the “modern space” is worth researching, but this conversation can’t be limited to women’s way of dress.

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Minako dresses in a “modern” way at her job, but often returns to a more traditional way of dress when at home. One could suggest that this is to appease Shigeo, but he does the exact same thing when looking for a job. Nothing is made about a man’s way of dress, because the potential meanings for clothes is often gendered feminine. Thus, it is ignored when a man jumps between two equally masculine modes of presentation, even though it mirrors the heavily politicized way a woman jumps between two equally feminine modes of presentation. This flexibility does say something, but Shimazu refuses to let it fall into the simple binary of the modern woman vs the traditional woman. The film’s narrative functions in a remarkably similar way. This romantic comedy gets it happy ending when the “traditional” parents finally meet Minako, and find out that she’s wonderful. It seems like a cheap dramatic turn because much of the frustration in the film seems to have been easily written away, but it suggests something powerful: that all of the ideas are tied to something, sure, but not something stable and finite. In this case, it would be wise to question how we imagine the “traditional” vs the “modern.” Neither is concrete, especially when they are in conversation with each other.

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10 11 2014
Shindo: Zempen Akemi no maki / The New Road (1936) | Cinema Talk

[…] its gaze on a country like Japan. As recently discussed in a post on Yasujiro Shimazu’s So Goes My Love, the conversation on modernity is informed by an almost willful disregard for historical context, […]

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