To Love review
Ono Seiko and Aaron Gerow
Sun Nov 16 03:16:50 EST 1997
Below is my review of Kumai Kei's new film _To Love_ which has also been
posted on Kinema Club. Sorry it took so long to get it together, but the
newest child (Ian) is taking time away from my other children (the
reviews site, etc.). The former is, of course, the more rewarding.
Japanese title: Aisuru
Production Company: Nikkatsu
Release: 4 October 1997
Length: 114 min.
Format: 35 mm; 1:1.85
o Director: Kumai Kei
o Executive Producer: Nakamura Masaya
o Producer: Yamaguchi Tomozo
o Screenplay: Kumai Kei
o Original Story: Endo Shusaku
o Photography: Tochizawa Masao
o Music: Matsumura Teizo
o Art Director: Kimura Takeo
o Editor: Inoue Osamu
o Morita Mitsu: Sakai Miki
o Yoshioka Tsutomu: Watabe Atsuro
o Chinen: Shishido Jo
o University hospital doctor: Okada Masumi
o Sister Yamagata: Matsubara Chieko
o Chief Nurse Inamura: Sanjo Miki
o Dr. Okuhara: Kamijo Tsunehiko
o Kano Taeko: Kishida Kyoko
o Kamijo: Kobayashi Keiju
Spiritual Aims and Worldly Choices
Launched to commemorate Nikkatsu's return to production after surviving
bankruptcy proceedings, To Love recalls elements of the rich tradition of
Japan's longest running film company (since 1912, to be exact). Not only do
we enjoy seeing the faces of such old Nikkatsu stars as Shishido Jo and
Matsubara Chieko, the photography shares in the deep, saturated blacks that
permeated the backgrounds of much of the great films of the company's
heyday, the 1960s.
But whereas those great action movies of Ishihara Yujiro and Kobayashi
Akira combined this noirish black with the garish neon colors of the
Tokyo demimonde, the overall tone of Kumai Kei's To Love is a crisp, but
faded gray. While stunningly shot by Tochizawa Masao, the film suppresses
the carnal vitality of the former Nikkatsu in favor of the calculated urge
to produce serious art.
Nikkatsu declared in its announcement to produce To Love the intention of
creating a film that would play at foreign film festivals. That it has done
(the movie played at the Montreal Film Festival), but in a year when
Japanese films have been winning prizes right and left at major
international venues - with Kitano Takeshi's violent Hana-Bi the most
coup at Venice - Nikkatsu does not seem to have realized that it can no
longer get by on the festival circuit with just aestheticized seriousness.
Based on a story by the late Endo Shusaku and adapted by director Kumai
To Love has a good pedigree. This is in fact Kumai's third adaptation of
prize-winning novelist's work, following the devastating Sea and
Poison ("Umi to dokuyaku," 1986) and the spiritually complex Deep
River ("Fukai kawa," 1995). The crew is also complete with such skilled
Nikkatsu veterans as art director Kimura Takeo and editor Inoue Osamu.
But in spite of these artisans' presence, the film sometimes descends
preachy tearjerker. In the story, the childishly pure Mitsu (Sakai Miki)
only just confirms her love for a socially alienated youth named Yoshioka
(Watabe Atsuro) when she is diagnosed with leprosy and unceremoniously
packed off to a sanitarium in the country.
There she - and we - encounter the sermons the film too heavily relies
It is a fact that Japan's treatment of leprosy has been abominable. While a
cure for the only mildly communicable disease has existed since the 1940s,
under Japan's long history of legalized eugenics, patients were forcibly
incarcerated and stripped of basic human rights even up until 1996. The
rightly condemns this, but mainly through a series of voice-overs and
flashbacks that are unrelated to Mitsu's story and stink of soap-boxing.
In the end, the Christian Endo's concern is not with this social tragedy,
but with the crisis of conscience Mitsu undergoes. Soon finding out that
doctors had misdiagnosed her, Mitsu eagerly sets off to rejoin Yoshioka
to turn back at the train station. Suffering from Christian guilt and
overwhelmed with the desire to help the other patients who have suffered so
much, Mitsu becomes another of Endo's "average women" who come to embody
love not for a man but for mankind.
Her decision is reflected in the film's own stylistic choices. As she
represses her worldly love for Yoshioka, so the film tones down the sensual
colorfulness of the Okinawan world he represents. This stylistic
spirituality reflects on Kumai's decision not to carry on the more earthly
aspects of the Nikkatsu tradition, but it is never grounded in the
psychology of the woman who becomes its symbol.
Much of the problem is in the acting. The supporting cast is a joy to watch
and Watabe is not ineffective, but Sakai can show none of the emotional
range of Akiyoshi Kumiko in Deep River. That Kumai must resort to blunt
cross-cutting to explain Mitsu's crisis of conscience at the station only
underlines the fact Sakai is unable to do it via her own acting. Again, I
reminded that there are few good young actresses in Japanese film today.
Setting lofty goals of spirituality and high art, To Love never escapes the
shallowness of its lead actress, despite all the skill and tradition that
went into it.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
onogerow at gorilla.ne.jp
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 9 October 1997, p. 9.
Copyright 1997: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow
Yokohama National University
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