Sunday, 10 February 2013

Eien no hito (1961)

"Eien no nito" (in English, "Immortal Love", in French "Un Amour Eternel") is a 1961 film directed by Keisute Kinoshita, starring Hideko Takamine and Tatsuya Nakadai. It was Oscar nomination for best foreign language film, losing to Ingmar Bergman's "Through a Glass Darkly". It also has one of the worst Western translation of a Japanese film title once you actually seen the film; as love, immortal or not, is not really what the film is about (Google translates it as "The Eternal One").

Divided in five different parts of roughly the same length, representing key moments in Japan mid-20th Century (invasion of Manchuria, WWII, post-war) as background to the life of couple. This not, however, a romantic tale. Nakadai (later the husband), the heir of a rich family, comes back from the Manchurian war crippled, frustrated and resentful. He takes a fancy to the daughter (Takamine) of one of farmers in his family's land. Out of lust and spite towards the man she loves, he rapes her and then engineers to marry her. Powerless in a society where women were little more than wives and daughters, she is forced to submit, but this will taint their lives and the lives of their children.

For the last nearly two months, I have what can only be describing as binging on classic Japanese cinema of the 1950s (give or take a couple of years). And this is one of my favourites so far. It presented a rather raw and bleak view of a marriage where the wife hates her husband (with bloody good reason), and he resents her for it. Takamine is particularly brilliant, giving us a fully rounded, flawed human being; a fundamentally kind woman betrayed or abandoned by the men in her life; a mother whose love for her children is bounded by her feelings towards their father, particularly her eldest, the result of the rape. Nakadai, as her husband, is never a likable character, but is also not a hateful figure. Instead, he is presented as a spoiled brat, feeling entitled to do whatever he wants by his social position. However, as the film goes on, he becomes more and more a figure of old Japan, puzzled not only by the changes in his world, but also unable to connect with his wife (something he actually wants).

The film doesn't run away from these topics, presenting the story in an un-melodramatic fashion, each line of dialogue full of recriminations. The intention is, of course, that you have to face the story straight on. Although I didn't entirely buy the ending (possibly due to differences Japanese/European culture as opposed to a fault with it) this is one of my favourites so far. Exquisitely shot in Black and White cinemascope and with flamengo soundtrack (sang in Japanese), the film is also a pleasure to watch and hear. While it's not available in an English-friendly edition, there are French and German DVD editions, and the former (which I own) also contains a small introduction (in French) which I found useful on context of Japanese history.