(Japan 1967 99m) DVD1
Aka. Ai no kawaki
The Fall of the House of Sugimoto
p Kazu Otsuka d Koreyoshi Kurahara w Shigeo Fujita, Koreyoshi Kurahara story Yukio Mishima ph Yoshio Mamiya ed Akira Suzuki m Toshiro Mayuzumi art Kazuhiko Chiba
Ruriko Asaoka (Etsuko), Nobuo Nakamura (father-in-law), Tetsuo Ishidate (Saburo), Akira Yamauchi (Kensuke), Chitose Kurenai (Miyo), Yuko Kusunoki (Chieko), Yoko Kozono (Asako),
The name of Koreyoshi Kurahaha is not one that you will find in many lists of important Japanese directors, at least in western books. With giants like Yoshida, Masumura and Oshima barely listed either, what chance did Kurahara have? I first became aware of him for his 1957 noir film I am Waiting, which debuted on the Criterion Eclipse Nikkatsu Noir set. It was a nice little thriller which, while not quite up to the masterworks of its type, at least merited a mention in despatches and gave its popular lead Yujiro Ishihara a role to relish as a knight in rusty armour.
The announcement later of an Eclipse set devoted purely to Kurahara was met with enthusiasm in eclectic circles. Five important films were included; Black Sun and Intimidation seemed solid works but very much of their time, while The Warped Ones, which gave the boxset its title, likewise seemed a bit of a relic. It was the other two that were of most interest; I Hate But Love, the only one of the five in colour, was an entertaining discourse on the mania of celebrity, with Ishihara again well cast as the hero who just wanted to be left alone. Equally fine as his harassed female assistant was a young Ruriko Asaoka, an actress likewise rarely mentioned in western circles amongst the great Japanese actresses, but the same is also true of Ayako Wakao and Mariko Okada and Asaoka, while not perhaps having the brilliant series of roles that those two actresses’ favourite directors gave them, was always a welcome sight and here gives what surely ranks with her very finest performances.
Asaoka plays Etsuko, the widow to a retired businessman’s second son, who lives with her father-in-law at his estate. Also there are the father’s other son, Kensuke, now idling away his days as a wastrel with his wife, his daughter and her children, with two retainers, servant Miyo and gardener Saburo. It’s a perverse household, where Etsuko calls the old man ‘father’ but is actually his mistress, and where Etsuko becomes slowly interested in the gardener. It becomes an increasing obsession, so that she seeks various opportunities to seek him out and treats him badly and her obsession only grows the darker when she learns that Saburo has impregnated Miyo. Saburo is coerced into agreeing to marry Miyo, but Etsuko will have none of it and persuades Miyo to have an abortion while Saburo is away for a few days, and Miyo leaves distraught.
Such a study of almost unfathomable obsession could only come from the pen of Yukio Mishima, and its heightened emotions frequently threaten to burst forth from the screen. Gorgeously shot in monochrome (aside from a couple of rapturous bursts into blood red) ‘Scope by Yoshio Mamiya, its deliberately overexposed lighting gives whole sequences a sense of delirium. There are portions that play just this side of parody, including a darkly humorous dinner sequence played out to Beethoven’s 5th and Johnnie Walker. There are fine supporting turns from Nakumura and Kusonoki in particular, but it’s Asaoka who dominates as the fulcrum to the piece, portraying Etsuko as equal parts masochist and neurotic, putting her hand in an open flame and not feeling anything, reacting to each and every development with self-absorbed absurdity and feeding on her inherent despair right up to the finale. And in all this, just watch how Kurahara uses his environment, not least a lonely street set on a steep incline and with banked walls on both sides like a relic of Persepolis or Troy or a pair of seemingly derelict greenhouses where the final confrontation takes place.