Akitsu Springs (1962)

2 08 2008

After the completely dreadful Escape from Japan, I was beginning to grow a little impatient with Yoshishige Yoshida, but this put all my fears to rest. While it is not as outrightly brilliant as The Affair, it is definitely in the same ballpark. One of the major selling points for this film is that it is the first collaboration between Yoshida and his future wife, Mariko Okada, whose presence contributes heavily to the greatness of The Affair. She is just as captivating here, even if the overall tone is slightly less serious and cold.

Shusaku, a student, finds his way to Akitsu right before the conclusion of the second World War. He is rescued and nursed back to health by a teenager named Shinko, who is an employee at the hot springs. They fall in love, and after learning of Japan’s defeat in the war, attempt suicide together. The attempt fails and the couple drifts apart just as quickly as they met. Their communication is, for three years, completely cut off. Shusaku returns to Akitsu, though, but with news. He is now married and his wife is expecting a child. To make matters worse, he seems to have no interest in reliving his memories with Shinko.

Well, this is generally considered the “melodrama” of Yoshida’s career, at least that is the conclusion from the limited group that has obtained most of his work. Indeed, it is the emotional thrust is greatly exaggerated than in his other films, but at least for my money, I’d much rather see a slightly exaggerated love story than a completely exaggerated heist film, which is what Escape from Japan is. It’s not as though the film is even trying to be a slow-paced, deliberate, and heavy on character development sort of thing, but rather a much more elusive and by result, cinematic, attempt at poetry. Like Hiroshi Shimizu before him and Wong Kar-Wai after him, Yoshida seems keen on capturing moments of poetic sadness that enhance the poignant nature of his storytelling, rather than carefully realizing full characters.

This isn’t a problem, of course, as I certainly love the works of the directors I’ve mentioned Yoshida alongside with, but unfortunately, where Shimizu and Wong are most often sublime, Yoshida does seem to struggle on the side of being overly-dramatic. Perhaps he has the disadvantage of the technology that Wong has, and being as great as Shimizu is impossible (I know – enough with the Shimizu praise already) but I still think the content is the greatest disadvantage. After all, the film is structured in a rather repetitive way: the couple meets, separate, get back together, and then repeat. It would help for him to mix things up a bit, I suppose, but on the other hand, this structure does give him plenty of time for the audience to get acquainted with the principles characters, and makes the moments of heartbreak more defiant. It is not quite up to the unique greatness of Yoshida’s The Affair but it is a great accomplishment in the same vein. Needless to say, my faith in Yoshida has been restored.