Yuwaku / Temptation (1948)

4 07 2015

Infidelity is a narrative icon for melodrama. The act, or the threat of it, carries such a powerful weight that it is less a trite move but rather the groundwork for moral musings. Of course, it might help that the average film that explores this is targeted to men, who the idea of forgoing a commitment to someone younger and sexier is well, tempting. Kozaburo Yoshimura, fresh off the success of A Ball at Anjo House, found the motif worthy of exploring. Despite the best efforts of the wizardry of his camera and the excellence of his actors, Temptation ends up feeling flat. It’s a worthwhile film, sure, but when one considers the talent involved, it should have been much more.


Grieving at the grave of her recently deceased father,  Takako runs into Ryukichi. Ryukichi, who is now married with two children, was one of her father’s students, and the two decide to travel together back to Tokyo. They make to Gifu and decide to stop for the night, but the housing options are limited and the two are forced to share a bed. Back in Tokyo, Takako’s flatmate, Takeda is taken away by the police for making unauthorized sales. Ryukichi offers to help Takeda in court and to let Takako stay with him. Takako becomes a maid, taking care of his kids while their mother, Tokie, battles an undisclosed illness at a beach house in Kamakura. This living arrangement is ideal, but the passion between Takako and Ryukichi starts to be inexorable.


The two main players here are Setsuko Hara and Shin Saburi, who are, of course, excellent. Hara is despondent and hopeless, she moves with the weighty anxiety of a Antonioni character. She props herself up on telephone poles and railing, almost as though the sadness of her father’s death has made standing a chore. Once she’s invited to become Saburi’s maid, things shift. Yoshimura wants us to see her as irresistible so a smile seldom fades from her face. In one sequence, he photographs her face with the same closeness that Dreyer photographed Renee Falconetti. The sensation is different, Hara glows not to evoke our sympathy, but to understand Saburi’s temptation. It’s effective filmmaking, but it leads the film to its downfall: despite occupying the screen most of the time, Hara as Takako, is often reduced to a piece in a man’s moral crisis.


Tokie, the suffering and defenseless wife, is played with the compassion one should expect from Haruko Sugimura. Unfortunately, her suffering becomes a justification for Ryukichi. Early on, Ryukichi offers a light critique of traditional Japanese architecture to Takako, emphasizing the doors and partitions that protect them, like a fortress, from the outdoors. The next scene opens in Tokie’s beach house in Kamakura, which would look comfortable sitting on Malibu beach. The doors aren’t as imposing and the windows are wide open, the house itself feels outdoors. This is the more democratic alternative, and Yoshimura sees it as healthier. The sun feels immediately accessible and there are less structures to hide something. Something like an affair.


Takako and Ryukichi’s attraction for each other eventually boils over, if only for a fleeting second. Of course, that’s the very moment that Tokie walks in on them. Later, Takeda, freed by the court of his charges, proposes marriage to Takako. Her face is turned towards the camera and her back to his face. It resembles a better scene in Ozu’s Early Summer, featuring (fittingly) Haruko Sugimura and Setsuko Hara. Hara’s back is to the camera and the only face it captures is Sugimura’s, one of jubilation. Maybe that’s a sign of Temptation‘s weakness, it’s nice enough to remind you of other films (Repast also comes to mind) and maybe the connections aren’t incidental, but it all ends up like a parody of melodrama, something closer to a horror film.





One response

9 07 2015
Onna no naka ni iru tanin / The Stranger Within a Woman (1966) | Cinema Talk

[…] for a noir, most of it takes place in the suburban comfort of Kamakura. Kozaburo Yoshimura’s Temptation also shows us Kamakura, but it seems that much has changed in a short eighteen years. […]

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