12 May 2017 | zetes
Pretty, but dull
The Japanese New Wave is one of my favorite cinematic movements, and this film comes recommended as one of the best of its era. Very unfortunately, it didn't do much for me at all. The one thing about it that I'll say right off the bat really impressed me was the cinematography. No time and place ever produced such gorgeous black and white movies, and this is up there with the best.
The film itself, though, is very slow-moving, kind of pretentious, and uninvolving. The story involves two timelines, one set in the Taisho period (starting in 1916) and the other in the present. It's about free love and the sexual revolution. In 1916, the philosopher Sakae Osugi practices and writes about free love. I'm pretty sure the Japanese word for philosopher translates literally in English to "aloof jerk," because this guy's version of free love is to screw around with different women and then say "Why can't you be chill about this?" when they confront him. In particular, Itsuko Masaoka becomes wildly jealous when he starts seeing Noe Ito on the side. She begins brandishing a knife, always threatening to get stabby with it. Late in the movie, there are like three consecutive sequences that take up a good quarter of the movie where she fulfills her promise.
The 1960s stuff involves two students who are studying Osugi. They have their own problems, but want to subscribe to the free love idea, which seems to be expanding around the world. At least in the director's cut, these segments take up only about a quarter of the film.
Look, I don't generally do well with long films, and perhaps this one's 3 hours and 36 minutes were just too daunting for me. The fact is, though, from the very beginning I was pretty bored with this one. 90% of the scenes just involve two or three people sitting around in a room bickering. I give Yoshida much credit for keeping it visually interesting throughout. The guy definitely has talent, but I wonder if this independently produced art film gave him too much freedom. Maybe he'd be better reigned in.
Whatever the case, I'm still perfectly happy to have this new Arrow Academy box set. Outside of Criterion, they're the best home video production company today. I hope I like the other two films better, and I hope one day I get to take a look at Yoshida's earlier, studio-produced films.