Posted by martinteller on September 30, 2014
The young lovers Haruko (Keiko Kishi) and Hideo (Masanao Kawakane) have made a suicide pact. They jump into a river, but Haruko survives. Because she is pregnant with Hideo’s child, his family — the wealthy Nagura clan — are forced to take her in or else face public scorn. But the cruel patriarch (Yasushi Nagata) is shamed by Hideo’s wartime suicide, and names their child “Suteo” (meaning “abandoned child”) with plans to enlist him in the military with hopes that he’ll die to pay for Hideo’s death. Eighteen years later, Haruko and Suteo (Yûsuke Kawazu) live as servants to the family in a shack outside the main estate. The patriarch has passed away, but life isn’t much better under the thumb of his wife Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama), who clings to past glory… even though, after agragian reform, the Naguras’ wealth and influence is a fraction of what it used to be . Suteo’s cousin Sakura (Yoshiko Kuga), six years his elder, is the only one who shows them any kindness. But Sakura is of marrying age, and Tomi has plans to regain the old Nagura glory by attaching Sakura to a powerful family.
This is a deeply sorrowful film by Keisuke Kinoshita, with a gorgeous score by his brother Chûji. The structure is unusual, with sudden jumps between different time frames. Some scenes repeat, events recontextualized with additional knowledge of the emotional turmoil that lies behind them. The film opens with a marriage and a chase, scenes that have no meaning at the time. When they return at the end, we understand everything. The chronological leaps rarely cause confusion, instead they build comprehension. Watching it come together is a satisfying experience, and the experimental narrative pays off well.
Kinoshita again shows a bitter streak, railing against outmoded notions of status, glory and shame. No one is very happy in this. Haruko is tormented by her situation, Suteo is tormented by classmates, the heads of the family are tormented by shame, Sakura is tormented by her grandmother’s rigid restrictions, Sakura’s mother Sachiko (Ineko Arima) is tormented by the grandfather for not bringing any additional wealth to the household, the thoughtful servant (Chishu Ryu) is tormented by his inability to do anything about the suffering he sees around him. It’s a miserable home, all for the sake of saving face and protecting the family name. Wealth and status, Kinoshita tells us with mournful bluntness, is no secret to happiness.
Beautiful widescreen compositions emphasize the smallness and existential isolation of the characters, often framing them as little more than specks against a massive, imposing landscape. A skillfully executed and very moving lament. Rating: Very Good (88)