WITH BEAUTY AND SORROW (Masahiro Shinoda, 1965)

From Nobel Laureate Yasunari Kawabata’s novel, Masahiro Shinoda’s Utsukushisa to kanashimi to lends exquisite mise-en-scène and color cinematography to a romantic melodrama about a monstrous revenge plot. A young woman avenges her same-sex lover, who years ago was seduced and abandoned by a now famous writer and bore their stillborn child, by seducing his son and drowning him.
     Let us set aside the material’s ludicrous scenario for the origin of a lesbian; that presumably came with the story. Moreover, let us concede that there are insinuated ambiguities, the most tantalizing of which is this: Although the younger lesbian hatches the scheme herself, with her lover attempting to dissuade her, it is possible that the scheme extends to reality something of the latter’s own fantastic wish, especially now that an unexpected reunion with her former heterosexual lover has rekindled feelings for him, thus endangering the basis of her life since him. Where does one woman’s self-loathing end and the other’s jealousy begin? And to what extent does the man’s living son exacerbate the wound of the lost child? There are glimmers of real psychological stuff here.
     But it is very hard for me to categorize this film as anything but trash. The style is overwrought; and while Kaoru Yachigusa gives a nuanced performance as the older woman, Otoko Ueno, Mariko Kaga is so hysterically unnuanced as Keiko, Otoko’s beloved, that the character seems to have drifted in from some lesbian horror movie.
     In any case, perhaps the man’s story would have been the more interesting one to tell. (Perhaps the novel does give it equal treatment.) The most intriguing action, after all, is his contacting Otoko after so many years, presumably spurred by haunting regret, lingering feeling and, implicitly, disappointment in his long marriage.

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