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June 28, 2008

A Lustful Man

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Koshoku Ichidai Otoko
Yasuzo Masumura - 1961
Kadakawa Video Region 3 DVD

Seeing A Lustful Man reminded me of a literature teacher who's favorite adjective was "picaresque". Of the films I've seen by Yasuzo Masumura, A Lustful Man may not have the fevered nuttiness of Blind Beast or even Giants and Toys, but still finds the filmmaker in a teasing mood. While the story is about a man whose guiding principle seems to be "cherchez la femme", Masumura also undercuts any romantic notions of life in old Japan with the oft expressed statement that being a samurai is stupid.

Raizo Ichikawa portrays Yonosuke, a young man for whom the only reason to live is to make women happy. In addition to bedding as many as possible, he evens spends money, albeit not his own, to free a geisha so she can be with the man she loves. The film is episodic, literally jumping from place to place courtesy of the map that appears between scenes. Yonosuke's generally cheerful outlook is contrasted against the misery of virtually everyone else whether samurai, merchant or peasant.

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While he did not see A Lustful Man, Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay gives an idea of how the film fits in with Masumura's other work. Most of the characters Yonosuke runs into are the down and out, the losers of society. There are even a couple of glimpses into gay Japan as when Yonosuke stumbles into a brothel populated by transvestite prostitutes, and during a brief lock up in prison, another prisoner suggests that they sleep together. The women are considered for most of the men to be commodities to be bought, sold, kept or tossed aside. Yonosuke appears to love women for their own sake and not not simply out of his own sexual needs. The film may be interpreted as a critique of materialism as almost every activity is based on the exchange of money. Yonosuke's father is introduced picking up a grain of rice and explaining that his wealth was in part established by his frugality.

On the surface, A Lustful Man may seem to be similar to Truffaut's The Man who Loved Women or some of the films of Fellini, Masumura's former teacher. Masumura keeps Yonosuke's fantasies in the head of his character, while constantly reminding us of the uncompromising realities of the world he lives in. This may also be part of the novel A Lustful Man is based on, but Yonosuke remains constantly optimistic no matter what situation he's in, a samurai era Candide. There is humor to be found in situations such as Yonosuke escaping from a Buddhist monastery only to find a pretty nun alone in a hut. Thinking he is going to seduce the nun, the tables are turned when the woman reveals she is a prostitute, the habit being a source of erotic fantasy for her clients. More often, the Yonosuke's women come to a bad end, in spite of Yonosuke's efforts to save them. Still, for Masumura, it is preferable to move ahead, looking forward to impossible dreams rather than remain trapped in a reality that offers no future except for death.

Posted by peter at June 28, 2008 07:57 AM

Comments

Peter, I was recently surprised to notice (had missed it earlier) that Masumura's Black Test Car is at Netflix.

Many years ago, I remember showing up in Toronto for a screening of Kon Ichikawa's ultra-rare Hawksian comedy The Woman Who Touched Legs, only to discover that they had shipped the wrong film from Japan--the Masumura film of the same name (what a name!), with Machiko Kyo. It turned out to be a fun romp.

Posted by: girish at June 28, 2008 10:08 AM

Hopefully we will see more DVDs of older Japanese films with English subtitles. I would like to have compared those two films. There was also a recent remake of Manji, which I assume was more sexually explicit than Masumura's version.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at June 29, 2008 11:23 AM