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October 01, 2011

Thirst for Love

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Ai no kawaki
Koreyoshi Kurahara - 1966
Eclipse Region 1 DVD

Maybe had I seen Thirst for Love closer to when it was released, I would have liked it much more. The film has all of the visual trademarks of Kurahara's previous films, and then some. The arty juvenilia of I am Waiting and The Warped Ones has given way to full blown pretentiousness in the service of Yukio Mishima's musings on art and life. Kurahara seems to have been given permission to overuse shots where the camera is looking directly over the characters, a visual tact often used by Robert Aldrich with greater restraint. Even worse are the slow motion shots and exaggerated sound effects, and montages of still photographs. There is also some use of both printed and voice over narration taken from Mishima;s novel. The overall effect is of a filmmaker beating the viewer over the head with the reminder that he's making a movie that is every bit as artistic as anything from Europe. Not surprisingly, Nikkatsu studio bosses considered the film "too arty", according to Mark Schilling in his book on Nikkatsu films.

The story is about a young widow, Etsuko, who lives as the mistress of her father-in-law. The relationship appears even more incestuous with Etsuko always addressing the man as "father", whether at the family dinner table or in bed. With what is certain to be a nod to D. H. Lawrence and Lady Chatterly's Lover, Etsuko is attracted to the young gardener, Saburo. Meanwhile, Saburo is revealed to have a relationship with the family maid, Miyo. It's a drama about class and sex which ends badly for almost everyone. Or to describe the essential plot of several of Mishima's novels: a person is unhappy with discrepancy between the real world and an unrealized ideal, and makes a point of destroying that which has failed to meet their expectations.

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I'm not going to deny Yukio Mishima's skills as a writer. I refuse to buy into his philosophy.

What is good about the film, Thirst for Love, is to watch it as a visual poem about the geography of Ruriko Asaoka. Kurahara returns to filming immense close-ups, of not simply the actress's face, but her large, almond shaped eyes, her tears, her fingers. I don't know if that is her or a body double when the camera follows along her legs, and briefly meditates on her belly button. What I do know is that Asaoka is much more sensual here than when seen running around in bra and panties in I Hate but Love. One aspect that is never explained is that Etsuko was married, the flashbacks show her in contemporary dresses, while as a widow, she is seen wearing nothing but kimonos, as if she were a living anachronism. The better visual aspects of Thirst for Love don't overcome the heavy-handedness that drags down the film, but I'll take a single close-up of Ruriko Asaoka's mascara stained tear over the pontifications of Yukio Mishima any day.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 1, 2011 08:14 AM