The title of Kinoshita’s 1950 very predictable soap opera “Konyaku yubiwa” was translated into English as “Engagement Ring,” but the ring often shown in closeup is a diamond wedding ring, and the current Criterion/Hulu title “Wedding Ring” is far more accurate a title.
At the start, the very conscientious young physician (his vocation is established immediately, since the bus conductor is his patient) Ema (Mifune Toshirô) who rushes onto an SRO bus is literally thrown into the lap of an older woman riding on the bus. Mrs. Kuki (Tanaka Kinuyo). They both have given names (Takeshi and Noriki, respectively) but always address each other as Mr. Emi and Mrs. Kuki.
It turns out (what a coincidence) that Emi is on his way to the seaside town of Ajiro to treat Mrs. Kuki’s husband, Michio (Uno Yûkichi). The couple was married shortly before the husband went off to war and he returned with tuberculosis, so they have not had conjugal relations except very briefly when they were first married.
How could she not be attracted to the robustly healthy young Mifune (ten years her junior), having a husband in name only? She couldn’t and he is attracted to her as well (though it seems to me that he had the freedom to encounter many other and more attractive women).
Though not immune to jealousy, Michio recognizes that his wife is unfulfilled sexually. He likes his doctor and that doctor is not only conscientious in his treatment of his patient but very correct in curbing his desire for the yearningly available wife.
Mrs. Yuki watched Emi go swimming in the absurd swimsuits extending above the navel of the day (later, Emi strips down to his underwear and reveals his navel…). There are frequent shots in early Kinoshita movies of people from the knee down walking, and Emi’s footwear is observed closely by Mrs. Kuki and by the camera.
There are many artful compositions concocted by Kinoshita and his brother-in-law and usual cinematographer, Kusuda Hiroshi, while, as was often the case, Kinoshita’s brother, Chûji, was guilty of musical overkill (in the Max Steiner tradition). The flopping around resisting temptation, but ultimately doing the right thing is very, very predictable, as if the Hollywood Production Code was regulating Japanese movie (under the US military occupation at the time, it unofficially was).
©2016, Stephen O. Murray