Kinoshita’s melancholy 1955 “Nogiku no gotoki kimi nariki,” based on a novel by Ito Saicho, is variously known in English as “She Was Like a Wild Chrysanthemum,” “You Were Like a Wild Chrysanthemum,” and “My First Love Affair,” It opens with 73-year-old Masao (Ryû Chishü) being poled upstream to the site of his childhood home and pure first love. Most of the film is flashbacks (in oval frames) to when he was 15 (in the last years of the 19th century).
Masao (played at 15 by Tanaka Shinji) and the daughter of his mother’s sister, Tamiko (Arita Noriko), enjoyed spending time together. This was gossiped about, especially by Masao’s vicious older sister (Yukishiro Keiko), who convinced Masao’s mother to separate the two, sending him off to school early and then sending Tamiko off before Masao returned for winter break. Masao’s widowed mother (Sugimura Haruko) was ambitious for him. The main impediment to their marrying was not her social status or that they were first cousins, but that Tamiko was two years older than Masao, which made any romantic connection between them ridiculous in the eyes of local gossips, again led by his sister. The only defender of their delicate relationship is the mother of both their mothers (Urabe Kumeko, who would also play the grandmother of the infant in Ichikawa’s “Being Two Isn’t Easy”).
Kinoshita managed to get some cherry blossoms in, along with multiple shots of wild chrysanthemums swaying in the wind. Masao said that Tamiko was like a wild chrysanthemum (pictured below), and she said he was like a bellflower.
To me the representation of friendship untainted by any sexual feelings (let alone acts) seems incompatible with the adolescents’ relationship being the love of each’s life. The passion is somewhat surprising in that the two were raised together, starting with sharing Masao’s mother’s breast milk. According to the Westermarck thesis (extensively documented for Japanese records from what was their colony of Taiwan), such passions should not happen (that is, should stimulate a repulsion for incest).
Kinoshita’s brother in law, Kusuda Hiroshi, received cinematography awards for the black-and-white cinematography of “Wild Chrysanthemums” and “Tattered Wings.” The many long shots bring to my mind Murnau’s (1927) “Sunrise.” Kinoshita Chûji’s soundtrack mostly relied on a solo guitar that is plaintive, upping the sentimentality, as in so many of his soundtracks for movies directed by his brother (and lensed by their brother-in-law).
©2016, Stephen O. Murray