I found the folk song and dance (about the “white tigers” [byakkotai], young samurais who committed seppuku under misapprehension of having lost a battle in support of the Tokugawas in the 1868 Battle of Tonoguchihara) in Kinoshita’s 1959 “Farewell to Spring” (Sekishunchō, which means “spring bird”; the movie was also released as “The Bird of Springs Past”) more bearable than the folksongs in other Kinoshita (and Ôshima) movies.
Ishihama Akira was back (having appeared in Kinoshita’s “Boyhood,” “Fireworks Over the Sea,” “The Tattered Wings,” and “The Rose on His Arm” — as a priggish if not particularly fascist indeed, a striking worker) or particularly bright young man, Teshirogi Kôzô, with Ryû Chichû again playing his father. Tsugawa Mashiko (who would later star in “Taxing Woman”) played the more brooding young man, long derided as the son of a mistress (who now owns an inn).
Two of the five school friends return, two years after graduation to visit Wakamitsu, Aizu, bathe and banquet and sing together and be torn apart by family demands and the need for money, especially that of the shifty Iwagaki (Kawazu Yûsuke from Kinoshita’s “Eternal Rainbow” and “Snow Flurry,” and as the ruthless rapist in Ôshima’s “Cruel Story of Youth”).
“Farewell to Spring” has been called (in his Wikipedia entry) “the first Japanese gay movie,” but other than some ardent homoeroticism in two first re-meetings, the bonds seem lacking in erotic components, even if Kinoshita himself was gay.
Kayuo is fervently in love with the 18-year-old Yôko (Toake Yukiyo), whose family is marrying her to Teshirogi (who has asked for Kayuo’s permission before going to the meeting of the families). Only the crippled Masugi (Yamamoto Toyozô), who is said to have “strong feelings” and is the most passionate about maintaining the ties of the old gang, set off any gaydar signals and his lack of female prospects might account for his homosociality.
And Kasuyo’s uncle (Sada Keiji), who ran off with a geisha (Arima Ineko) and has returned with untreated tuberculosis, is also heterosexual to a fatal extent.
The complexity of the plot and the intercutting make it difficult to follow even with familiarity with the white tiger shrines and cult (tombs pictured below). One thing that is clear is that “spring” in the title is a metaphor for adolescence with the adolescent homosocial (though here not visibly homoerotic) bonds rusting out in a few years for those who did not die together as the white tigers—foolishly in my view, since they reached their decision based on a false surmise of defeat — did..
(grave of the white tigers; monument to them pictured at the top of this posting)
©2016, Stephen O. Murray