“Immortal Love” (Eien no hito, which means something more like perpetual ownership of a person, 1961; though not a translation of the title, “Bitter Spirit” is the apt British title) is for me the best Kinoshita Keisuke film (although I prefer his comedies to his grim tragedies), partly because I am such a great admirer of Nakadai Tatsuya, who plays a despicable returned, crippled veteran (from the annexation of Manchuria, to the area of Mount Aso on Kyushu in 1932) who wants Sadako (Takamine Hideko), daughter of one of Hebei’s father’s tenant, Sojiro (Katô Yoshi). He knows that she is in love with Takashi (Sada Keiji), the son of another tenant farmer who has not returned from the war and rapes her. That and economic pressure from his father on her father forces her to marry him… but not to love the son conceived from the rape that deflowered her. (She attempted to commit suicide before she could have known she was pregnant, but was fished out by Takashi’s brother.
Though physically (if not emotionally) faithful to the husband she hates and not acting on it, she continues to love Takashi who went off and married a woman, Tomoko (Otowa Nabuko), with whom he fathered a son. Wife and son come to the village, and Tomoko is warmer to Heibei than Sadako is, though it seems Heibei rapes Tomoko, too.
The firstborn of Sadako and Heibei kills himself at the age of 17, when he learns that he was the product of rape. The second becomes a communist, involved in the movement to prevent the 1960 renewal of the security pact between the US and Japan. And their daughter elopes with Takashi’s son, with the connivance of Sadako, who knows Heibei would never consent to it.
The melodrama extends to 1961 with a sort of détente ending. It didn’t seem sentimental to me: too many ruined lives for a happy ending, which Kinoshita did not really supply.
The flamenco with ballad score by the brother of the writer-director, Kinoshita Chûji is unusual, but annoyed me less than some other music in Kinoshita Keisuke films (or the Bolero-like music in “Rashomon”). Kinoshita’s regular cinematographer (and brother-in-law), Kusuda Hiroshi, did outstanding work, including some foggy scenes and panoramas of fields and the volcano. There are many striking tracking shots. And despite the ballads at the junctures between the five chapters, the movie moved right along, albeit with lots of nastiness from Nakadai and lots of rolling with the punched from Takamine.
And there are multiple shots of trains (also bus interiors), always a plus for me. The film was nominated for the best foreign-language feature Oscar (losing to Bergman’s “Through a Glass Darkly”.
Takamine’s character broke the heart of Nakadai’s in Naruse’s “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” (1960), too, mostly not noticing he was in love with her, but rejecting him when he makes a move (which does not continue on to rape). I thought she looked too old at the start and too young at the end of “Immortal,” whereas the two male leads aged.
The movie was the only Kinoshita film to be nominated for a best foreign-language film Oscar (“24 Eyes” and “The Rose on His Arm” had received Golden Globe nominations in that category earlier. Japan did not win that award until 2009, for “Okuribito” (Departures).
©2016, Stephen O. Murray