Kobayashi’s 1956 “Izumi” (Spring/Fountainhead)


For me, the most interesting part of Kobayashi’s 1956 “Izumi” (a title that means “a spring” or “a fountain” but that has been rendered in English as “The Fountainhead”, a title already used by Ayn Rand for her 1943 novel and the 1949 movie adaptation of it, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal) is the rural-urban clash.

The beginning and end of the movie are set in the countryside, where a Tokyo development company owns a reservoir that has cut off the water used to irrigate rice paddies and supply it to getaway second homes of affluent city-dwellers. The outraged farmers regularly sabotage the water pipes (probably using the resulting runoff, though this is not shown).

A botanist and his research assistant (Sada Keiji) are visiting the largest mansion, owned by a nobleman (an earl before such titles were abolished by the US occupation). The aristocrat (Saburi Shin) is estranged from his wife (whom we will later learn had a child fathered by someone else) and is flirting with flirting with his secretary, who is more attracted to the graduate student. Based on the flora, the latter thinks there is probably a water source, an underground spring, that could supply the water the farmers need.


A ruder real estate magnate, who will more or less inherit the secretary Arima Ineko) and is much more blunt about wanting her to be his mistress, is unwilling to explore the alternative water source unless the deluxe development properties should need more water than the reservoir can supply them.

The young botanist takes a position at a provincial museum in part to get away from the older woman he loves and also a younger one who wants to marry him, though he has never even spoken to her and has refused an intermediary’s attempt to introduce them. By the time the botanist decides he is interested in the young woman who had stalked him for more than two years, she has gotten over her infatuation and its back into the emotional maelstrom with the older woman, back in a confrontation in the countryside. This love triangle, complicated by the rich men for whom the secretary successively works make for a boring soap opera that takes up too much of the 122 minutes of the movie. There’s a plethora of “God’s eye” shots down at the characters.

To the surprise of I would guess no movie-viewer, the botanist was right about the potential water source, though the exploration by dynamite provides more tensions, centering on two young rural men who, like Kobayashi, were held prisoners by the Soviets after the war and loathe each other. The one who was malnourished and now works for the company catches the interest of the secretary. The other one is the most intransigent of the local opposition to the development (beyond contention for water).


G2016, Stephen O. Murray

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