Kurahara’s 1967 “Ai no kawaki” (Thirst for Love), based on Mishima Yukio’s 1950 novel (his third) is less pulpy and even more melodramatic than “I am Waiting.” The protagonist is a dissatisfied, willful young woman, Etsuko (Asaoka Ruriko [returned from Kurahara’s “I Hate but Love” without the buoyancy she displayed in it]), whose husband Ryosuke (seen in various snapshots, but not in any live-action flashbacks) died of typhoid, and she has become the mistress of his father (Nakamura Nobuo). She always calls him “father,” which somewhat unnerves him, as may well be her intention.
Although submitting to the embraces of her (ex-?) father-in-law, Etsuko longs for the firmer flesh of the young gardener Saburo (Ishidate Tetsuo), who remains oblivious of her desires until very late in the story. He has impregnated the maid, Miyo (Kurenai Chitose). He is quite explicit in conversation with Etsuko that he does not love Miyo, but will marry her if he must do so to keep his job.
While Saboru is off consulting his mother about doing the right thing by Miyo, Etsuko successfully pressure Miyo into having an abortion. Miyo is bitter and leaves. When Saboru returns, far from being unhappy at her departure, he is relieved not to have to marry her. Etsuko wanted to make him suffer, but she does not understand his point of view about sex, sexual relationships, or anything else (socks, to take another instance). The Grand Guignol ending, including shifting form black-and-white to red ,seems more Korean than Japanese, but the willfulness is very Mishima (Patriotism), as is the inexplicable (in any rational terms) crime (Enjo). My clinical diagnosis is wounded narcisissm leading to striking out at the one who has insulted it.
The book took place in the autumn of 1949, but was updated to a decade after the end of the Korean War in the movie, which discarded the mutilated rose petals. Though falling short of comic relief, the buffoonish and sterile son of Etsuko’s father-in-law (played by Yamauchi Akira), who also lives in the same household, has greater self-knowledge. Both he and his wife (Kusunoki Yûko) see Etsuko’s desire for Saburo, which neither the pater familias nor the object of the desire do.
There is a quite redundant voice-over similar to the literary ones in French films (Jean Cocteau’s, in particular). There are very prolonged static shots from above of the household dinner table along with some tight closeups of Etsuko. Shots of her fantasies are overexposed (signaled by overexposure by cinematographer Mamiya Yoshio, whose first cinematographer credit was Kurahara’s delirious 1960 movie, “The Warped Ones” and had also lensed “The Flame of Devotion” in 1964 for Kurahara).
Being a Criterion Eclipse set, there are no bonus features, though the notes on the inside of the boxes by Chuck Stephens are quite informative and entertaining. It is easier to read them online than to decode the white lettering on orange backgrounds in the cases. The transfers are, typically for Criterion, good.
Free-form (or formless) as particularly “The Warped Ones” and “Black Sun” sometimes seem (“new wave” in a not very good sense), Kurahara clearly (Intimidation, Thirst for Love) could exercise tight control on carefully scripted projects, too. I’d rate the movies from 3 to 3.5 stars, but appreciate the set) for making Kurahara’s 1960s work available ((plus the previous Nikkatsu Noir Criterion Eclipse set for the earlier “I Am Waiting”).
©2016, Stephen O. Murray