Any viewer who goes into Keisuke Kinoshita’s 1961 film Immortal Love expecting the grand, sweeping romance suggested by the title is bound to be disappointed. The original Japanese title, Eien no hito (永遠の人), can be translated as “forever one,” which is a bit closer to the mark, as the focus is on a marriage — if something so ugly and venomous can truly be regarded as a marriage. Perhaps the other English name given to the film is the most appropriate of all: Bitter Spirit.
When ragged, elderly sweet potato peddler Shinichirô Atsumi (Chishû Ryû) gets the opportunity to enter the Okudaira family’s lavish mansion, he can’t hide his awe. “It’s like a western castle in a movie,” he says. It’s an apt remark, considering how Keisuke Kinoshita’s offbeat 1960 film Spring Dreams evokes such American comedies as My Man Godfrey (1936) and Merrily We Live (1938) in its focus on a household full of wealthy eccentrics and their dealings with an ostensibly impoverished outsider. Although Spring Dreams has a decidedly strange atmosphere all its own — most apparent, perhaps, in its harpsichord score and its oddly colored lighting scheme — it shares major themes with those American predecessors: class, love and, above all, money.
“The day I began teaching was also the first day of school for those twelve kids. They looked so small and anxious. Those twenty-four eyes looking up at me were so adorable. I don’t want those adorable eyes to ever lose their sparkle.”
When people think of Japanese directors, or even just mid-twentieth century Japanese directors, Keisuke Kinoshita isn’t likely to be the first name that springs to mind. With contemporaries like Akira Kurosawa, Yasujirô Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Mikio Naruse, that’s understandable. Moreover, very few of his movies are available on DVD and/or Blu-ray in the United States. The Criterion Collection has released Twenty-Four Eyes (1954) and The Ballad of Narayama (1958), and their Eclipse line includes a five-film set called Kinoshita and World War II, which comprises Port of Flowers (1943), The Living Magoroku (1943), Jubilation Street (1944), Army (1944) and Morning for the Osone Family (1946). Fortunately for those interested in exploring more of Kinoshita’s work, Criterion also offers a large number of his films on their Hulu channel; I counted forty-three(!), of which I’ve seen about half. The aforementioned Twenty-Four Eyes and The Ballad of Narayama are probably the best-known, but my favorite Kinoshita discoveries tend to be more obscure. He can be a bit hit-or-miss — some movies are obscure for a reason — so I’d like to mention a few that I’ve particularly enjoyed.