At some point after her lover has left her to get married to another woman, a forlorn Mariko Okada, hostess of the Akitsu Inn, looks up and says "the Inn is all I have left" and Yoshida frames her from behind the bars of a panel door like a captive of her own prison. Her character remains one for the rest of the movie until the very end, and that type of visual poignancy is the best I got out of Akitsu Springs. There is more of course.
In the first third we get romantic melodrama played to operatic bombast and pastoral colors, against the backdrop of Japan's surrender to the Allies Mariko Okada nurses back to health (and the will to live) a man suffering from tuberculosis come to the hot springs of Akitsu to recuperate. They fall in love, the type of love produced on demand to be the soulmate/love of a lifetime type of love without the movie earning it for its characters, and then the man proposes to Mariko to commit a double suicide - perhaps the most classically poetic statement of undying love in Japanese culture. But it's too early for that, the relationship has not matured to that point, and so the woman laughs. Then he goes away to get married to some other woman and she stays behind to work the Akitsu Inn. For the rest of the movie the man makes "10 years later" reappearances in the village and Mariko tells him they should die together.
This is a movie of gaps, in time and emotion, a chronicle not of impossible love, because that love was burned out and played out quickly and then left behind so that we're looking at the broken shell of that love and the faded memory of it; it's a chronicle of compulsion, of lives unfulfilled and chances missed, of relationships where one partner loves and remembers more than the other. At some point the man says "we've lived our lives" and I like bittersweet fatalism but these are only words scripted by Yoshida. The movie he creates around them is weak, it falters, because the foundations are weak. Because, before the question "why did you have to die?" can be asked in the movie's finale, the question "why did you fall in love?" must be at least posed, and it's not, so it's all a bit inconsequential and unconvincing as far as that goes. Like the movie is so keen to set itself up a certain way that specifics are never given much thought. It doesn't matter why they fell in love but how they fall out of it and what is created to replace that love it would seem, but when lines like "you taught me how to live" are played out in the first 20 minutes, what's left for the rest of the movie to go? Yoshida makes up for it in the end with tragic irony; now Mariko is the one who goes away and the man has to sit behind and wait.
This is old fashioned stuff for 1962, a Shochiku romance that will probably appeal to fans of Mikio Naruse; me, when I want to stare compulsion right in the eye, I'll stick with Yasuzo Masumura's actually daring movies, where the eroticism is perverse and pathos manifests in frightening ways. Yoshida himself would outgrow this film in due time, here he is still reworking the great classics.
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