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Oh man, I feel so sorry for Yoshishige Yoshida and Mariko Okada. This husband-wife filmmaking duo was on fire in the '60s, making some of the most beautiful, perplexing and memorable dramas ever, and yet today nobody remembers or cares about them. Today, filmgoers know that there is more to Japanese cinema than just Akira Kurosawa, but even though artists like Masaki Kobayashi and Nobuhiko Obayashi got their due, some brilliant filmmakers, like Yoshida and Terayama, unfortunately still dwell in obscurity.
The Affair is one of the six anti-melodramas Yoshida and Okada made in the sixties, and as a matter of fact, those who've seen all six movies usually say that this one is the best, but even though I think that The Affair is a masterpiece, Affair in the Snow is still my favorite. And yes, the titles are a bit similar, however the original title to Affair in the Snow translates differently, while The Affair is also known as Flames of Love, not to be confused with Yoshida's other film Flame and Women, which is also known as Impasse, as well as Flame of Feelings. Meanwhile, the poster seen on Letterboxd belongs to the movie Heroic Purgatory (while the poster here on IMDb belongs to Flame and Women). Wrap your head around all that.
On its surface, The Affair's storyline (based on Masaaki Tachihara's novel) is as melodramatic as you can get, to the point of being soap- opera worthy, but Yoshida's touch transforms it into a deep character study worthy of rewatches. Yoriko is unhappily married to an executive who has multiple other lovers. It's also a year after her mother's death, and she encounters her mother's lover, a sculptor called Mitsuharu in a poetry club. She starts seeing him occasionally, but they never make love to each other, despite Mitsuharu's feelings for her. Meanwhile, she sees her sister-in-law having sex with a brutal construction worker in a cabin. Later she tries to fend him off from her sister-in-law, but succumbs to him. After that, the things get a bit more complicated.
On the first glance, The Affair is a story of how a woman's relationship with her mother influences her later life, but it can also essentially be seen as a feminist film in context of Japanese cinema (after all, the female protagonist stands up to her husband's proprietary attitude), but is also a story of a woman progressively losing her cold outlook on romance, culminating in the scene where Yoriko and Mitsuharu make love, which manages to be immensely erotic in its minimalism - Mitsuharu's darker skin and Yoriko's white complexion merge together like a yin-yang symbol, while the camera views Yoriko's body as a mysterious, vast landscape about to be explored by Mitsuharu's hands. After all, he is a sculptor, who makes a living out of bringing shape to stone, and fittingly breaks Yoriko out of her frigid trance with this tactility.
The framing and chiaroscuro work is, as usual with Yoshida, absolutely breathtaking. In addition to the usual frames which makes characters feel like they're isolated, this time the camera is one with the characters. During their confessions or romantic contemplations, it quietly follows them around the room and exposes each fraction of their figure via 360° shots. In the scene where the laborer attempts taking advantage of Yoriko, they're first seen through vertical bars (a trick Yoshida played with some more in Akitsu Springs) and then through a small, framed window, boosting Yoriko's feeling of captivity. As the worker touches her more and more, the camera positions itself near to the two in a claustrophobic fashion. Another little touch I like is the train at the end becoming more and more quiet as it approaches the camera, and then it simply makes no sound whatsoever once it appears on the screen.
The music is used in an unconventional way - mostly it's the same short dramatic jingle that plays whenever Yoriko takes a walk and trails her that way, which creepifies the atmosphere a bit (creepifies is not a word? Well, it should be). This is sometimes followed by off-screen character talking over mundane footage of them doing whatever else. The opening credits play out on an op-art piece resembling a messy bunch of fingernails, perhaps to imply a confusion regarding one's identity, a topic usually favored by another New Wave director, Hiroshi Teshigahara.
The scene most likely to stick with you is the repeating dreamlike sight of Yoriko's mother walking in midst of a huge, plain terrain, showered in an angelic white filter. She's placed in the middle of the screen, where she gets run over by a nearing truck without a driver. The scene changes each time Yoriko 's relation to the same event changes. It's one of the film's neat ventures into surrealism.
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