Monday, April 23, 2012


Different national cinemas have different generic borders. Koreyoshi Kurahara's road movie is basically a zany comedy and a satire of Japanese pop culture, but it takes its satire closer to the edge of authentic hysteria than American comedy audiences of 1962 would probably be comfortable with. He and screenwriter Nobuo Yamada would probably be accused of misogyny for the way they treat their female co-protagonist, Noriko Sakata (Ruriko Asaoka). She discovered obscure poet Daisaku Kita (Yujiro Ishihara) and made him a multimedia celebrity in little more than two years. The film opens with Noriko marking Day 730 of their relationship by writing the number on a wall of Daisaku's apartment. To her it's cute graffiti, but it also resembles the tallies a prisoner keeps on the walls of his cell, and that's how Daisaku seems to see it.

Being a media personality in 1960s Japan is grueling work. Daisaku disc-jockeys in the morning, appears on various panel shows, makes personal appearances to greet foreign celebrities at airports, and is probably best known for his daily TV program, "From Today's Classifieds." He and Noriko pick the most interesting classified ad from the day's papers and bring the advertiser to the studio for an interview. On Day 737, if I remember right, Daisaku picks an ad asking for someone to drive a jeep gratis to distant Kyushu, where the woman's pen-pal, a doctor, will use it to reach isolated patients. Though the woman and the doctor have never met, they've carried on an epistolary romance based on their mutual commitment to "humanism." For Daisaku, this seems like love in its purest form. Enthused, he takes the unprecedented step of agreeing to drive the jeep himself.

That's not how "From Today's Classifieds" works, however, and in any event he doesn't want his drive to be a publicity stunt. But the only way Noriko can save him from a breach-of-contract suit from the network and save a loyal producer's job is to turn it into a stunt. More than that -- she's clearly concerned that he's driving the jeep to get away from her, that his idealization of the pen-pals' pure, humanistic love is a rebuke to her obsessive, business-oriented yet emotionally needy ways. She decides to follow him in his own Jaguar, despite all his efforts to throw her or force her off the trail. There's a lesson at the end of the road, but until then things look like a mad, mad world in miniature as the Jag chases the Jeep across the country.

You can almost imagine Rock Hudson and Doris Day in the lead roles, but Kurahara's movie often comes closer to the emotional intensity of Hudson's films with Douglas Sirk than his work with Day. I Hate But Love climaxes with the sort of scene you might see in a Sixties farce, or a screwball comedy, or a silent movie: the sports car has slipped to the edge of a cliff and teeters there with Noriko at the wheel, but it doesn't seem as funny as it should. Then again, maybe it doesn't seem so funny to Americans after the ordeal Daisaku has put Noriko through in his harebrained pursuit of pure love. You half expect that the car will go over with her in it, but just like in an American comedy, a denouement follows that refutes the false idea of pure love and reconciles (apparently) the film's real lovers to love with all its complications and obligations. The moral seems to be that you can't separate personal from business relations the way Daisaku seems to want. He's convinced himself that his relationship with Noriko isn't real love because she's his business manager and intensely concerned with moving him from appearance to appearance. A tense afternoon at home after a ballgame he's scheduled to attend is rained out seems to illustrate the emptiness of their romance, though the way their boredom evolves into roleplay and the way that ultimately repels him -- it seems like she's trying to take over his imagination, too -- suggests otherwise. I suppose Daisaku's road trip is just another flight from commitment; he's searching for confirmation that love can exist without demands, without any possibility that one is using the other. I suppose, too, that in a way I Hate But Love satirizes satire, ultimately mocking the notion that some idealistic alternative to modern life exists to be discovered by hitting the road. Maybe that's why the comedy seems to bite deeper at extremes.

The only color film in Criterion Eclipse's Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara collection, I Hate But Love is eye-popping pop art for the virtual tourist of Sixties Japan. Yoshio Mamiya's cinematography complements the director's sweeping style to give us an expansive portrait in passing of a time and place. Ishihara and Asaoka are dynamite in the leads, their chemistry undeniable even when they're supposed to be most alienated from each other. Parts of the picture may leave a bad taste in the mouth, but that shouldn't last. My overall impression was of jazzy, crackling energy and of comedy at the picture's sometimes hidden heart.

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