Monday, 12 September 2011

Scribblings on A Wife Confesses

-Jonathan Rosenbaum has repeatedly linked Masumura to Ray, Fuller, Aldrich and Tashlin, but after seeing this film, it is impossible not to be reminded that he initially worked as Antonioni's assistant. The treatment of love as a momentary reprieve against pervasive alienation (of which loneliness and imposed interdependence are only two different forms), the impossibility of it lasting due to moral requirements which are only social requirements in disguise... Without necessarily aiming for it, Masumura has made one of the few films that does not require a point of view. He posits subjectivity as never quite within reach but always slightly beside the point. What matters is not full understanding of, or identification with, any one person's emotions, but what goes on between two clashing subjectivities. He does this using a method of which the Japanese are the masters: the human face is always on the verge of vanishing, at the very limit of being discernable.

-Again, Jonathan Rosenbaum: " It’s a courtroom thriller about a young widow who’s being tried for her part in the death of her abusive older husband while they were mountain climbing, and it hinges on the haunting question of what she was thinking when she made the split-second decision to cut the rope connecting the two of them."
And again, I think he's only partly right. For he loses sight of the many, many ways in which Masumura is always making us refocus on something else: while the trial goes on, the question of guilt is not examined directly, but under the aspect of emotion: are the two in love? For the viewer, the wife's share of guilt in her husband's death (who is presented in a deeply unsympathetic way, which only increases the effect) is a secondary consequence of that fundamental question. When the verdict is announced, Masumura cuts short the judge's announcement and has it pronounced by a bored journalist who leaves the room. The story then seems to focus on the two lovers' relationship, but this is precisely when th issue of guilt becomes central.
If in doubt, consider this image,

and consider the fact that the soundtrack to it is not the sound of the waves, but a music strongly suggesting anxiety.

In fact, from the very start, it becomes clear through framing that the film will be as much about the lovers being apart as about them being together:

Masumura never lets us fall in love with any of the two lovers.

-In this film, Masumura pays back his hommage to Oshima, who had defended him in the fifties. Some of the shots could be straight out of Cruel Tales of Youth:

In fact, one of the elements that make the film so incredibly fertile is its point at the center of so many movements: one of the many films under heavy influence by the European art cinema of the 50s (Cronaca di un amore); one of the pinnacles of the Japanese studio system (Daiei); one of the greatest examples anywhere of a film made inside the system, against the system; an aesthetic inquiry into the work of the emerging generation of new waves, throughout the world but especially in Japan... Anyone even remotely interested in how Japanese culture changed in the 1950s-60s will have to come to terms with this nexus.