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Chikamatsu's 'Love in Osaka' (Naniwa no koi no monogatari) (1959)

  Directed by: Tomu Uchida
Written by: Monzaemon Chikamatsu, Masashige Narusawa
Starring: Ineko Arima, Kinnosuke Nakamura
Links: Chikamatsu's 'Love in Osaka' on the IMDb
Genre: Romance

This movie gets: 8.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"Years ahead of its time" - a review by pearly

Living and working in the 16 and 1700s, Monzaemon Chikamatsu was the author of many plays, primarily in the medium of Kabuki, a Japanese puppet performance. In this film, director Tomu Uchida uses Chikamatsu as a character himself, in a dramatisation which explores the muses for one of his plays. Top and tailed with Kabuki performances, the film tells the story of Chubei Kameya (Kinnosuke Nakamura), a young man who is engaged to the heir of a merchant house, and who works at the store that he hopes one day to become the owner of. Chubei is a rather innocent guy, but he is led astray by an older colleague, and experiences his first taste of the Shinmachi pleasure quarter, where he meets the beautiful courtesan Umegawa (Ineko Arima). At first shy and wanting to leave and remain faithful to his fiancée, Umegawa convinces him to stay, as she will be in trouble with her boss if he leaves so quickly, and obviously unsatisfied. This first night changes everything for Chubei, as he has begun a Romeo + Juliet (1996) style romance, which, it is quite clear from almost at the outset, can only end badly.

Chikamatsu's 'Love in Osaka' is a joy to watch for many reasons. Whilst it takes a bit of familiarisation at the beginning, because of the inclusion of a number of Japanese terms, it quickly becomes fairly easy to follow, and yet, it contains some very effective story telling, of the kind that is now common, but would have been rare in 1959 when the film was made. The sets and costumes act as almost another character on screen, they are stunningly beautiful and amazing. And due to the path of the script, we get taken everywhere from the theatre where the Kabuki plays are being shown, through the humble lodgings of the merchants, to the sinful houses of the pleasure quarter. Another remarkable factor here is the cinematography - there are many sweeping camera shots which take in the whole scene, and whilst this isn't something I would usually pick out, with the wonderful sights on screen here, I couldn't help but sit up and take notice.

Uchida is certainly a gifted story teller. His portrayal of this love story contains all the elements that are necessary to make it successful. To begin with, there is the set-up, where we learn about the characters, and figure out their motivations, as well as getting a hint at what may be to come. There is one scene, where Umegawa helps out a young girl who has hurt her finger, and during this tender moment, we get that necessary glimpse into who this woman really is, which helps us to feel sympathetic towards her, and to want for her to get anything she desires. It is clever, therefore, that we also see the character of Chikamatsu watching this scene from a distance, which gives us the same glimpse into his characters that we ourselves are seeing.

This film is certainly one which should be used as a model for any other romance films. While part of its appeal for me was certainly the exotic nature of it all (exotic in that not only is it set in a long gone time, but it is also made long ago, about a place with which I have only flirted), it is clear that Chikamatsu's 'Love in Osaka' is more than just that. Its complex plot, which, when boiled down, actually contains some of the most basic thematic concepts for a love story, is innovative and well executed, and it holds your attention throughout, whilst never becoming too much, or being too schmaltzy. And, of course, there doesn't have to be a big Hollywood ending where everyone ends up just where they want to be (Steven Spielberg, after your recent efforts, I believe you need to take note).

This film is beautiful to watch, and captures your attention throughout. Bravo, Uchida-san.

pearly gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 3 Aug 2005

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