THUS ANOTHER DAY (1959) was shown on November 15, 2012, in a 35mm print at the Walter Reade Theater in Manhattan as part of a series devoted to Keisuke Kinoshita, a contemporary of Akira Kurosawa and a writer-director who is probably best known in the U.S. for THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA (1958) and TWENTY-FOUR EYES (1954). He also directed Japan's first color feature, CARMEN COMES HOME (1951), which I've also reviewed on this site. THUS ANOTHER DAY tells about a dissatisfied Japanese housewife who is made to spend the summer in Karuizawa, the country town in Nagano Prefecture where she grew up, while her salaryman husband remains in Tokyo, having rented their house on the outskirts of Tokyo to his boss for the summer. It's beautifully shot in color and widescreen entirely on location and I was happy to see it on the big screen. We get many shots of the surrounding countryside, the mountain roads and the picturesque train station that marks the frequent arrival and departure points for several of the characters.
The dramatic focus is on the growing platonic friendship between Yasuko (Yoshiko Kuga), the housewife, and Takemura, a mild-mannered World War II veteran who regularly visits Yasuko's mother's shop with his young daughter, Yoko. Takemura doesn't work but takes care of Yoko while his wife labors at a nearby resort. Yasuko resents the way her husband, Shoichi (Teiji Takahashi), curries favor with his bosses at the expense of quality time with her and their young son, Kazuo (Kankuro Nakamura). Even when Shoichi visits for the weekend, he insists they play mahjong with a manager's wife staying in the area. Yasuko grows closer to Takemura as she and her son spend time with him and Yoko on hot summer days. She learns more about him as he reveals the extreme guilt he suffers over having led his men to their deaths in battle while he alone survived as a prisoner of war. He talks about abandoning his first love in order to marry into a prominent family to bolster his military career and how his wife is furious at him for turning down a war pension, thus forcing her to go to work. Tragedy intervenes and affects all of these relationships.
All this would have been enough for a 74-minute film, but the script manages to work in several other plot and character threads, including a young man in the town, a relative of Yasuko, who has talent as a singer and is urged by the girl he likes to enter a singing competition being held at one of the resorts. Melodramatic elements make an intrusion when several Yakuza arrive to stay at the resort where Tomoe, Takemura's wife, works. Two young delinquents working for the Yakuza begin terrorizing the cleancut young people in town, including the singer, Goro, and his lady friend Noriko, eventually forcing a showdown. Another young man from the town, Tetsuo, who uses his car to ferry guests from the railroad station to the resorts, has a late-night drive down a mountain road that culminates in a collision that has broader repercussions. This is one character too many since I confused him with Goro and wondered how he could sing in the competition while also recuperating in the hospital. While these elements punch up the story considerably, they weren't really necessary. I imagine that commercial considerations prevailed, especially since the youthful romance brings to mind the teen characters played by Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee in A SUMMER PLACE, a Hollywood hit from the same year.
I wish the plot had focused more exclusively on the relationship between Yasuko and Takemura, since their scenes are the most interesting in the movie and constitute the film's true emotional core. Ironically, Takemura is able to open himself up to Yasuko in a way that her husband can't precisely because he doesn't work and has time to wander about and talk and see the sights of Nagano with her. In an actual committed relationship, he would be completely unable to support her, as his embittered wife has learned. Yasuko's husband puts himself into uncomfortable positions because he's desperate to advance in his job and pay off the mortgage on their house and buy the kinds of consumer products for Yasuko, like a TV and a washing machine, that he is so far unable to afford. Takemura may be independent, but he is deeply depressed and leads an increasingly fragile existence. One conversation between him and Yasuko, late in the film, leads to Yasuko's tearful roadside lament about the hopeless situation they find themselves in and the inability to achieve "grander dreams." It's quite an eloquent plea and expresses the frustration of many Japanese women in the postwar era.
The aforementioned driving scene on the mountain road, captured chiefly via point-of-view camera inside a high-speed car, is significant for me because it immediately brought to mind the downhill road racing scenes in the Japanese animated series, "Initial D" (1998), which I've also reviewed on IMDb. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I learned that the road where the scene takes place is indeed on Mount Usui, where a key story arc of "Initial D" took place.
Despite my reservations about the melodramatic aspects of the script, I still found the film utterly compelling from start to finish, particularly as a snapshot of postwar Japan and how ordinary people lived their lives. I appreciated the intricate location work and the superb performances from a large and varied cast, especially Yoshiko Kuga. Also worth singling out is Murasaki Fujima, who plays Tomoe, Takemura's wife. I would cite the actor who plays Takemura, but I don't know his name and he's not listed in the IMDb cast list. I wish this film would come out on DVD in the U.S.