Married man unhappy with his life has an affair with a widow. Tale as old as time.
Just another day in Hamajima Yukio’s life. He is riding on one crowded train going from one place to another. Then he is on another train. Off of that train, he gets on a crowded bus. He takes little notice of anyone or anything. Suddenly, the woman sitting in front of him starts talking to him. It’s Yoshida Yasuko, from Chikura, a town about fifty miles south of Tokyo. He smiles, finally recognizing her. She smiles too. She had been looking at his face and thought that it was him, but was not sure as it has been so long.
Yasuko stands up and offers Yukio her seat, saying that she gets off at the next stop. But he remains standing, saying that he gets off at the stop after that. Also, a girl sneaks in between them and takes the seat. How coincidental that they live so close together. How strange that they both take this bus every day for work, but never noticed each other. Well, it is her stop, so they say their goodbyes and she leaves. I…guess that that is that.
The bus gets to the next stop and Yukio walks to his apartment alone. Inside, there are flowers everywhere. He sees a note from his wife Keiko, saying that she is off to a meeting to oppose the price raising of milk, and that there is some food in the fridge.
Keiko arrives just as Yukio is starting to cook. She goes all around the apartment picking things up from the floor as she tells him about her teaching class and the milk meeting. Yukio mentions having met someone who had lived in his hometown for about three years during middle school, but Keiko does not seem to be paying attention.
It is the next day and Yukio is at the travel agency, arranging a trip for someone over the phone, then talking to a coworker, then talking to a walk-in customer, then a pair of walk-ins. All of his responses seem to be we’ll see, we’ll see.
Yukio meets a friend for lunch and gives him his tickets for a trip with his boss. Yukio says he envies his friend for traveling so grandly, even if it is for work. How about Yukio’s work? Nothing much, but just busy. And Keiko? The same, as usual. His friend calls him lucky. Keiko works so hard that they must have a lot saved up. Perhaps, but Yukio confesses that he feels like there is no spark left in their marriage. His friend jokes that he sounds like a middle-aged man. After ten years of marriage, he and Keiko should have some kids. Yukio kind of smirks at that.
Yukio is all grimaces when he walks from the train station to the bus stop, but then Yasuko notices him arrive. He lights up when he sees her. They stand together on the bus. How strange for them to meet twice in a row. Yukio says that he has been taking this bus for four years. Yasuko theorizes that they must have missed each other because her hours are irregular.
The two start reminiscing about their Chikura. And the movie goes into flashback mode with the two of them providing voiceover…is the…uh…image supposed to look like that or is that film degradation over time? Criterion? Is this supposed to be nostalgia-tone? It looks kind of weird. Well, whatever. What we do see looks quaint and old-timey…except maybe the bus and the power lines.
Yasuko invites Yukio to stop by her house, since they live so close by. Yukio stammers a bit, but Yasuko insists. And they reach the stop. Yasuko gets off and Yukio follows. It is a 15-minute walk to the house, not including the stop at the butcher shop, but including a seemingly random path through a bunch of trees. Yukio asks whether she feels uncomfortably walking alone when it gets dark, but Yasuko says that she has gotten used to it. Yukio claims that the area has become unsafe recently. Doesn’t her husband come to walk her home? Smooth information gathering, Yukio. Well, he died four years ago, so now it is just Yasuko and her six-year-old son, Ken.
Speaking of Ken, he is at home when the two of them arrive. He has been watching the house like a good boy, as Yasuko says. Yukio is a little hesitant to enter, especially with the boy observing him from the shadows. But he eventually does with a smile. Ken…is a little cold, but he is a kid and Yukio is a surprise stranger.
Ken and Yasuko talk about his time at school and Yukio smiles. I guess that some things never change. He looks around to see pictures of the family from when Yasuko’s husband was still alive. Oh, there looks to be a rat in the kitchen…just like the rat from Ken’s drawing…and his other drawing…
Yukio stays for dinner. Yasuko even provides some daikon radishes like the stuff that grew in a town near Chikura. Yukio had not had any in years. His mother always gave him some pickled daikon whenever he visited her back in Chikura, but he says that they start tasting different in Tokyo. Ken has had enough of listening to their chatter and turns on the television.
Yukio guesses that it is tough for Yasuko to get by. She says that she had not thought about it when her husband was still alive, but it is difficult for a woman to make a living. Ken is all she lives for now. She tries not to spoil him too much, but he has started becoming less obedient. Yukio grins. Every child is like that at that age, he says; Ken will grow out of it soon.
Oh, Yukio had not actually asked what Yasuko does for a living. She goes door-to-door selling policies and collecting premiums for Tokyo Life Insurance. She jokingly asks whether Yukio would like to buy a policy.
Keiko is on the phone when Yukio returns home, talking to another concerned citizen about the milk situation. After hanging up, she asks Yukio if he had eaten dinner. Yes. He tells her that he had to go see a customer about a trip. He does not have time to turn what is technically two unrelated true statements into a single lie, because Keiko has to answer the phone. It is someone else concerned about the milk prices.
Oh, a scene without Yukio. Yasuko is at her workplace where the boss, or someone, is telling the workers that they will have to work harder to reach their end-of-the-month premium goals.
…oh, that’s it.
Yukio is at work and is busy busy busy. Yasuko is not at the bus stop when he gets there. So, he buys…some meat thing from a nearby shop, goes on the next bus, and gets off at Yasuko’s stop. Oops, not so fast. One of his wife’s friends greets him as he walks to the door and is surprised that he is getting off a stop early. He tells her that he is taking a walk…uh…yeah. I am sure that she noticed the thing that he had bought.
Yasuko is busy cooking when Yukio arrives…unannounced, by the way, but Yasuko does not mind, and thanks him for the present that he brought. He claims that it is a gift from a customer, but whatever. After chatting with Yasuko for a bit, Yukio notices Ken chopping wood for the fire with a small ax. Yukio offers to help, but Yasuko says that he is used to it. Yukio takes the ax anyways.
Yukio helps Yasuko count the cash that she had received during the day: 274,830 yen. Yasuko says that he finished the calculation quicker than she could. She tells him about her work and how this not even the busiest time of the month; sometimes she can be out until 11:00, trying to get new customers.
Work montage. This time featuring Yasuko walking around the city trying to get people at work or at home to switch to her plan. It is unclear how successful she is, but it is a day’s work.
Gazami crab for dinner at Yasuko’s. Yukio had not even realized that these things were available outside of Chikura, even though Chikura is not that far away. Yukio promises to make a list of his friends and customers whom Yasuko could approach to promote her insurance plan. Yasuko is grateful. Ken, who had been drawing something, scratches it out and rips the paper out of the drawing book.
Now a sequence of Ken walking through what seems like the middle of nowhere to the house. He does some normal routine little tasks and looks out to see what looks like the early stages of construction on what has become a field of dirt.
Now Ken is eating dinner (I believe that Yasuko had prepared it before leaving for work) while watching TV and…oh, Yukio is there. Ken finishes dinner and does the dishes. Yukio asks him if he always does the dishes when his mother is late. Yes. Uh…that’s it.
Meanwhile, Keiko is hosting a…milk meeting at her apartment. She tells the four other women that Yukio will be late due to doing group tours, so they do not have to worry about him arriving. Oh, one of the women mentions encountering him on the bus the other day. Keiko is briefly confused, but laughs it off. She muses that he might be a nice addition to the group, a quiet one. Everyone laughs.
It is late and Yukio can see that Ken is getting sleepy. He offers to lay out his futon and Ken accepts. So, Yukio puts Ken to sleep and continues to wait for Yasuko.
Yukio eventually goes outside and greets Yasuko on the street, so he can accompany her on her walk home. She is very grateful. They don’t even make it to the house before they start making out in the forest.
They do eventually make it back to the house…and fuck. Quietly, though; don’t want to wake up Ken.
After another workday, Yukio is back at Yasuko’s house. As Ken sleeps, Yukio confides in Yasuko that he and his wife have been living together merely out of habit and routine. He doesn’t blame her, but…he does not blame himself either, which is a bit convenient for a CHEATER. He will leave her eventually, but he can’t do it yet. Yasuko says that she is fine with things staying as they are. Oh, and they fuck again.
It is the middle of the day and there are even MORE women in the apartment. They are helping Keiko with her flowers and a few of them are discussing the Sharon Tate murder. Aaaand…there is Yukio…off at the table by himself reading the newspaper. Eventually, he tells Keiko that he will be going out for a walk and then seeing the dentist. After he leaves, the friend from before notes that he is nice and quiet. Keiko jokes that “quiet” means that he won’t amount to much. Her friend protests that she did not mean that, but Keiko is on a roll. It is okay, though, since they are probably not going to have kids either, so work is work.
Yasuko is ironing clothes when Yukio arrives, not having expected him so early. He says that he can stay until after dinner, so Yasuko goes to get groceries. So, Yukio rests in the house while Yasuko goes shopping and Ken is out chopping wood to make a…uh…is that a NOOSE hanging from the tree?
Yukio gets up quickly and asks Ken what he is doing. Making a swing…uh…sure. Well, Yukio breathes a sigh of relief and offers to help. Ken says nothing, but goes to cut more wood. Yukio realizes that Ken has been ignoring him and has refused to warm to him.
What a strange boy. No. Not really. Yukio understands his feelings. Yukio was like this too, as a child. Another flashback montage of Chikura, this time of young Yukio and his mother. It was the two of them alone until…here comes a suitor…in a white suit…and a present for an unimpressed Yukio. And now this man is there all of the time. Yukio hated him. But he did seem to enjoy it when his “uncle” took him fishing.
Yukio observes Ken playing on the completed swing. He thinks that he may have found the solution to win Ken’s heart. Yukio just needs to share in activities with him. Then the three of them can be as family. It will just take time.
This movie is based on a 1961 magazine serial by Matsumoto Seichō. I cannot say how much the movie altered the story, but it does seem to be updated to reflect Japan in the late 1960s as opposed to the early years. By this point, Japan was undergoing rapid economic growth and able to assert itself on the world stage again after being subordinate to and dependent on the American Occupation.
In a tale as old as time, Yukio seems to be feeling lost in this new Japan. He is busy with his job, but he has not risen very far in twelve years and probably will not rise much higher during the next twenty. Meanwhile, he helps others travel to a little slice of paradise, while he merely travels however far from home to work and back home. People around him seem to be on their way towards success, while he is stuck in a rut at work.
And then there is Keiko. She seems to have a teaching job, though it seems to be a looser type of class for older students. Or she works in the flower business. In any case, she is a modern working woman, who has enough free time to pursue this project with her friends. And for sure, she must love him, but does she respect him as a man? She seems to have accepted that his future is medium at best. She has accepted that parenthood is not in their future for whatever reason. Well, fine.
Most importantly, it seems that from a practical standpoint, Keiko does not need Yukio. She would be sad if he left, but she would recover and maybe even thrive. She has a life separate from him and a network beyond him. In comparison, he has no life. Is any of that actually true? It does not matter. It all feels totally emasculating for Yukio. Keiko is independent. She is driven. She is happy. And that will just not do for Yukio. He wants that spark. He needs her to need him. It is like Keiko and her friends are walking all over him. Alone in a crowd, Yukio does not say anything. For sure, Keiko does not seem to be all that receptive, but she would probably be willing if he really tried to talk to her about how he is not as happy with the status quo as she is. Perhaps they could understand each other better. Perhaps he may realize that some of his feelings were ridiculous, or that maybe she would actually like to reach out to him as well. But, instead of communicating with her, he says nothing, letting his own bitterness fester while hiding it from his own wife. Boo hoo to him. Yeah, he was probably going to stray…if not do something worse.
Then Yasuko comes back into Yukio’s world. She had been nearby for years, but they had just missed meeting each other for that long, as if reuniting was as much a foregone conclusion as it was a sheer coincidence. That may be a bit of a stretch for the story to do that, but who knows. Regardless, their meeting seems to bring both of them back to a time in their childhoods. For Yasuko, she remembers a specific time in her life when money was not an issue for her and her father was still alive. For Yukio, it is a little murkier.
Chikura may be only fifty miles away from Tokyo, but it might as well be a million miles away Yukio’s mind. To Yukio, it is everything that Tokyo is not and nothing that Tokyo is. Of course, that is not true. Yasuko reveals that there are at least two things easily available in Tokyo that Yukio had considered to be exclusive to Chikura and surrounding areas. He also seems to believe that, despite not being as well off as Yasuko was at the time, that times were happier for him back then. Eh…maybe…we gradually learn that his memories of that time were a bit distorted, just as his views of his current life. Just like the visual quality of those flashbacks.
To Yukio, Yasuko represents a happy past that may not have actually existed, but is something that Keiko cannot represent. She also differs from Keiko in other ways, though, they could be more due to the difference in their circumstances than anything else. Yasuko also works, but she does not seem to live a life of complacency, just coping. She always expresses interest in what Yukio says and does. She is appreciative of his efforts, even if they are not necessary. She is happy for his mere presence, even when he shows up unannounced. She lives in a seemingly (at least for now) isolated house in the middle of nature as opposed to a sterile apartment. Her job of superficially befriending people all over the city has ironically left her with little time for a social life of her own. Widowed for years, she seems to be alone…except for a son. A son, what he would never have with his own wife for whatever reason.
Yuko is drawn to Yasuko because she reminds him of the happy stuff from his past. But also, she represents what he feels is missing from his life now. He feels appreciated, useful, wanted, and needed when he is with her. Perhaps, in time, she can quit her exhausting job and he can provide for her fulltime. Her and her son…his son. If only Yukio can convince little Ken that he is a good man. A good man. A cheater.
Others smarter than me might be able to come up with some analyses with their contrasting jobs. Yukio is almost always stuck in a faraway office helping plan other people’s dream journeys. Yasuko walks all around the city approaching people to talk to them about planning for their journey to the great beyond. Perhaps I may come up with something later. Right now, I got nothing.
And what of Yasuko. After all, it was she who noticed Yukio first…and again. And it is her who invites him to visit her in the first place. But surely these are innocent acts. That the story makes it seem only natural given their proximity may be a bit of a cheat, but let’s roll with it. Innocent acts for sure, but it must soon become obvious that the time that he spends with her and Ken is time spent away from his wife, especially he does not bring Keiko along. Still, Yasuko is okay with that.
Just as Yasuko reminds Yukio of a simpler time, so does he for her. A time when she did not have to work. A time when her father was alive and took care of her. A time when things were comfortable. She may have been fine with life when she was married, but now she is left to care for her son. And here comes a man who is willingly helpful and there for her. She knows fully well that he is still married, but why should she respect his bonds of matrimony if he does not?
Yasuko says that she is willing to wait for Yukio to leave his wife. No. Not quite. She says that she is fine with how things are now. What does that mean? Does she recognize that this is just a temporary fantasy, destined to lead to disaster if they try to make it official? Does she need to maintain a distance that makes decoupling easier if things turn bad? Does she fear that Yukio would stray if he decides that the ”spark” between them has gone? After all, that is what is happening with him and Keiko. Why would he not eventually betray Yasuko as well despite her best efforts? Once a cheater…
Well…we see what happens. After all, this movie is called The Shadow Within, not The Happy Affair. I will not say what happens. It builds to something that seems inevitable, but also rather abrupt. A little moralizing? Yeah, I guess. Moreso, though, it shows just how little we may understand even ourselves, let alone others or the world around us. Yeah…it’s good.
WTF ASIA 178: The King of Masks (China: 1996, approx. 101 minutes)
WTF ASIA 179: Coin Locker Girl (South Korea: 2015, approx. 110 minutes)