A note on Burden of Love / AI NO ONIMOTSU (Yuzo Kawashima, Japan, 1955)



Japan has baby fever. Everyone wants to get married and everyone wants to have children. But the fear is that an already overburdened nation will become even more populated. To halt the population explosion Jozaburo Araki, Minister of Health and Welfare, proposes. a bill that would limit information on abortion. and contraception, possibly shut down brothels and teahouses, and delay procreation within the sacred confines of marriage. The only protest comes from the only female in the room, who sees that women and the young are the ones who will suffer most from this.

Burden of Love is a comedy, so situations begin to abound that contradict his politics. First his son Jotaro has gotten his secretary, Godai, pregnant. She´s organised the pregnancy so that the rather weak-willed Jotaro may announce their engagement to the father. She´s beautiful, educated, hard-working. But is she of a good enough family to marry his son? He doesn´t quite think so. To make matters worse, when he arrives home, his 48-year-old wife also announces that she´s got pregnant. To make matters even worse, his daughter who´s scheduled to marry a nobleman, has gotten pregnant and would show. By the end of the film, even the other daughter who hasn´t been able to get pregnant for six years, is expecting the baby and the minister himself discovers that he has yet another child from a youthful adventure of 28 years before. The minister of the in charge of checking the population explosion has caused a population explosion all on his own.

The most distinctive aspects of this comedy, and a kind of reproach to American cinema of the same period, is its ‘adultness’: the way it can talk openly and non-judgementally about abortion, contraception, whorehouses. This is a comedy that sees human relations in a complex manner. Pretty much all of the women, old and young, are pregnant in and out of wedlock. All are good people though sometimes with unattractive character traits. Marriages are loving yet problems still occur. Forgiveness is required and given. Kawashima envelops all these dilemmas with warmth  and humour.   All Kawashima´s characters are good  people, all of them are in trouble. There are lots of misunderstandings. But because this is a comedy, all troubles will get  resolved, in a  loving and funny way.

The influence of American cinema is evident in the film, from the silent cinema hommage at the end, to the singing of My Darlin Clementine. And there are other aspects of American culture embedded in the film: the clothes, the jazz.

What I find most charming about all of Kawashima´s work is evident here, the focus on women in patriarchy, the dramatisation of  social issues in post-war Japan, the examination of gender and power in times of change. But this film has an intelligence, complexity and warmth all its own. It´s  an understanding and  loving look at a social dilemma. I liked it very much and yet it´s my least favourite so far of Kawashima´s  films,  which says a lot more about the qualities of Kawashima´s other work than the faults with this one,


José Arroyo

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