“Have you ever loved a person?”
In Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Passion, love is treated more as a concept than an experience. It is a mostly (but not exclusively) cerebral examination of what love is and how it fits into our lives.
When Kaho and Tomoya announce they are getting married to their friends, it begins as a celebration but, as the evening passes, hidden resentments and insecurities begin to grow within the group. The men head off together and end up at the apartment of Kenichiro’s woman friend, Takako, where they spend the evening discussing love, honesty, and happiness. Tomoya has had affairs in the past, including one with Takako.
We discover that this is not a love triangle, but a love quadrangle. Kaho is in love with Tomoya, but Tomoya is in love with Takako, who is in love with Kenichiro, who is in love with Kaho. Meanwhile, Takeshi, who is about to become a father, is attracted to Takaka’s aunt, Hana, and has a short flirtation. As the night progresses, thirty-something angst about love, fidelity, and commitment come to light.
Hamaguchi came to the attention of American audiences with Drive My Car, winner of the Best International Feature Oscar. (Hamaguchi was also nominated in directing and screenplay categories.) Such success brings opportunities for viewers to see other works. Passion is his 2008 thesis film for the University of Tokyo. Now, it is getting a US release.
As might be expected, this film is not as polished as his later films. There are flaws here (for example, the film is a bit too male-centric when it thinks of questions of love and fidelity), but there are also some interesting ideas that it brings out.
In this, I was reminded of some of Éric Rohmer’s films, especially My Night at Maud’s. Like the Rohmer films, this is a film that is about words more than action. We are drawn into conversations that may start as superficial but soon begin to move into deeper waters where dangers may lurk for those involved. The dangers in Passion are all very personal. The characters risk discovering things about themselves that may not be pleasant or ennobling. But the real pain may be borne by others because unrequited love is at the center of these relationships.
Passion is showing in select theaters.
Photos courtesy of Film Movement.