This is a rare chance to see a film by Kinuyo Tanaka as director. Tanaka was an actress known through her starring roles in many, many Japanese films in the pre-war and post-war golden ages – films like Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu (1952) – through to her tremendous and award winning performance in Kei Kumai’s Sandakan 8 (1974). Although not the first woman to direct a film in Japan Tanaka was able to produce a handful of films in the 50s that are very competently made and much better and more interesting than many in their treatment of women in society. Although it was said that her relationship with Mizoguchi was the reason she was able or allowed to direct it is clear that she had talent that was all her own and that she was able to work with the cream of Japan’s studio talent (the script writer is Keisuke Kinoshita). Koibumi was her first film as director.
Koibumi (love letter or love letters) is a melodrama about a sundered pair of lovers who meet again after the war and have to try to rebuild a relationship in the light of her occupation relationship with US servicemen. The title refers to the letters written by abandoned Japanese girls to their absent occupation force lovers declaring love – and asking for money. The bitter man of the pair ends up writing letters in English for a small sum and finds himself encountering his long lost love but has trouble dealing with her past and his own prejudices. Although this is not new territory for Japanese film makers it is a sensitive and powerful film and well worth watching.