Welcome to the first edition of FilmStruck Friday! Every Friday here on TMP, with the exception of the first Friday of the month (which is reserved for “Favorite things about…”), we’ll be taking a look at a film available through the TCM and Criterion Collection streaming service, FilmStruck. Today’s film comes from 1946 – Waga koi seshi otome, known in English as The Girl I Loved. Happy viewing!
Jingo (Yasumi Hara) has returned home from war to find that Yoshiko (Kuniko Igawa), the orphaned girl who has been raised by his family, has grown tremendously in the past five years. Practically still a child when the war began, she’s now a young woman, and Jingo comes to think he may be in love with her.
One day, Yoshiko tells Jingo there’s something she’d like to talk to him about. Jingo, meanwhile, wants to confess his feelings to her, but is nervous to do so. They agree to reveal all during the upcoming local festival.
A simple story of love in post-war Japan, Waga koi seshi otome – known in English as The Girl I Loved – was directed by Keisuke Kinoshita. This viewing marked my first time watching a Kinoshita film, as well as my first viewing on the TCM/Criterion-curated streaming service FilmStruck when it launched in November.
With the war having ended, things seem to be going quite well for Jingo’s family. Keeping up their property is difficult work, but everyone seems content. Kinoshita paints a very rosy, lovely portrait of countryside life, moderately paced and full of sunny days.
The loveliness of the setting is complemented by beautiful photography which showcases the scenery in an awe-inducing fashion. There is also a wonderful use of music, both sung and instrumental. One song performed at the festival, which speaks to the heart of the film, says “Oh, in the East is the moon/In the West is a girl/And in the middle is a man in love” (quoted from Criterion/FilmStruck’s subtitles).
That’s Jingo, a man in love. He and Yoshiko have a lot of history between them. They grew up together, and though he was several years older than her, they had a very close friendship. While he returns from war with a crush, she sees him as a brother. Just a baby when she was left at his family’s ranch, Yoshiko has known Jingo practically her entire life.
Early in the film, the potential romance between Jingo and Yoshiko seems playful. They throw straw at each other and make snarky comments about how they’ve each changed in their five years spent separated by war. Their interactions are very light-hearted, with a touch of shyness at times.
But as the title suggests, Yoshiko becomes the girl Jingo loved — past tense. Returning home from war, discovering that you’re in love, and marrying the girl you’ve known forever would be far too convenient. [SPOILERS] Complication comes in the form of Mr. Noda, a local man who, after being injured in the war, walks with a limp. Most everyone looks down on him due to his injury, but not Yoshiko. She loves him despite the fact that everyone else judges him, and sees that he is a genuinely wonderful person. The big news Yoshiko plans to reveal at the festival is not that she shares Jingo’s affection, but that she wants his blessing to marry Mr. Noda.
Rather than sending himself into a jealous rage, Jingo selflessly keeps his own feelings to himself following Yoshiko’s revelation. In a very nice scene between Mr. Noda and Jingo, they’re able to bond somewhat over their wartime experiences, finding common ground. Jingo sees that Mr. Noda is everything Yoshiko thinks: an intelligent, kind, optimistic man. And that’s what makes this story so beautiful: It’s a love triangle, but without the drama. The viewer becomes attached to both Yoshiko and Jingo, wanting happiness for them both. The fact that Jingo cares about Yoshiko enough to put his own wishes aside is heartwarming and very sweet. [END SPOILERS]
What a way to kick off my FilmStruck subscription. I adored this film, endeared to its characters from the beginning and engaged by the story until the very end. I would very highly recommend giving Waga koi seshi otome a watch, and this will not be the last Keisuke Kinoshita viewing for me!