November 17, 2016
Le Rendez-vous – Japan, 1972
I wanted to like Saito Koichi’s Le Rendez-vous – I really did. This is a film whose opening ten minutes - with its mesmerizing use of light colors, images of youthful innocence, sheer lack of dialogue, and eerie shots of the face of an emotionally broken woman - utterly fascinated me, and even when reservations began to set in upon the appearance of the film’s other main character, I still remained intrigued enough in the first one not to dwell on my ever growing misgivings. Eventually, though, after moment after moment of exaggerated emotions and forced scene after forced scene, I had to accept reality: the film just wasn’t doing it for me.
The film’s central character is an older woman named Keiko, played masterfully by Keiko Kishi . Keiko is traveling with another woman on a train. Their destination is not revealed, yet it is clear that they are not friends. Friends, after all, talk to each other, and these two ladies just exchange looks that betray an unusualness in their relationship. In fact, in the film’s first five minutes, Keiko’s emotion remains completely unchanged. This is a woman who has shut down emotionally and who seems to be trying to avoid anything resembling human contact. As for the other woman, she looks as if she is not there by choice.
Given this set-up, it seems natural for the person who draws Keiko out of her shell to be her polar opposite, and the young man on the train (Ken'ichi Hagiwara) is just that. He’s talkative, hyperactive, more than slightly annoying; he’s also constantly running off at inopportune times. In one such moment, he abruptly announces his need to depart just after Keiko’s revealed a startling secret. Normally, such actions would create separation, as well as doubts about the man’s maturity, yet there Keiko is in the very next scene seemingly dolling herself up to impress him.
Now this would be fine if the film were about two people drawn to each other physically or about two people who really needed someone – anyone – to get through the day. However, by the end of the film, there they are professing their love for each other and vowing to be together regardless of the challenges that stand in their way. I didn’t buy it, and, perhaps even more telling, by that point in the film, I didn’t care.
And yet, I also couldn’t look away. For one, the film is beautifully shot and includes some amazing shots that allow the audience to contrast both the drab, lifeless interior of the train and the outside world’s dull stone pathways with the startlingly bright and vibrant flowers and trees that grow in isolated patches throughout the area’s mostly vacant walkways. I saw this as the outside world reflecting Keiko’s inner state, and the colors the sporadic and fleeting moments when hope seeps through Keiko’s self-erected wall. I couldn’t help wanting to know more about this character, and I have no doubt that I would have enjoyed the film much more if it had focused exclusively on her.
In a way, the film is a study in halves. Only one of its lead characters held my interest, and only the first part of the film created tension and mystery. Perhaps more importantly, only one of the characters made me actively wish for some indication of future happiness. I find myself wishing I had it in me to recommend a film strictly for one performance, as I’ve seen so many reviewers do over the years. I just can’t. 50 percent success just doesn’t get the job done. Nice try, though. (on DVD)
2 and a half stars
*Le Rendez-vous is in Japanese with English subtitles.