Is love the natural result of long familiarity or the product of intimate, impassioned exchanges of ideas and feelings? 1962's I Hate but I Love (憎いあンちくしょう) presents both kinds of relationship, centring on a young couple who have been together a long time but haven't slept together. Starring Yujiro Ishihara and Ruriko Asaoka, both young and beautiful, the film, for a low budget Nikkatsu film, is surprisingly captivating for its violent sensitivity to subtext.
Daisaku (Ishihara) is a multitalented celebrity, a reckless crooner, TV interviewer, and radio host who often can't be bothered to read ad copy. The film opens with tracking shots of him angrily stalking out of the radio studio then driving madly through a crowd before stumbling through his apartment, tearing off his clothes, and collapsing naked in bed. But not before writing on the door outside, "Wake me up and I'll beat you to death."
But that doesn't stop Noriko (Asaoka) who gleefully puts an alarm clock in a bowl, sliding it into his bedroom. She's not just his girlfriend but his manager as well.
The two are comfortable goofing off, dancing, and arguing--they argue quite a bit--but they have a rule, instituted by Daisaku, never to kiss or sleep together. Originally he'd been concerned over complicating their professional relationship, now it's almost a fetish as she's comfortable dancing about his apartment in just a shirt and underwear while he sings for her. Ishihara's voice, by the way, is terribly beautiful.
Then two things happen; the producer of Daisaku's TV show finds a human interest story for him, a potential juicy interview, and Daisaku and Noriko, bored in his apartment one day, decide to break their rule. At the last moment, just as Daisaku is tearing his own shirt off Noriko in bed, she decides not to go through with it.
The human interest story is centred on a young woman living in Tokyo who has been exchanging love letters with a doctor in Kyushu, far to the south. The woman has placed an ad for someone to drive a jeep to Kyushu to deliver letters to the man.
Noriko laughs that her and Daisaku's relationship is exactly the opposite of the man and woman's, insisting the two can't really be in love because they've never met. Still worked up from Noriko's rejection the previous night, Daisaku impulsively accepts the job of driving cross country in the jeep despite pleas from Noriko and the producer.
Of course, she follows Daisaku. He drives the decrepit jeep, she drives his sporty Janguar, and it becomes a road movie. The longer the trip lasts, the less his fervour seems strange and the more Noriko's intense desire to stop him seems like it reflects deeper, difficult to articulate issues. If Daisaku succeeds in completing a romantic gesture, would that mean something about romance Noriko doesn't want to acknowledge? His music is so beautiful and obviously romantic, it's hard to believe she doesn't believe in it. But maybe that's part of the job of a manager, to be only pragmatic so the artist doesn't have to be. It turns out to be a good way to talk about two different aspects of love. It helps a lot that these kids have massive star power.
I Hate but I Love is available on The Criterion Channel, in the U.S. and Japan.