Bank Managers and Mistresses (Part 2)

This is part 2 of the ongoing series. Part 1 is here.

In postwar Japanese films, you may find many stories of salarymen engaging in various forms of adultery: from flirting with young female coworkers to secretly building a love nest for his lover. Some films used such setup as a motive for crime, others as comedic interludes. Since bank employees, particularly managers, were considered as successful elites in upper crust milieu, some writers and filmmakers thought such an elite could make a good fall guy. Seicho Matsumoto’s novelette “Kanryu (Cold Current)” depicts a middle aged bank manager trapped in a web of illicit love, blackmail and double-cross. This was made into a film “Structure of Hate (黒い画集 第二話 寒流, 1961)”, directed by Hideo Suzuki.

Ryo Ikebe plays a mid-level manager in a large bank, who is riding the “warm current”, meaning “advancing in ranks quickly”. He is particularly liked by the vice president (played by Akihiko Hirata), who is also expected to be the president soon. Ikebe’s downfall begins when he starts an extramarital relationship with one of the clients, the restaurant owner (Michiyo Aratama). She shrewdly settles a difficult loan agreement using her sex appeal, but ditches Ikebe after she finds the better patron in Hirata. Ikebe is thrown in the “cold current” by Hirata, who transfers Ikebe to a local branch in Tochigi prefecture. Ikebe tries every possible angle to take revenge on Hirata, only to find himself in the worse position than before. A group of Yakuza shows up and asks Ikebe if “everything is OK with Hirata”, meaning “if not, you know what will happen to you”. Then, he is double-crossed by the crooked stock broker (Takashi Shimura) and completely ruined.

This bleak story of upper middle class idiocy may not be particularly interesting to audience outside of Japanese corporate system. Its subtext is too unique — why does he stay in the same bank even after such humiliation? Why does he have to put up with such a vicious power game? — and may not be comprehensible to non-Japanese audience. It is a strange structure (it is more than fitting that the English title of the film is “Structure of Hate”) base on incredibly rigid view of life. This narrow view of the life and world is also prevalent in “Intimidation (ある脅迫,1960)”. Takita and Nakaike in “Intimidation” are both victims and oppressors in this distorted structure.

I honestly don’t know why, but in these fictional worlds of Japanese banks, it seems only transgressive means available to a man in this inherently misogynistic world is adultery. “Is Kaisha bitter or salty?”, a book by Maolo Mazzalino (pseudonym of an anonymous Japanese writer), explores the history of Japanese businessmen society and culture, and in this book, the author tries to outline the culture of adultery using many articles and reports found in contemporary magazines and tabloids. In the prewar era, this “culture” was considered as the measure of “competence/resourcefulness” of a man, especially among the rich executives and entrepreneurs. Well, you need money to keep a mistress (or mistresses) happy. This “culture” didn’t die with World War II. In fact, the “culture” propagated down the corporate hierarchy, and many lower-level managers “enjoyed” sexual relationship with mistresses.

Undoubtedly, “having mistresses” got popularized as the nation’s economy got better.
– Maolo Mazzalino

According to the book on “mistress” published in 1959, among the married managers in the 35 to 50 age group, 51 in 216 were having an affair. Of course, such a figure should be taken with a grain of salt, but it shows such a story is considered to be believable and marketable back then. It is fascinating they cited the numbers for managers. Implication is, if you are a manager, you may be able to have an affair or two. But if you are just another employee, it is beyond your means. In “Intimidation”, Nakaike, the just another employee, is not married, while Takita, the assistant manager, is married and embezzling money for his mistress. Though “mistress” is “popularized”, it went down as far as to managers. Even if he does not have enough money to do so, a manager has a power to funnel some corporate money to pay for his “expenses”. I am not quite sure if this is really the way things were back then, but I am more fascinated about the fact that such a notion was prevalent and the fictional world of mistress and manager was considered marketable.

Why managers? Because it is about power and money. It has nothing to do with love or even sex. Well, maybe a little, but the pressure point is about the ability to “afford” her. A mistress is a merchandise to them, unconsciously or not. That’s how Ikebe loses Aratama to Hirata in “Structure of Hate”, because Hirata is the highest bidder. Filmmakers picked bank managers precisely because they thought public wanted to see these elites to be humiliated to the ground. But it was their own desire to see them destroyed. In such a male-centric (fictional) world, characters are explored from the male point of view, reflecting multidimensional chauvinism of the filmmakers and writers.

Then, where are the mistresses?

 

Structure of Hate (黒い画集 第二話 寒流, 1961)

Directed by Hideo Suzuki
Produced by Reiji Miwa
Written by Tokuhei Wakao
Based on the novel by Seicho Matsumoto
Cinematography by Yuzuru Aizawa
Music by Ichiro Saito
Starring Ryo Ikebe, Michiyo Aratama, Akihiko Hirata, Tetsuro Tanba, Takashi Shimura, Seiji Miyaguchi
Toho

 

(Continue to Part 3)

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