Shitsurakuen was such a big hit in Japan as a novel in 1997 that the same year was adapted into a movie and a TV series. Junichi Watanabe’s story, same as the movie by Yoshimitsu Morita, deals with the concept of infidelity in the Japanese society and its consequences as for marriage and the group. In the movie, Koji Yakusho, perfect in roles as a salary man with unexpected interests –as we could see in Shall we dance (1996)- is a 50 year-old newspaper editor who finds himself feeling for the first time what we can call passionate love, but outside marriage. Married, himself, since very young and always chronically devoted to his job, he hadn’t been even able to visit his wife at the hospital when she gave birth to their daughter, now a young woman. His marriage is just a series of rituals like having dinner, exchanging meaningless sentences and avoiding direct questions and answers. The role played by the still very attractive and now 50 –at the time character and actress were 38- Hitomi Kuroki, shows the tedious life of an arranged marriage without children. Shoichiro and Rinko meet on the weekends at romantic hotels by the sea or even at love hotels during the week, and their relationship fulfils the void nurtured by their present marriages. Passion, sex, desire, but also tenderness and mutual understanding ends up ruining their lives. Rinko’s husband is not Tanizaki Junichiro’s Kaname –character from Tanizaki’s 1929 novel Some prefer nettles who even promotes his wife’s adultery- but a rancorous and miserably intelligent man whose pride receives the last hit in the form of an infidelity. The rest is quite predictable.
Apart from the themes of love and sex outside marriage, movie and book deal with the apparently rigid rules of the Japanese society, which mixes personal and professional life as an only entity, and promotes a hypocritical survival of the group –in this case, the artificially created family- at the cost of their member’s happiness.