Since the death of his son Hideo, Shukichi (Horyu Nakamura) has been left to tend to his farm with the help of his daughter-in-law Noriko (Ryoko Asagi). The loss of his son, and so too the traumatic departure of his favourite cow Hanako, has taken its toll on his now fragile state of mind as senility threatens to put an end to the work he loves most. Noriko takes it upon herself to visit the cowshed every morning, where’s she’s greeted by the old farmer, pail in hand, who can no longer differentiate her from his beloved beast.
Soon Shukichi’s daughter Mitsuko (Yumeka Sasaki) comes back into his life after ten years to throw a spanner in the works. Destitute, she whores herself to a local broker named Hajime (Seiji Nakamitsu), who convinces her to help him acquire the deed to Shukichi’s farm. It doesn’t prove to be an easy task at first, what with the old man’s adamant refusal to let go of his livelihood, but things soon take a turn for the worst when Mitsuko discovers the dark secret of what goes on behind the cow shed.
Director Daisuke Goto, who saw out the end of Nikkatsu’s legendary Roman Porno era, has earned himself a nice reputation over the years as a man who effortlessly seems able to blend equal amounts of style and substance. A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn is considered to be one of his finest efforts, and it’s not hard to see why, given its interesting premise of forbidden love, which has been uniquely transplanted into the rural countryside of Kumamoto. The film opens quite bizarrely indeed, with Shukichi mistakenly milking his step-daughter in a barn full of cows, yet despite this immediately jarring sight we soon discover the feature to have some welcoming psychological undertones.
Discarding the many soft scenes that litter Goto’s work, which bare little impact save for the moments shared between Shukichi and Noriko, A Lonely Cow… is a film of bittersweet sentiments, which credibly deals with loneliness, greed and the coming to terms with old age. Goto’s strength is that he never overplays these sentiments, leaving the film to offer subtle depictions of various human emotions, which is helped out in no small part by a terrific ensemble who play their roles succinctly. It’s indeed the simplicity of the film which allows it to work as well as it does, and though it employs a few common, or even clichéd, narrative devices to depict its urgency, its helmed by a man who understands his material and uses it to create a believable amount of pathos. Likewise, Hajime Oba’s score is beautifully poignant, while Masahide Iioka’s photography keeps things visually alluring, with the Japanese countryside providing a pleasant change of scenery.
Being one of the more recent films in Pink Eiga’s current catalogue, A Lonely Cow… fares slightly better in terms of clarity, but it’s again let down by conversion troubles as we’re not dealing with original source materials here; this isn‘t likely to change to for the company any time soon, so it‘s a case of take what you can get. A 1.85:1 non-anamorphic analogue transfer, it exhibits ghosting artefacts, slight ringing, aliasing and cross colouring. Contrast and brightness levels are acceptable, while skin tones generally appear very good.
The Japanese DD2.0 track doesn’t present any problems, with dialogue and score offering strong clarity, and beyond the excitable sex scenes little more is required of it. English subtitles are hard-matted and provide a solid translation, although curiously whenever Shukichi refers to his dead cow Hanako, we get ‘Bessie’ instead. I think I know where Pink Eiga was going with this, but given that only a select audience is going to be buying this title, it hardly makes sense to try and add some sort of western connotation to something so trivial.
The best feature on the disc is Daisuke Goto’s director’s notes, which provide plenty of background for the main feature. He tells of coming up with the idea and of subconscious influences, drawing parallels between it and Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900. He also mentions how he wanted to convey themes of old age and “forbidden eroticism”, citing Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring as another source of inspiration. Then we’ve several biographies, a couple of international trailers for the film and photo and poster gallery.
A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn is a touching film (not counting all the sex) that carefully deals with real issues. The constraints - or rather reputation - of the genre means that it may never reach the wider audience it perhaps deserves, but at the very least it’s out there, so those seeking a little arthouse gem for the time being need look no further.