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Notes on the Extant Films of Mikio Naruse

Dan Sallitt

Table of Contents
Introduction .................................................................................................................................................. 1 1931 .............................................................................................................................................................. 1 Flunky, Work Hard! ................................................................................................................................... 1 1932 .............................................................................................................................................................. 2 Not Blood Relations .................................................................................................................................. 2 1933 .............................................................................................................................................................. 2 Apart From You ......................................................................................................................................... 2 Every Night Dreams .................................................................................................................................. 2 1934 .............................................................................................................................................................. 3 Street Without End ................................................................................................................................... 3 1935 .............................................................................................................................................................. 3 Five Men in a Circus .................................................................................................................................. 3 The Actress and the Poet .......................................................................................................................... 3 Three Sisters With Maiden Hearts ............................................................................................................ 4 Wife! Be Like a Rose.................................................................................................................................. 4 The Girl in the Rumor ................................................................................................................................ 4 1936 .............................................................................................................................................................. 5 Tochuken Kumoemon ............................................................................................................................... 5 The Road I Travel With You ....................................................................................................................... 6 Mornings Tree-Lined Street ..................................................................................................................... 6 1937 .............................................................................................................................................................. 7 A Womans Sorrows .................................................................................................................................. 7 Learn from Experience, Parts I and II ........................................................................................................ 8 Avalanche .................................................................................................................................................. 8 ii

1938 .............................................................................................................................................................. 8 Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro .......................................................................................................................... 8 1939 .............................................................................................................................................................. 9 The Whole Family Works .......................................................................................................................... 9 Sincerity .................................................................................................................................................... 9 1940 ............................................................................................................................................................ 10 Travelling Actors ..................................................................................................................................... 10 1941 ............................................................................................................................................................ 10 A Fond Face From the Past ..................................................................................................................... 10 Hideko the Bus Conductress ................................................................................................................... 11 1942 ............................................................................................................................................................ 11 A Mother Never Dies .............................................................................................................................. 11 1943 ............................................................................................................................................................ 12 The Song Lantern .................................................................................................................................... 12 1944 ............................................................................................................................................................ 12 This Happy Life ........................................................................................................................................ 12 The Way of Drama .................................................................................................................................. 13 1945 ............................................................................................................................................................ 13 Tale of the Archery at Sanjusangendo .................................................................................................... 13 1946 ............................................................................................................................................................ 13 A Descendant of Urashima Taro ............................................................................................................. 13 Both You and I ......................................................................................................................................... 14 1947 ............................................................................................................................................................ 15 Even Parting Is Enjoyable ........................................................................................................................ 15 Springs Awakening ................................................................................................................................. 15 iii

1950 ............................................................................................................................................................ 16 Conduct Report on Professor Ishinaka ................................................................................................... 16 The Angry Street ..................................................................................................................................... 17 White Beast ............................................................................................................................................. 17 The Battle of Roses ................................................................................................................................. 18 1951 ............................................................................................................................................................ 18 Ginza Cosmetics ...................................................................................................................................... 18 Dancing Girl ............................................................................................................................................. 18 Repast ..................................................................................................................................................... 20 1952 ............................................................................................................................................................ 20 Okuni and Gohei ..................................................................................................................................... 20 Mother .................................................................................................................................................... 21 Lightning.................................................................................................................................................. 21 1953 ............................................................................................................................................................ 21 Husband and Wife................................................................................................................................... 21 Wife ......................................................................................................................................................... 22 Older Brother, Younger Sister ................................................................................................................. 22 1954 ............................................................................................................................................................ 22 Sound of the Mountain ........................................................................................................................... 22 Late Chrysanthemums ............................................................................................................................ 23 1955 ............................................................................................................................................................ 23 Floating Clouds ........................................................................................................................................ 23 Womens Ways ....................................................................................................................................... 23 1956 ............................................................................................................................................................ 24 Sudden Rain ............................................................................................................................................ 24 iv

A Wife's Heart ......................................................................................................................................... 24 Flowing .................................................................................................................................................... 24 1957 ............................................................................................................................................................ 25 Untamed ................................................................................................................................................. 25 1958 ............................................................................................................................................................ 26 Anzukko................................................................................................................................................... 26 Summer Clouds ....................................................................................................................................... 26 1959 ............................................................................................................................................................ 27 Whistling in Kotan ................................................................................................................................... 27 1960 ............................................................................................................................................................ 27 When a Woman Ascends the Stairs ........................................................................................................ 27 Daughters, Wives, and a Mother ............................................................................................................ 27 Evening Stream ....................................................................................................................................... 28 The Approach of Autumn........................................................................................................................ 29 1961 ............................................................................................................................................................ 29 As a Wife, As a Woman ........................................................................................................................... 29 1962 ............................................................................................................................................................ 30 A Womans Place .................................................................................................................................... 30 A Wanderer's Notebook ......................................................................................................................... 31 1963 ............................................................................................................................................................ 31 A Womans Story .................................................................................................................................... 31 1964 ............................................................................................................................................................ 32 Yearning .................................................................................................................................................. 32 1966 ............................................................................................................................................................ 33 The Stranger Within a Woman ............................................................................................................... 33 v

Hit and Run ............................................................................................................................................. 34 1967 ............................................................................................................................................................ 34 Scattered Clouds ..................................................................................................................................... 34

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Introduction
This compilation of short reviews is intended as a reference work for film lovers who are navigating Mikio Naruses long (1929-1967) and long-inaccessible career. It assumes at least a nodding acquaintance with Naruses major work. The individual descriptions of Naruses films were written between 2005, when a traveling Naruse retrospective played New York, and 2013, after fan subtitling had made all extant Naruse films accessible to English speakers. The pieces first appeared on the Google group NaruseRetro (https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/naruseretro); some have been lightly revised here. To the best of my knowledge, the only Naruse films omitted from this collection are 1941s SHANGHAI MOON, which exists in partial form and does not circulate, and those that are not known to exist. Unfortunately, the length and depth of the entries is not consistent: as a general rule, the entries on the films in the 2005 retro (including all the canonical works) are short blurbs that sometimes assume knowledge of the story, and the pieces written later contain more detail. Its unfortunate that many of Naruses best films receive the least attention here; however, the works that were subtitled only recently have accumulated less commentary, so this collection can be said to favor the underdog. The films were not viewed in the chronological order in which they are presented, so the available filmographical context rises and falls erratically from entry to entry. The set of Naruse films that are commonly selected for Western retrospectives tends to reinforce the notion of a filmmaker who liked to impose a few particular narrative strategies on his films, and therefore the shorter pieces that were written earliest tend to have a narrower and more confident idea of Naruses creative personality. Whereas the cataract of relatively obscure work that washed over English speakers in the last few years shows the director wrestling with less-than-ideal projects and with artistically hostile oversight, not only from studios but also from the wartime Japanese government and (most intrusive of all) the Allied postwar occupation. Under these adverse conditions, the full range of Naruses mastery of narrative technique is revealed, as the director pulls from his quiver whatever arrow is required to attack particular projects. The reader may therefore note a correlation between the scarcity of the movies and the extent of my humility in the face of Naruses vast and complex oeuvre. Thanks to my Naruse comrades over the decades for materials and discussion: Glynford Hatfield, Steve Russell, Michael Kerpan, Blake Lucas, Keith Uhlich, Dan Callahan, Danny Kasman, Jaime Christley, and many others.

1931
Flunky, Work Hard!
Rather a nice little film, an O. Henry-like vignette that feels complete at 38 minutes. Naruse seems to be working out of Ozu's universe here: the film lacks his usual storytelling sprawl, though we get some of his visual gravity and his bleak vision of family and poverty. The physical humor is often deft (there's a very funny gag where the mother's compulsive sweeping threatens an infant lying on the floor), but the film peaks with the harsh scene of the father's unjust punishment of his son, ending in a beautiful long 1

shot of the crying boy's retreat through a sunny field. Naruse is already punching up the story with camera moves and effects, but not as continuously as he would in a few years: the camera style remains calm until the plot takes an emotional turn.

1932
Not Blood Relations
One of my least favorite Naruse films, mostly because I don't enjoy this sort of prolong-the-agony plot. But I don't think that Naruse obtained any kind of unusual perspective on the goings-on, and the characters stayed close to their archetypes. His very busy camera style of this period gives the film a nice, lively feel - I think that its principal effect is to give Naruse more control of emphasis, rather than to give us a spatial perspective. Many good directors seem to have felt a need to combat the tyranny of the diegesis in silent films, and then settled down in the more contrapuntal environment of the talkies.

1933
Apart From You
A disciplined melodrama that perhaps doesn't get as far under the surface of its characters as one would like. Of the three leads, only the young geisha played by Sumiko Mizukubo develops any complexity (her bitter confrontation with her unpleasant family is quite good), and, even so, her emotional location in the final scenes becomes obscure to me. Whereas the character of the boy simply flips from delinquency to goodness without much exploration at all. (Akio Isono looked about 45 years old in that schoolboy outfit and Ish Kabibble haircut, which was a distraction.) The wild camera style that Naruse liked in this period is here refined into a reliance on dollies in and out, though the effect is approximately the same: a way to distribute emphasis that is not beholden to story. The appealing settings in the middle of the film - an evocative train ride, the seaside location of the girl's family home establish an idyllic mood, but the darker melodrama of the climax doesn't build from it: Mizukubo's final decision didn't seem to have a lot to do with the knifing and recovery that came before, and in fact the dynamic of leaving/staying hadn't been important in the film until that point. By the end I had trouble remembering the good will that the film had built up earlier.

Every Night Dreams


A slow-building film that pays off with a powerful ending. Naruse's hyperkinetic camera style pumps up the melodrama of rejected husband Saito trying to make good on his second chance with his estranged wife Kurishima and his daughter. But the characterization of the husband is too balanced to be the stuff of melodrama: his terminal weakness and fickleness is presented as clearly as his childlike gentleness and sincerity. Only when the overwrought plot reaches its climax do we realize that Kurishima's melodrama diverges from ours: even in death, Saito evokes in her not pathos, but fury and contempt. Naruse's devious approach to the emotional material, honoring its form but not its expected redemptive function, foreshadows the storytelling techniques that he would hone in the 50s.

1934
Street Without End
A relatively conventional story, filmed with assurance by Naruse, and helped by an appealingly restrained lead performance from Setsuko Shinobu. The vigorous, eclectic camera style works through, not around, the drama, giving the impression that Naruse is completely engaged with the material. Even so, the film never develops the narrative complexity that is his specialty. Though Naruse doesn't do enough with Shinobu's participation in the death of her hapless husband, he scores big with the final scene, which returns to the opening visual theme of city chaos to amplify Shinobu's lingering sense of loss from an earlier relationship.

1935
Five Men in a Circus
Seems more interesting in retrospect than it did while I was watching it. The story, of a band of itinerant musicians who arrive in a small town at the same time as a traveling circus, is a loose concatenation of five or six subplots, most of which are so slight that resolution is optional. Much of the film's business is openly comic and not always sophisticated, and the transitions between subplots are casual to a fault. The near absence of plot throws Naruse into the Fordian mode that he exhibited occasionally throughout his career, and most of the film's best moments are quiet evocations of smalltown ambience, or interactions filmed in long shot and set in unexpectedly imposing natural settings. Near the end, one of the subplots takes center stage and inspires Naruse to a display of pure, subversive pessimism. The most sensitive of the musicians dreams of becoming a serious violinist, and leaps at the opportunity to play violin as a circus variety act, though he is warned that the rural audience may not be receptive. As it happens, the audience's brutal reaction is so ego-shattering that the enthusiastic response of the circus owner's pretty and admirable daughter somehow doesn't seem enough of a compensation. Naruse uses this painful scene to transform a traditional ending - the farewell on the road, with the owner's daughter waving goodbye to the departing musicians - into a tense, carefully managed duel between the pleasure promised by genre expectations and the grim logic of the director's vision.

The Actress and the Poet


Not an ideal project for Naruse: Ryuji Nagami's script mandates a fairly straightforward comedy of nonconformism and antisocial behavior, and also tends to lean too hard on its comic contrivances. (The film is based on a novel by Minoru Nakano, who also wrote the play on which WIFE! BE LIKE A ROSE was based - but in that case Naruse did the adaptation.) Most of the film is low-key and digressive, and Naruse does some nice, relaxed character work with the supporting players, a few of whom are suspended between comic relief and villainy. Interestingly, even though the project is not set up for a Naruse multilayered climax, the director takes care with the grading and the emphatic flow of the film's last movement: he draws out the climactic domestic quarrel, uses editing and point of view to create an unexpected detachment from the protagonists during the action, and nurtures the stillness that follows 3

the battle. All this effort is wasted on a commonplace reaffirmation of the protagonists' marriage - but still, a characteristic aura of mystery permeates the last act, even if it is ultimately dispelled by the pat scripting. The open-air shots of the terrain around the ramshackle neighborhood where the story is set are quite attractive, with ghostly trolley cars traversing the background during transition shots. Now that Naruse's entire 1935 output has been subtitled in English, we can be amazed that he was able to throw off two relative failures - this and the somewhat more interesting FIVE MEN IN THE CIRCUS and also create THREE SISTERS WITH MAIDEN HEARTS, WIFE! BE LIKE A ROSE, and THE GIRL IN THE RUMOR, all in twelve months' time.

Three Sisters With Maiden Hearts


A fascinating film, so visually dense and languorous that the characters seem suspended in dreamlike stasis. From the opening shots, Naruse shows the titular sisters immersed in a profusion of street detail; though some of the footage is semi-documentary, the cumulative effect is abstract, almost Sternbergian. The revelations of the sisters unfold slowly, punctuated by flashbacks (weirdly bracketed by focus-outs and focus-ins) and narrated in a state of revery. When a plot kicks in near the end, it is outrageously melodramatic and not very effective in illuminating the characters' lives - though the last line of dialogue hints that the middle sister's sacrifice may have been an unusual form of suicide. Undeniably impressive, on the edge of being lugubrious, the film makes me wish it were more plotted or less plotted.

Wife! Be Like a Rose


Something different for Naruse, but quite a nice film. It starts a little flip and goofy, but falls into an interesting, contemplative state, without much incident or drama. In a way, it's almost the record of someone making up their mind, with imagery and landscape as visual aids to the decision-making process, and the story an experiment to gather data. It's perhaps Naruse's most Ozu-like film, but the ending, if not exactly a kicker, points up a Darwinian undertone that gives the gentle story some bite: sorry, Mom, you were weighed in the balance and found wanting.

The Girl in the Rumor


Wow this film is almost too complicated, too full of exciting things. Right away you can tell that Naruse is fully engaged. The extreme fragmentation of the visual plan isn't entirely specific to Naruse: the 30s films of other Japanese directors also feature dissonant cuts between unmatched shots, breaking all the continuity rules of American filmmaking of the time. But Naruse layers on top of that cutting style a disorienting play with narrative threads, so that disparate stories seem briefly sutured together by movement cuts or composition matches, before story gaps break the connections. During my first viewing, I was already anticipating how much more I'd get from my second viewing. The kaleidoscopic visual style is wedded to a dense weave of plot threads, all centering on the family-run sake store that is teetering on the edge of extinction. The three major story lines the complicated marriage negotiations; the attempt to bring the father's long-time mistress into the family; the father's experiments with the store's sake all bear a fair portion of the film's emotional weight. All the story lines advance in fits and starts by means of the painstaking efforts of the film's more responsible 4

characters; and two of the three story lines seem as if they might conclude to the advantage of the family. But, even in the more optimistic scenes, a terrible foreboding hangs over the proceedings: Naruse cuts to the mysterious, stricken expressions of the diligent eldest daughter (Sachiko Chiba) or the long-suffering mistress (Tomoko Ito) at unexpected moments, as if they can see, as we cannot, that dark forces are working toward their defeat. Naruse even pulls an unexpected character revelation at mid-film, as the seemingly irresponsible grandfather (Yo Shiomi) turns out to be an accurate and philosophical observer, and his sober son (Ko Mihashi) is revealed as an unexpected agent of destabilization. When the amazing climax manages to resolve all three stories at the same time, it is with a horrifying chain reaction that ensures the worst possible outcomes across the board. Its too easy to call any film Naruse's darkest, given the range of candidates; but there's something really unsettling at work here, as if life is corroded from within. The external, annihilating viewpoint imposed by the opening and closing scenes in the barbershop across the street is the last nail in the coffin. I have a feeling this film is going to settle in as one of my favorite Naruse works.

1936
Tochuken Kumoemon
A really weird movie: there are ways to appreciate it, but I bet it wasn't much fun for Naruse. It's a biopic, seemingly set around 1900, of a well-known performer of rokyoku, a Japanese singing/storytelling form with shamisen accompaniment. The eponymous protagonist (Ryunosuke Tsukigata) swaggers through the movie with a broad, conquering smile and conspicuous machismo, and for a while the film seems like a pro-militarist assignment. (Rokyoku apparently became associated with militarism, and consequently lost popularity after World War II.) But the protagonist's appeal is soon undercut so severely that one wonders if Naruse was not willfully sabotaging the project. Tochuken's real-life scandals are depicted as a comprehensive train wreck of his private life, with his wife (Chikako Hosokawa) driven to her grave by his neglect and infidelity, and his son (Kaoru Ito) rejected then nearly killed by his father for insufficient masculinity. The brazen hero-monster proclaims that his only moral criterion is the improvement of his art, and repeats the assertion in so many inappropriate contexts that even the most reactionary audiences were surely forced to reject him. Undercut or not, Tsukigata is impossible to make interesting, and Hosogawa's excellent, nuanced performance merely makes the hero look like more of a bull in a china shop. The film begins on an artificially heightened dramatic situation - the superstar has gone missing on the eve of his Tokyo premiere - and labors for intensity throughout. Forced to tug at the udder of drama from the start, Naruse doesn't get to show many of his distinctive qualities. Only a few scenes let in any feeling of everyday life, and the overt drama allows no room for subterranean narrative developments. My favorite scene is a rokyoku performance in a small room, with Hosogawa accompanying Tsukigata with shamisen and odd vocal ejaculations - the recessive camera observes the detailed performance with a little of the detached feeling of the wonderful final music scene in FLOWING. Occasionally a smaller character is handed a nuanced moment, like the one in which Tochuken's usually assertive manager is caught by Naruse's panning camera in a silent moment of rapture as he is carried away by Tochuken's performance. 5

The Road I Travel With You


Overall, a worthwhile movie, and a few steps up from TOCHUKEN KUMOEMON. The material is certainly dark enough for Naruse: the otherwise promising young man Asaji (Heihachir kawa) and his younger brother Yuji (Hideo Saeki) face blighted lives because of society's disapproval of their illegitimacy and dclass family. A distinctively Naruse-like opening shows the brothers paying as little attention as possible to their dotty, vulgar mother (Tamae Kiyokawa, giving a good performance as one of Naruse's least caricatured representatives of family evil) and their profligate grandfather (Kamatari Fujiwara). But a subsequent conversation between the brothers, in which all the plot problems are laid out in dialogue, made me wonder what undercurrents could possibly be left for Naruse to uncover. And, in fact, there aren't any: the film's state is static; all doors will remain closed, and all pressures have been applied before the story begins. Naruse's usual indirection in revealing his true subject doesn't pertain here: his only task is to show the workings of the trap, and the characters' reactions to it. Despite this limitation, and the sometimes excessively explicit writing, the film is often moving. The forbidden love between Asaji and his neighbor Kasumi (Naoyo Yamagata, an intriguingly open, childlike actress) is depicted with a strange resignation, as if Asaji could no longer manage more than nostalgia for happiness. Naruse satisfies his instincts for dramatic structure by saving a little quiver of overt emotion for the climactic scene in which Kasumi's family sends an emissary to demand the return of her love letters. After this, the film trickles into an interesting aftermath that frustrates our desire for resolution, as even tragedy fails to take the wind out of the sails of the banal, malevolent forces that surround the survivors. The IMDb says the movie is adapted by Naruse from Yukiko Miyake's novel, but Audie Bock says the source material is a play, and it sure feels that way, with lots of major incident happening off-camera. Naruse makes at least one attempt to open up the material, but doesn't follow through: maybe he would have done better to accept the project's theatrical constraints. A few of the performers seem to me either inadequate (Saeki) or miscast (Fujiwara); apparently Naruse was unhappy at being forced to use PCL's contract stars during this period. All in all, the film feels a little too broken to be called an outright success, but contains too much of Naruse's personality to be dismissed.

Mornings Tree-Lined Street


This film, which Naruse wrote as well as directed, goes so conceptual in its final third that I didn't decide that I liked it until 15 minutes after it was over. But it's certainly the most confident of the three films that Naruse made that year, and possibly the earliest indication that Naruse's surrealist tendencies could take the driver's seat. Wallpapered with occasionally distracting soundtrack music, the movie follows level-headed country girl Chiyo (Sachiko Chiba, in what seems to be her final role for Naruse) as she moves to the city and tries to avoid becoming a bar hostess, a fate that has already befallen her old friend Hisako (Ranko Akagi). Much of the film's effective, melancholy first two-thirds is devoted to the texture of bar life as seen by the wary outsider Chiyo. The hostess world is clearly a sad business that takes its toll on the women caught in it, but it's depicted without melodrama or villains. The occasional incident, like a glass-throwing fight or a girl drinking herself into a stupor, is deprived of story context and turned into ambiance; mostly the bar girls merely appear to have relinquished social restraints, spitting in public or eating out of the cook's rice pot. Despite the efforts of a friendly customer named 6

Ogawa (Heihachir kawa, the older brother in THE ROAD I TRAVEL WITH YOU) to find a better position for her, Chiyo resigns herself to accepting a hostess job (Naruse marks the decision with a foreboding, elegant ellipsis) and is assimilated into a life of men and alcohol. Suddenly the film seems to go downhill abruptly, as Chiyo runs away with Ogawa, then learns that he is a wanted embezzler. Everything in the film suddenly seems coarser: Chiyo's prudence is replaced by oblivious devotion, and Ogawa's shifty behavior signals his treachery clearly. After taking up almost a quarter of the film, and just as the plot is about to expire in melodrama, the embezzler story is revealed as Chiyo's drunken dream! And Naruse wraps up the movie with the restraint that we thought he had abandoned, and with a bold rejection of the sympathetic love story. The outrageousness of this narrative curveball - there was even a dream within the dream sequence - is compounded by the glimpse it gives us of desires that Chiyo does not permit herself to show otherwise. And yet the dream sequence is quite disillusioning while it lasts: the film simply seems to have gone off the rails. Only afterwards can one take pleasure in how well the pieces of Naruse's crafty conception come together. Was this absurdist plan Naruse's way of coping with a studio head who insisted on an action climax? I'd love to know.

1937
A Womans Sorrows
It's odd to see an early Naruse film that contains so much of his personality, and yet gives me so little pleasure. Naruse co- wrote, with Chikao Tanaka, a script about a young woman named Hiroko (Takako Irie, best known from early Mizoguchi films) whose determination to get married leads to her becoming little more than a maid for her thoughtless in-laws. Naruse devotes a lot of energy to the trap Hiroko is caught in, and his depiction of the unpleasant family has interesting detail and a bit of plausible ambiguity. But there's something unsatisfying about both the setup and the resolution of this situation. Though the film's catch line describes Hiroko as "conservative and indecisive," there's little about her on-screen behavior to suggest that her plight is the result of a passive or denial-prone personality. In fact, she comes across as rather self- aware and ironic. A secondary focus on Hiroko's meetings with a cousin (Hideo Saeki) who does not return her love lends the film a structure vaguely like that of Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS, but has the effect of making Hiroko seem even further above the trap. And her way out of the bad marriage is simply to say that she's had enough: Naruse doesn't do much to suggest either a change in or a new dimension to the character. Without a strong link between drama and character, Naruse's knack for capturing base human behavior seems a dubious gift. The visuals are sometimes quite attractive, in the experimental style that Naruse toyed with during his early career: shadowy cityscapes, foreground obstructions, pans across spaces that open up into the background, circling low-angle dolly shots. More exciting to me, Naruse sometimes hints at his characteristic fusion of drama and form, building up to Hiroko's moments of crisis with accelerated cutting and visual connections among the activities in the family house. We also get one of the director's droll, disorienting transitions, as Hiroko's marriage is thrust upon us via the image of the new couple upside-down in the wedding photographer's lens. 7

Learn from Experience, Parts I and II


Fairly early on, one gets the sense that this two-part adaptation (by Fumitaka Iwasaki, from a novel by Kan Kikuchi, who also provided source material for GATE OF HELL) spells out its issues too directly to be Naruse's dream project. Eventually it emerges as a tearjerker about a young woman named Toyomi (Takako Irie), impregnated and forsaken, whose only purpose in life is to enable increasingly outrageous story contrivances. The material actually contains some psychological nuance, especially regarding the self-deceptions of Toyomi's weak victimizer Shintaro (Minoru Takada), which may or may not be attributable to Naruse. But the crazy plot does what it will, sweeping aside petty issues of characterization. Naruse takes refuge in the visual flourishes that he favored in this period, and around the middle of Part I he hits an interesting, almost Sternbergian stride, beginning and ending scenes on striking long shots of novel locations, suspending the story in a contemplative and dusky ambiance. (Several beautiful images seem to be photographed in low light with high-speed film, with real light sources visible in the frame, and movie lights used to supply highlights.) Part II has charms as well: possibly the most evocative interlude in the film is the depiction of the canal-side boarding house where the pregnant Toyomi takes up residence, with unidentified boarders traversing the shadowy hallways to the omnipresent sounds of passing boats. Still, the tightening grip of the absurd plot squeezes the life out of Part II and negates what little character Toyomi had been previously given. At film's end, I mostly remembered the bad stuff.

Avalanche
Didn't work for me. It looks like a prestige project, adapted from a novel by Jiro Osaragi, consisting mostly of conversations in parlors. The characters are fairly pure embodiments of the film's theme, which is that the younger generation has acquired knowledge but somehow failed to acquire understanding, and is consequently throwing off social restraints and becoming a menace to itself and to others. Naruse doesn't devise a good way to handle these flat, message-bearing characters devoid of mystery. His visual style is unusually fluid and beautiful here, evoking the space between characters and stripping away decor for a minimalist effect. But the poetic ambience has nothing much to attach to. The best scene is probably the climax, which is close to horror in the contrast between the protagonist's mentally unstable internal monologue and the repeated closeups of his inexpressive face. Interestingly, the coda, which feels like Naruse in its contrapuntal use of open air and sunlight, is fragmentary, as if Naruse had snatched as much pleasing footage as he could from the uncooperative script.

1938
Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro
A competent comedy-drama that gives Naruse no opportunity to do anything interesting. The stylized pattern of quarrel and reconciliation between the two leads seems particularly inappropriate for a director whose vision of conflict is far more pervasive and entropic. Though he can do little with the characters, Naruse shoots the musical numbers beautifully, favoring low angles and spacious 8

backgrounds, and giving the film a sense of drama by cutting to the stage at odd times and sustaining the tension of the performances with long takes.

1939
The Whole Family Works
Not too ambitious, but rather a nice film, full of dark character observations that are well integrated into a light comic tone. (I especially like the conflict between the casually venal mother and the diligent fourth son, who spends his savings rather than let his parents "borrow" them again.) An irresolvable conflict emerges - the children can escape lives of grinding poverty only by leaving the rest of the family in the direst of straits - and is played out to its grim conclusion. Unfortunately, the final section is defaced by the intervention of the children's gasbag teacher, whose function seems to be to give the story a phony tone of resolution and optimism. Is this the hand of censorship? At any rate, Naruse managed to sneak in a final, desolating shot of the parents, presumably looking starvation in the face now that their children have been liberated.

Sincerity
A really perplexing film, full of wonderful things but profoundly unfulfilling in terms of structure. The first movement constructs a detailed multi-perspective inquiry into the report cards of two school friends, Nobuko (Etchan, very good) and Tomiko (Teruko Kato), revealing in the process the friends' quite different personalities, the conflict between Nobuko's tightly wound mother (Sachiko Murase) and jock father (Minoru Takada), the absent father in Tomiko's home, and sundry observations on the ethos of Japan's educational system in 1939. I was hoping that Naruse would stick to those report cards for the entire film, but a plot kicks in when the girls learn that Nobuko's father and Tomiko's mother (Takako Irie) were once in love. The film here takes a turn toward the subjective perspective of Tomiko, whose self-image wavers as she uncovers new facts about her family history. Both sections, though, contain lots of sharp behavioral detail from the children, with Nobuko's carefree/careless nature deployed beautifully by Naruse to provide airy counterpoint to the increasingly grave subject matter. As Tomiko's confusion takes over the story, Naruse enters her state of mind in a long, dreamlike passage of the former lovers meeting under the eyes of the children, with Tomiko and her mother passing slowly and repeatedly through the idyllic landscape that separates their rural town from the beach where the mythologized reunion occurs. But the final section of the film goes in strange directions. Nobuko's father's gift of a doll to Tomiko precipitates an interfamily crisis that might have pulled together all the film's character threads. But Tomiko, the film's central character, is almost entirely dropped from the film's end game; and the explosive gift of the doll is depicted without showing or suggesting Nobuko's father's motivations, which are certainly ambiguous. Instead, the focus of the climax is on rebuking Nobuko's mother for her suspicions and her general demeanor, even though her actions have contributed little to the crisis, and on the possible restoration of her marriage via her acceptance of chastisement. Could all this misdirection have something to do with Nobuko's father being something of a symbol of Japanese military zeal (in that he is about to be called up to service - he was introduced lowering a sword into an 9

empty frame), and therefore not a valid subject for criticism? It's hard to say. Naruse wrote the script, from a novel by Yjir Ishizaka, who also provided subject matter for Shiro Toyoda's excellent 1937 film YOUNG PEOPLE. The subtlety of the dialogue suggests that he was engaged by the project, and the dramatic fulfillment of narrative strands is generally Naruse's strong point. I suspect foul play.

1940
Travelling Actors
An uncanny film that seems much better in retrospect than it did when it was in progress. Early on, we realize not only that the story is predicated on a single joke - the excessive identification of the protagonists with their equine acting persona - but also that this conceit is an abstraction that inhibits any deep study of character. Despite the narrowness of the psychology, Naruse pulls humor from small, realistic interactions, and the country atmosphere is a strong presence. (There's a beautiful, leisurely sequence in which the rejected actors wander through a series of pastoral long shots on their disgruntled way to the river - John Ford couldn't have struck a better balance between the timeless appeal of landscape and the melancholy of the human drama enclosed in the vastness of space.) The ending is transformative: the narrowness of the characterizations is acknowledged and amplified into absurdism, as the funny horse suit triumphantly leaves the confines of the theater and claims the expansive landscape for its own. Paradoxically, the crazy ending makes the film feel like a deeper study of people: one imagines that Renoir or Boris Barnet would have liked to have made this film.

1941
A Fond Face From the Past
A patriotic short film, shown theatrically. It's light on overt propaganda, though the moments of military affirmation occur where they can do the most damage. The film's sleepy rural ambience is not inflected by much plot, and the opening feels rather Fordian, with its diagonal compositions of marching soldiers, children at play, and quiet landscapes charged with a gentle nostalgia. When it emerges, the story has a tang of absurdism: first a mother, and then her daughter-in-law, journey to a city movie theater but fail to spot their son/husband in a war newsreel where he is reported to appear, then return home and lie to cover their embarrassment. The highlight of the movie is the mother's expedition, replete with interesting detail: we see her hitching a ride on a neighbor's cart, eating her dinner on a mat in the theater, looking distractedly at the side of the room during the newsreels, then wiping tears from her eyes while the narrator drones on. But Naruse does not indicate the exact point where her vigilance lapses: only the absence of dramatic punctuation during the newsreel, and her asking her neighbors if the newsreels are over, indicate that she has missed her son's appearance. The daughter- in-law's voyage (including an anomalous, exciting tracking shot of soldiers in combat, revealed to be the point of view of the daughter- in-law looking at maneuvers from a passing bus - reflexive humor shading into subversion) fails more mysteriously, and Naruse eventually clears up the mystery with a patriotic clich that ends the film on a quiet but upbeat note. All in all, Naruse's deadpan absurdism, appealing as it is, doesn't quite seize ownership of the project. 10

Hideko the Bus Conductress


On my first viewing, I thought this film pleasant but slight. But this time around it looked like a continuation of the low-key structuralist absurdism that Naruse relied heavily upon in the wartime years. On the surface, HIDEKO is a relaxed, plot-deprived vehicle for the 17-year-old Hideko Takamine, playing a ticket-taker for a failing rural bus line who devises the idea of boosting business by giving bus riders a guided tour of notable sites. (The first clue to the film's absurdist agenda is that there are no notable sites in the area.) Supported by her bus driver (Kamatari Fujiwara) and a friendly writer (Daijiro Natsukawa) who composes a script for the tour, Hideko good-naturedly surmounts a number of very small obstacles and realizes her plan. Much of the film's 54-minute running time is devoted to sunlit, neorealist depictions of the bus's route, accompanied by cheerful soundtrack music. But one begins to note Naruse's tendency (he wrote the script, based on a novel by Masuji Ibuse - who, amazingly, also provided source material for Imamura's BLACK RAIN) to end scenes on oddly offbalance notes: an uncompleted pursuit of a runaway chicken; or a mysteriously unsavory character loitering outside the shop of Hideko's landlady. Micro-incidents like the writer's reaction to his paltry compensation are drawn out exhaustively; a scene of the shady owners of the bus company contemplating killing a fly is cut like a suspense sequence. However much you tune in to Naruse's wry undercutting of the let's-put-on-a show story, you are unlikely to be prepared for the narrative sabotage that he saves for the penultimate scene. But then he finishes the film with nice landscapes and happy music, as if nothing had happened.... It's a sign of Naruse's artistic stature that, confronted with inhospitable wartime filmmaking conditions, he was able to rechannel his creativity into such bizarre but rewarding forms.

1942
A Mother Never Dies
I was really enjoying this film for a while, though its tendentious qualities eventually sink it good and proper. The story the premature death of a young mother (Takako Irie, much used by Naruse during this period) serves as eternal inspiration for her husband (Ichir Sugai) and son creates expectations of crippling sentimentality, but Naruse has no problem keeping that aspect of the project in equilibrium. From the films first scene a slow lateral tracking shot of a busy office disassembling itself after the companys failure, dominated by the sounds of papers rustling and shuffling of feet Naruse and writer Katsuhito Inomata (adapting from Sensuke Kawauchis novel) choose an ambient, stoical perspective on the emotional swings of the story. The living room of the couples house is photographed primarily in tranquil Fordian long shots with the changing seasons visible through windows, and family life is abstracted into a series of quiet tableaux like the return of the recently laid-off father from a drinking session with his former co- workers, the mother bringing him a glass of water which he drinks while sitting unsteadily on the floor. The progression of the mothers illness imparts a chill to the otherwise uninflected long- shot visual scheme, and the camera finally retreats to a discreetly Lubitschian position outside the house for the inevitable conclusion of the mothers story. After the mothers passing, a new focus on the fathers childrearing techniques opens the door to propaganda, and the film ultimately stands revealed as an exhortation to parents to make their children 11

into good Japanese citizens. (The fathers draconian crackdown on any hint of sexual self-expression in his son perhaps gives some insight into why Japans post-war American occupiers felt the need to commission films like Naruses 1947 SPRINGS AWAKENING, which encouraged a gentler touch in dealing with child sexuality.) The mothers didactic death-bed letter to her family is featured prominently and repeatedly in the films second half, and the fathers hectoring patriotic lectures to his son and to the world at large soon become hard to endure. Still, and in keeping with his usual practice, Naruse never quite gives up when saddled with horribly uncongenial material, and distinctive Naruse elements (like the sons sullen passivity when confronted with parental authority) crop up even in the worst scenes. Sugai, later a fixture in Mizoguchis 50s work, is an appealingly contained performer who carries the film with no visible effort.

1943
The Song Lantern
Painfully circumscribed by mythic characters and period setting, Naruse falls back on pictorialism. Some lighting effects are truly striking, but nonetheless the film just sits there. Isuzu Yamada's two dance scenes, filmed with drama and an interesting sense of space (Naruse lets Yamada crowd the camera more than was his wont), are the highlights.

1944
This Happy Life
I'm glad there isn't anything else like this bizarre movie in Naruse's filmography, but it's a whole lot more appealing and graceful than it has any right to be. Made as the end of World War II approached, THIS HAPPY LIFE is pure wartime propaganda, but of an unusual sort. There's little militarist feeling expressed, apart from a kenbu sword dance performed by a young boy; rather, the film's mission is to instruct the home front, in great detail, on how to make do with the odd scraps of food and supplies available, and to demonstrate in various ways that people can be happy no matter what straitened circumstances they find themselves in. The setting is a small town, arranged along a main street that looks like a back-lot set for a Western, and populated with a collection of comical, not always likable characters, sketched by Naruse (who co-wrote the script with Toshio Yasumi) with an ample supply of backwater obduracy and marital tension. The arrival of a new family, headed by a gregarious, polymathic eccentric named Soma (Kingoro Yanagiya), stirs up resentment; but the townspeople are won over slowly by Soma and his family's positive attitude and making-do-with-less expertise. The emotional keynote of the movie is the cheerful bludgeoning of the audience with the demand that they eat carrot ends and like it, and one can imagine the look on Naruse's face as he read the memos from the Toho executives. ("#43. Apple peelings. They taste quite good in rice congee. This should be mentioned, perhaps by Soma's older daughter.") Weirdly, there are even suggestions that the homely, shambling Soma is a divine presence: he enters the town on the heels of a mysterious windstorm, and clocks stop and start as he arrives and departs. But it's remarkable how much freedom Naruse enjoyed around the edges of this strange enterprise - even managing to suggest, via a few cantankerous citizens, that the triumph of propaganda over human nature is incomplete. The overall tone is almost childlike, with 12

impromptu songs, fanciful dance interludes, and a screen-hogging turn from child actress Meiko Nakamura as a relentlessly cheerful problem solver. (Nakamura would work again for Naruse as an ingnue, turning in an appealing comic performance in 1955's Women's Ways.) Naruse effortlessly sustains the rapid, unifying musical-comedy pacing, despite his presumed inexperience with lighter genres. And the oddity of the project sometimes coaxes out the modernist in him - as in an early interlude of rapid, inscrutable cross-cutting among fragments of life in the various households of the village; or, more bafflingly, in his termination of several scenes with montages of objects falling or being thrown around rooms, with no obvious cause. Well-known manzai comedian Entatsu Yokoyama plays the prickliest (and most easily converted) town-dweller.

The Way of Drama


A very bad project, combining patriotic wartime preachiness and senseless melodrama; I'd be surprised to hear that Naruse had any input into the script at all. (The IMDb says it was based on a novel by Koen Hasegawa, who was known as a radio dramatist; Toshio Yasumi, who wrote several of Naruse's lesser known films, adapted.) Set in the Osaka theater world, the story is dominated by a self-righteous troupe leader (Roppa Furukawa) who bravely risks his popularity by selecting only plays that support the Japanese military cause, and who decides to break up the love affair between his star actor (Kazuo Hasegawa) and a shamisen player (Isuzu Yamada) in order to purify the actor's commitment to his craft. On top of this contrivance, a host of supporting players repeat every plot point and character development until the writer feels sure that we can't miss it. You couldn't blame Naruse for throwing up his hands, but, as was his wont during the war, he works hard to create ambiance, with particularly evocative renderings of musical and dramatic performances. In general, the film's visuals look pretty great, albeit more shadowy and low-key than usual for the director, with crowded, Sternbergian exterior sets and attractive squared-off long shots down hallways and through doorways. But the goodlooking images feel like decoration here: the drama is too banal to give them any purchase.

1945
Tale of the Archery at Sanjusangendo
Another period piece, with legendary characters and vaguely martial overtones. The script has some wit, and screenwriter Hideo Oguni (later Kurosawas go-to writer) makes a small effort to give the characters dimension, but there's really not much that Naruse can do with this material, other that create beautiful deep-space compositions for exterior shots. Occasionally a small mysterious moment is created by duration and editing rhythm, but the characters are too thin to absorb the mystery.

1946
A Descendant of Urashima Taro
A depressing movie, seemingly made to order for Japan's American occupiers, and more thoroughly proof against artistic expression than anything Naruse had imposed upon him during the war. Imagine the story of Capra/Riskin's MEET JOHN DOE, with all its behavioral flair removed - in fact, with all 13

behavior removed, and no time at all devoted to characterization - and the gap filled with endless repetition of Capra/Riskin's empty political sloganeering. The title character, a bearded veteran (Susumu Fujita) recently returned from 16 months on a Pacific island, draws public attention with his Howard Beale-like yelling on a radio show, and is in quick succession made famous by a rookie reporter (Hideko Takamine) and expropriated by a political party intent on covering up its shady intentions. The veteran is seduced by the cult surrounding his personality and by an unwholesome businessman's daughter (Hisako Yamane), but finally recovers his lost integrity via public self-abasement. Actually, it's not easy to tell the difference between the veteran's pre-corruption and post-corruption selves, both revealed via the same scrupulously vague pro-democracy sloganeering. Hard to believe that the hopeless script was the work of Yasutar Yagi, writer of many of Tomu Uchida's most celebrated films, including the subtle 1955 A HOLE OF ONE'S OWN MAKING. But Naruse really doesn't acquit himself much better. He can't do anything with the blustery non-characterizations; and, though he manages an occasional pleasing composition, even his usual visual facility is submerged by a shadow-heavy, Soviet-looking lighting scheme and bare cavernous sets. Mostly he seems to be playing along with the project, cross-cutting and changing shot length without inspiration; at times he retreats to remote long shots and seems too weary to alter them in reaction to story events. (The production had at its disposal a crude zoom lens, and Naruse experiments with it a little, especially at the climax, with no particular benefit or harm.) Strangely, the film's most interesting scene is a derisive one, of a weird solo dance performance at a plutocrats' party, with the guests wearing fish-head masks. Naruse cuts away from the dance at random times to show partygoers walking around (or out), or to extreme long shots that are held to the point of lethargy. Whether Naruse is working with the film's satirical agenda or indulging in a bit of sabotage, the scene is reminiscent of Gerd Oswald in its spooky, desolate campiness.

Both You and I


I went into this movie with zero expectations Catherine Russell called it a companion piece to the straitjacketed A DESCENDANT OF URASHIMA TARO, possibly my least favorite Naruse film and in that frame of mind I rather enjoyed myself. Like URASHIMA TARO, BOTH YOU AND I is designed as social propaganda: in this case, to encourage postwar Japanese workers to be less deferential to the authority of their employers. But whoever came up with this mission (the American occupation forces? If so, why all the railing at capitalists?) seems not to have cared much about how Naruse executed it. Featuring the manzai comedy team Entatsu Yokoyama (the barber in Naruses 1944 THIS HAPPY LIFE) and Achako Hanabishi, BOTH YOU AND I is little more than a series of comedy sketches, not often funny but made endearing by writer/director Naruses winking refusal to pull the plot together or cover up the contrivance of the casting. (If you consider how much it would cost to hire a couple of comedians, they're cheap, says the duos boss after making them perform at one of his parties.) Between the sketches, Naruse inserts disconnected bits of droll character business: one of the comedians falling abruptly asleep at the dinner table; the other oblivious of the ages of his marriageable daughters; unruly youngsters somersaulting threateningly in living rooms. For a while, the films tendentious passages are comically tucked away in the dialogue of a play being rehearsed by one of the comedians children; when the message eventually invades the plot line, it is pounded home so monotonously that the film nearly sinks. But the comedians manage to pull out their only really funny routine for the climactic telling-off-the-boss scene, which sugarcoats the pill of the sloganeering. I 14

wouldnt exactly call BOTH YOU AND I a good film, but its desultory freedom of expression lifts it above most of Naruses work from the relatively dry 1946-1950 period.

1947
Even Parting Is Enjoyable
A celebration of the creative renewal of Toho in 1947, the portmanteau film FOUR LOVE STORIES included episodes by Naruse, Shiro Toyoda, Teinosuke Kinugasa and Kajiro Yamamoto. Naruse's episode, the second, written by Hideo Oguni, is a leisurely dramatic piece about the breakup of a bar girl (Michiyo Kogure, the star of OKUNI AND GOHEI) and a gangster (Isao Numasaki), mostly staged in the woman's apartment. As economical as a typical TV production of the time, the episode contains only one other location, a bar where a group of predatory characters lie in wait for the bar girl to become available. These marginal figures acquire some edge from Naruse's usual misanthropic detailing, but the romantic story, driven by maudlin music, gradually becomes lugubrious after a few feints at lowlife humor, and is one of the few instances of Naruse's direction being difficult to detect. The structure of the episode, in which introductory material is kept to a minimum in order to arrive quickly at the juicy dramatic scenes, is not uncommon for commercial short subjects of the time, but it deprives Naruse of the opportunity to play with narrative development. And one suspects that sentimental love scenes, even if they end badly, don't interest him very much.

Springs Awakening
SPRINGS AWAKENING is an oasis in the difficult period of Naruses career that followed World War II. And, unlike his wartime films, which at their best adopted odd, absurdist forms to get around censorship and unfavorable industry trends, SPRINGS AWAKENING drives right down the main thoroughfare of Naruses stylistic world. In concept, the film is a bit narrow: nearly every moment spins a variation on the theme of adolescence struggling with new sexual feelings and devoid of guidance from the uptight adult world. The protagonist, a cheerful girl named Kumiko (Yoshiko Kuga, of OLDER BROTHER, YOUNGER SISTER), is part of a cohort of three boys and three girls, all sincere, nave, and passionate about ideas, and all behaving erratically under the influence of hormones. Kumikos hard luck is that her parents are more old-fashioned and nervous about sex than those of her friends, so that a kiss stolen by a classmate leaves her in terror of becoming pregnant. The more enlightened father (Takashi Shimizu) of one of Kumikos friends summarizes the film's theme with a speech near the end, exhorting parents to respect and understand the budding sexuality of their children. If the theme is perhaps too pervasive, it also gives Naruse and co- writer Toshio Yasumi carte blanche to focus on small-scale, mysterious behavior. The film had me at its first scene: Kumiko returns home from school, makes eye contact with a cat, and spots the family maid talking to a boy. The nervous maid tries to dodge Kumikos question about the illicit contact, but the girl happily jumps to a new topic: That cat was here again! Sex is knocking at the door but hasnt yet taken possession of the premises. The girls of Kumikos group fret over the indignity of enduring a mass physical exam at school, but smile as they proclaim the exam disgusting. A boy asks another, I look in just one place when I see a nude. 15

What about you? then shoves his friend when he doesnt get a response, though the violence fades into joshing horseplay. Discussing poetry, an intellectual girl says, You know, if you decide a poem is about someone else, even in a very general way, it gets a lot more interesting! Alone with one of the girls, faced with a pregnant pause in the conversation, a boy flops on his back instead of making a move, then pops up again a few moments later, not out of the game yet. From the precise opening montage that picks Kumiko out of a flow of city activity, Naruse keeps a controlled, detached perspective on the teenagers diffuse crises. As is his wont, he saves extreme closeups for his climax, and generally arranges the kids in static long shot tableaux that give the boys sudden spasms of motion a faintly threatening quality. The film kicks up to a new level of expression for the scene of Kumikos first kiss, set in a hilly landscape where one of the boys goes to paint, and made unpredictable by the characters' intense mood swings. Naruse slows the films rhythm here and stages its action across a vast space, less to create suspense than to add a timeless, Fordian aura to the array of confusing impressions jostling for space in the kids minds. Like Deanie in SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, Kumiko finally breaks down in hysterical laughter under the strain of mediating between libido and societal pressure. But Naruse and Yasumi are not prepared to take their protagonists ordeal as far as Kazan and Inge were 14 years later. SPRINGS AWAKENINGs didactic mission seems to give Naruse fewer emotional dimensions to bring together at the climax, and probably drops it below the top rank of the directors work. But its sustained formal and behavioral brilliance beg for critical attention.

1950
Conduct Report on Professor Ishinaka
At first glance, this episodic film about the comical interactions of the residents of rural Aomori Prefecture seems as if it would be up Naruses alley. But one quickly senses that Naruse didnt control the script, and the films comedy of foibles has so little depth that the director rarely gets any traction. Based on a collection of short stories by popular novelist Yjir Ishizaka (who also provided source material for Naruses 1939 SINCERITY and 1955 Women's Ways, as well as for Shiro Toyodas excellent 1937 YOUNG PEOPLE) and adapted by Yasutaro Yagi (writer of Naruses A DESCENDANT OF URASHIMA TARO and a number of Tomu Uchidas films), the film seems to be trading on the audiences familiarity with Ishizaka: the titular character Ishinaka (Miyata Shigeo, looking a lot like photos of the real-life Ishizaka), plays a famous writer who intrudes on the lives of locals to solve their problems or to gather material for his books. Not only does this detached character give Naruse little emotional life to work with, but most of the principals of the films three vignettes also possess just enough character traits to allow them to be pitted against each other in familiar comic configurations. Naruse doesnt give up on the material, and when the final episode, The Story of a Carriage of Hay, gives him a bit more to play with in the way of hidden emotions and motivations, he makes the most of the unspoken attraction between a visitor to the countryside (Setsuko Wakayama) and a taciturn farmers son (Toshiro Mifune), at least until Ishinakas arrival relegates the story to rural drollery (to borrow from the title of Ishizakas short story collection). If Naruses dramatic instincts are blocked, his visual flair is unimpeded, and the film is replete with lovely afternoon light and beautiful photography of groups 16

against landscapes. Theres even a bit of the surrealist editing that Naruse enjoys on occasion, as the sudden irruption of fireworks into a naturalistic scene is revealed to be part of a movie that the characters attend; while another amusingly rushed scene transition is driven by a cutaway to a clock revealing that the characters need to get to the next location.

The Angry Street


A disappointment. Naruse seems to have co- written the unsatisfactory script with Motosada Nishiki, as was the case with two of Naruse's other 1950 films, WHITE BEAST and WAR OF THE ROSES. Some sources give a story credit to Fumio Niwa, a famous novelist whose book was adapted for WAR OF THE ROSES; I can't determine whether a Niwa book was the source material here. The film focuses on two students, Shigetaka (Yasumi Hara) and Mori (Jkichi Uno), who supplement their income by fleecing naive women. The writing throughout is on message and exaggerated, with the youngsters flaunting their depravities like comic-book villains; when one of the two acquires a conscience and switches with slight motivation from the Evil to the Good team, the contrasting characterizations are as schematic as a "Goofus and Gallant" strip. Naruse seems to be working in harmony with the simple concept, allowing the actors to illustrate what may be intended as a cautionary tale about the effects of the war on Japan's youth. The camera work is fairly functional, in keeping with the opening credits' evocation of neorealism or pseudodocumentary; Naruse rises to the film's few action scenes with sharp, elliptical editing that makes one wonder how he might have fared as a genre director. Uno brings an interesting star quality to his unpromising role; 17-year-old Keiko Kishi (Toyoda's SNOW COUNTRY), in her debut, steals the film as Tagami, the designing woman who turns the tables on Shigetaka.

White Beast
One of the several projects Naruse made after war's end that uses a current social issue as a container for mild prurience. The topic this time is the reform of prostitutes, who are herded into a therapeutic institution and shepherded through crises, many of them syphilis-related, by kindly administrator Izumi (S Yamamura). The toughest nut for the establishment to crack is the rebellious, flamboyant Yukawa (Mitsuko Miura, later the unscrupulous sister in LIGHTNING), who clings to self-justifications that the film intends to beat out of her. As with his previous film THE ANGRY STREET, Naruse co-wrote with Motosada Nishiki; though WHITE BEAST improves on the repetitive, overly explicit dialogue of its predecessor, its script leaves much to be desired. In addition to its tendentious social mission, the film seems more interested in devising a series of lurid incidents - a protracted catfight, flagrant attempts at seduction, syphilis-induced insanity - than in finding a perspective on the characters. Yukawa, the film's dramatic center, suffers particularly from this focus on the sensational, as her erratic attempts to defeat the system are so exaggerated and sexualized that they fail to come together into a picture of a person. Of course, even Naruse's best films are seasoned with exaggeration and caricature; and if the lurid proceedings throw the film off balance, they don't strand the director in uncongenial territory. Gradually WHITE BEAST accumulates memorable moments: an unnerving scene of a distraught Yukawa smashing panes of glass with her bare hands; the unexpectedly bleak and anti-dramatic conclusion of a subplot involving one of the prostitutes (Chieko Nakakita, in the first of more than twenty performances for Naruse) and the man she had promised to marry before the war; the account of a minor character's tortured offscreen death from syphilis; the stricken Yukawa lying in bed with a mysterious vision of 17

rippling water and an unidentified child; a final long shot of Yukawa silhouetted against an ambiguous sunrise. But the film's problem aspects never abate, even as its style piles up points. One bizarre scene transition, reminiscent of Buuel, in which the institution's doctor blatantly reverses her promise of secrecy to a patient, makes one wonder whether Naruse was chafing under the film's propagandistic mandate; but no clear pattern of subversion emerges.

The Battle of Roses


One doesn't have to read the credits to tell that this oddball movie is an adaptation of a novel. Fumio Niwa's source material (Catherine Russell says that it was originally a newspaper serial), adapted by Motosada Nishiki (WHITE BEAST, THE ANGRY STREET), appears to be a lurid Harold Robbins-like saga of sex and power, set in the cosmetics industry and centered on the love lives of three sisters, played by Kuniko Miyake (TOKYO STORY, LATE SPRING), Setsuko Wakayama (CONDUCT REPORT ON PROFESSOR ISHINAKA), and Yoko Katsuragi (SCANDAL). Naruse takes the thing at a sprint, covering large quantities of plot in short jostling scenes, muting the melodrama with his observational sensibility, and even playing editing tricks at transitions to up the perplexity quotient. The result sometimes calls to mind Straub's THE BRIDEGROOM, THE COMEDIENNE AND THE PIMP in its almost comic compression, at least until the exposition slows down in the second half and Naruse allows himself a little room to establish scenes (often with pans from one focal plane to another, not a move I generally associate with Naruse) and linger over atmosphere. Though the characters are sketched quickly, Naruse finds interesting angles on some of them: Katsuragi is especially intriguing as the kittenish youngest sister whose lighthearted rebellion against social strictures seems sometimes benevolent, sometimes hostile. Despite the more measured pace of the second half, THE BATTLE OF ROSES still can't hit the brakes hard enough to give the climactic scenes the weight they seem to require. This odd lack of emphasis is especially noticeable in the final reconciliation scene between sisters, which is a rough draft for the ending of LIGHTNING, though far more perfunctory and glancing.

1951
Ginza Cosmetics
Not as original in concept as the best Naruse films, but full of interesting texture. Kinuyo Tanaka is excellent as the barmaid suspended between good-natured perseverance and bitter practicality, and Naruse lets both of these aspects coexist in her character without pushing either too hard. The bar scenes in the first half are full of good detail and are often funny (there's an especially wonderful moment where Tanaka busies herself lighting and smoking a cigarette to keep herself from cracking up at an awful singer), and the dialogue is consistently smart. When the plot kicks in, though, it doesn't give Naruse much room to play storytelling games: the possibility of love rears its head and then departs without revealing anything interesting about Tanaka's character. Despite its considerable appeal, the film ends up feeling a bit unsatisfying.

Dancing Girl
Released between GINZA COSMETICS and REPAST in 1951, right at the generally acknowledged beginning of Naruse's greatest period, this unheralded movie turns out to a major work: not without 18

problems, but with an intensity of expression that shows Naruse's renewed ambition after 15 years of living by his wits. Like Naruse's 1954 SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN, DANCING GIRL is based on a novel by Yasunari Kawabata, and each of the two films hints at an underlying, quivering melodrama that periodically pushes at the troubled but mundane surface of family life. In DANCING GIRL, the marriage between a writer (S Yamamura) and a ballet instructor (Mieko Takamine) has been poisoned by the wife's long-time love for another (Hiroshi Nihon'yanagi). The family's nearly grown children (Mariko Okada - in her screen debut - and Akihiko Katayama) are visibly frayed and beginning to malfunction after decades of domestic conflict. Naruse drives the story with unexpected cuts to one family member warily watching the others, expecting no good to come of any interaction, waiting for a long- deferred big bang. As with SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN, the suppressed melodrama of DANCING GIRL's story seems to inspire Naruse to a more pictorial and abstract visual style. From the first scene (a mysterious crisis in the raked seats of a ballet hall) to the last (combining camera moves and cutting to integrate the interior and exterior of the family house), the film is extraordinarily beautiful, with compositions that are slightly less functional and slightly more commentative than in most Naruse films. At times Naruse almost seems to be passing from modernism back to classicism - as in the scene where Okada confirms her commitment to dance as she and her boyfriend (Isao Kimura) sit above the rapids of a river. The inclusion of several ballet performances of moderate length, which could have been an anomalous element, feels compatible with the overall tone of hidden emotion breeding aestheticism. Like many Naruse films, DANCING GIRL pivots on a central scene that outdoes our expectations of how violent and emotional the characters are likely to be. Often that scene comes late in the film and crystallizes the characters' states of being; here, the nodal scene of the family's explosion comes earlier, with Yamamura flaunting a bitterness which seems to have transformed over the years into evil, and both children breaking silence to expose the extent of the marital rift. Naruse and scenarist Kaneto Shind structure this scene as a series of successive startling revelations, giving the sense that the repression on which the film has so far depended is shattered, with no obvious way to pull the story back together. The brutality and enmity between husband and wife are never counterbalanced by any demonstration of a bond, or even a civilized discussion; and yet DANCING GIRL ends with a suggestion that the marital ties might be renewed. In itself, the pictorial and abstract ending is quite affecting, with Naruse making rare use of crane shots. Still, I question the outcome of the story. The Wikipedia article on Kawabata says: "Kawabata left many of his stories apparently unfinished, sometimes to the annoyance of readers and reviewers, but this goes hand to hand with his aesthetics of art for art's sake, leaving outside any sentimentalism, or morality, that an ending would give to any book. This was done intentionally, as Kawabata felt that vignettes of incidents along the way were far more important than conclusions." The ending of Naruse's adaptation of SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN was quite different from the ending of Kawabata's book, and in that case too I was unsatisfied with the film's climax. Notwithstanding my reservations about the dramatic development, and milder reservations about an odd compression of events that seems the result of paring down a complicated novel, DANCING GIRL needs to be added to the Naruse canon. 19

Repast
An affecting, contemplative film, unusually specific to its locations (Osaka vs. Tokyo). Its theme is clearly stated and never modified: from the opening voiceover, we are focused on the drudgery of the married woman's life, and the work of the film is simply to make us aware that, for Michiyo (Setsuko Hara), this drudgery is not a secondary consideration, that it outweighs all other factors in her happiness. Naruse uses sleight-of-hand in the early scenes to make us think that the destructively flirtatious niece of Michiyos husband (Ken Uehara) is having a bad effect on the marriage, but before long Michiyo's essential aversion to her role takes center stage again. (The scenes with the niece don't work well for me: her cocktease is so blatant that I'd think she would have either been thrown out or regarded as a laughing stock. Naruse doesn't really give us a glimpse of the inner person, who I would presume is sociopathically angry.) The film really kicks in during the drifting Tokyo interlude, where rhythm and mood convey Michiyos sense of deliverance, even as her well-meaning family and friends tighten the noose of marriage around her neck. Michiyos final voiceover almost seems to be playing games with us, suggesting that "perhaps" the routine of marriage is the way for women to be happy: surely the last scene with the couple shows her returning to the same life that has already made her miserable.

1952
Okuni and Gohei
An atypical Naruse film, alleged to be an unwelcome assignment, though it was made at a time when the director seemed to be consolidating control over his career. Based on a 1922 play by the famous writer Junichir Tanizaki (THE MAKIOKA SISTERS, MANJI, THE KEY), the film is set in the Tokugawa era, and the period setting robs Naruse of much of the behavioral specificity that we associate with his work. (A fussy, unpleasant doctor who shows up for one scene in mid-film is a more typical Naruse creation than the more generic central performances.) In addition to this handicap, there's a layer of strangeness that seems to be a result of Naruse trying to find an angle on the material. The rapid onset of the story (and something about the sets as well) makes the film feel like an Allan Dwan/Benedict Bogeaus 50s Western: the widow Okuni (Michiyo Kogure), accompanied by her husband's servant Gohei (Tomoemon Otani), is charged with finding and slaying her husband's killer Tomonojo (S Yamamura), who had courted her before her marriage. The plot chugs through a few peaks and valleys of the standard quest narrative before we realize that Naruse and writer Toshio Yasumi have left blank all the key facts about the characters' motivations: how zealous the two searchers are about their mission, how the widow feels about her husband or her former suitor. The effect is disorienting and, in the absence of interesting behavioral detail, somewhat offputting. Eventually, one realizes that it was the filmmakers' conscious strategy to leave the characters mysterious until late in the story, and that the psychology of Okuni, at least, comes together in retrospect. The other two characters I'm not so sure about: the crucial role of the devoted, strait-laced Gohei may be muddled by unorthodox casting; and Tomonojo serves so many disparate story functions that it's hard to think of him as an internally coherent character.

20

I'm still inclined to think that Naruse made a mistake by engaging the plot so far in advance of defining the characters; but his sapping of all the usual pleasures of the revenge movie is at least daring, and might seem more successful upon a second viewing.

Mother
Even 60 minutes into the movie (around the time of that startling false "The End" title), I was having trouble finding anything distinguished in it: the levelled-out tone of sentimentality wasn't really overdone, but neither did it seem very original, or at all typical of Naruse. (The use of music and voiceover to create a level, retrospective mood feels almost Fordian.) But near the end the pattern of characters dropping away accelerates to the point of abstraction, and Naruse's empty angled interior shots start to look ghostly. I thought of those war movies where the platoon dwindles to a man or two by the end. Or, given that every major character is eventually marked for an exit, including the mysteriously afflicted mother (Kinuyo Tanaka), maybe a better comparison is to vacated-center films like POINT BLANK or THESE ARE THE DAMNED. The theme of duty is hit hard in MOTHER, but Naruse characteristically (even subversively) lets a bleak psychological vision creep around the edges of the surface celebration. I never cared for this film before, but now I think I kind of like it.

Lightning
The most perfect and moving of Naruse's family dramas. Hideko Takamine's rebellious Kiyoko, a bus tour conductor whose perky descriptions of tourist sites are humorously presented as non-diegetic, is immersed in one of Naruse's most interestingly destructive families, shot through with masochistic selfabnegation as well as the usual reflexive predation. Relatively level-headed and with just enough anger to keep her emotionally distant from the family quagmire, Kiyoko reaches out, first tentatively and then decisively, toward anything that evokes the culture and tranquility that she has never known. Naruse's most exciting climactic "kicker" is in fact a double kicker: after an outburst at her trapped mother that reveals only the depths of Kiyoko's despair, a quiet barrage of lightning heralds a new, inner narrative of optimism that Kiyoko gradually succeeds in imposing on the film at large. The last line, an unexpected gift to our intrepid heroine, sends the audience out with a feeling of hope rare in Naruse's work.

1953
Husband and Wife
It doesn't quite come together for me, but it has its charms. It starts off with a light comedy tone, a little like WIFE (with Rentaro Mikuni adding broad humor in both films). When the semi-humorous treatment of the husband's unjustified jealousy turns into serious marital conflict, it has more bite than expected, because blame-free wife Yoko Sugi has actually been subtly withholding affection from the more obviously difficult Ken Uehara. Their reconciliation is topped by a third-act conflict over whether to abort a pregnancy - not a bad segment in itself, but seemingly imported from a different movie, as if the drama were happening to a couple who hadn't had the conflict we saw earlier. Unlike WIFE, HUSBAND AND WIFE doesn't have an ending dark enough to stand as an antithesis to the comic conventions of the early scenes. Probably not a major Naruse, all things considered. 21

Wife
Still thinking about it, and liking it more and more. It starts in a mode that's almost comic in its expressionist, subjective vision of marital hostility (the exaggerations of the wife's disgusting habits, complete with sound effects, reminded me of Sturges), but gradually amplifies the difficult aspects of the situation, the ones that don't allow the film to end like a comedy. And indeed it doesn't.... At first I thought the wife was too unsympathetic for the film's own good, but now I think that that's the most distinctive aspect of the project, and the one that pays the most dividends.

Older Brother, Younger Sister


A very good film - I consider it top-drawer Naruse, and typical of his virtues, despite the unusual rural setting. The film is one of Naruse's most visually striking, with languorous long-shot deep-space interiors that are charged with the threat of conflict and the unnerving erotic presence of Machiko Kyo, supine and disruptive in the summer heat. Two action scenes interrupt the leisurely drama and spring the mechanism of Naruse's "hidden" story: Masayuki Mori's fight with Kyo's suitor, revealing his passion for the sister he abuses; then the climactic, beautifully edited family brawl, in which Kyo's triumph is to express her despair for the only time, and Mori's defeat is that his love is submerged in violence and masculine pride. Just outside the older brother/younger sister epicenter, all the other family members have their own crises of degeneration to deal with: the film is quite full of emotional material. There is perhaps a small lull at the midpoint, when Kyo's impregnator pays an extended visit.

1954
Sound of the Mountain
Unusual material for Naruse, partly because of the hints of sexual perversity, but also because the story is essentially told from the point of view of an observer - the father, played by S Yamamura - which has the effect of hiding the details of the bad marriage and the husband's affairs, giving us instead a pile of second-hand information. Naruse's response to this complex material is more overtly poetic than usual: he sometimes cuts directly to closeups where establishing shots are expected, and often ends scenes with close shots that emphasize mystery instead of giving information. One of the consequences of pinning the story to the fathers perspective is that the film becomes a wide-ranging inquiry into the lives of women at a particular moment in Japanese culture: not only daughter-in-law Setsuko Hara and daughter Chieko Nakakita (in whose hard luck the father is implicated), but also the dark underworld of husband Ken Uehara's abused lovers, with Yoko Sugi playing Heurtebise to Yamamura's Orpheus. The film has a mirror-image narrative that is foreshadowed from the early scenes: that good-girl, childlike Hara, far from waiting patiently for her husband to return to her, is silently dedicated to a hatred that will unilaterally abort a pregnancy and terminate the marriage. Though I liked the film much more than ever before, the climax still feels unsatisfying to me, perhaps because Hara's decisive actions occur offcamera and away from home. Naruse seems to be trying to compensate for this absence by punching up Yamamura's encounter with Uehara's pregnant lover, concealing her face until the last moment and giving her an emotional turn that seems out of proportion to her dramatic importance. But the evocative geometry of the last scene does a lot to make up for any structural problems. 22

Late Chrysanthemums
I like this film, sometimes a lot, but I've always felt that it goes too far in the direction of plotlessness. A lot of what I value about Naruse is his way of modifying conventional dramatic structures so that they pay off differently than we expect, and here that's not as much of an option. My favorite story strand is the relationship between Tamae (Chikako Hosokawa, in her first performance for Naruse since 1936) and her son: the boy clearly accepts and has learned to have fun with his role as a delinquent, and the mother can't see him as anything else - and yet he continually gives the mother money (not a common occurrence in this film), takes a difficult job to support her, and always stares at her as if he's still seven years old and fascinated with her sexuality. Characteristically, Naruse never underlines this mirror-image reinterpretation of the mother-son relationship. The characterizations in general have a lot of pleasing detail; I especially enjoyed Yuko Mochizuki as the most boisterous and comic of the ex-geisha. The ending is suddenly emotional, partly because big music cues have mostly been withheld until this point: the penultimate shot of Haruko Sugimura anxiously searching for a ticket is quite startling, the only point in the film where Naruse crystalizes our pity for this extremely difficult (perhaps too difficult for my taste) person.

1955
Floating Clouds
Just one of the most amazing of all films. I noticed this time how very good the script by Yoko Mizuki (from Hayashi's novel, of course) is: it takes a lot of planning to introduce so much melodrama and yet keep bringing the film back to the same ostinato figures and slightly comic repetitions. It took me a while to grasp that the melodrama wasn't going to advance the story, that all of Takamine's bitter "last words" and Mori's retreats into the shadows are not to be taken at face value. My take on the role of melodrama in Naruse is that he uses it to give the stories a dramatic structure that he then hijacks for his own, non-melodramatic purposes. I think he needs big drama the way that Hawks needs genre, as something that he uses to create a set of expectations, which he will fulfill in an unexpected way. The development of these characters is incredibly daring, almost absurdist, without announcing itself as such. When you think about it, the lives of most couples fall into an existential pattern - you're in love, you fall out of love, and then what happens for the rest of your life? - that almost no other movies care to treat. Naruse clearly outdoes himself here, moving through time and locations with an ease that makes me think of THE SEARCHERS.

Womens Ways
Part of the three-episode portmanteau film THE KISS, "Women's Ways" is the liveliest and most enjoyable of Naruse's short subjects. Naruse's signature lead actors, Ken Uehara and Hideko Takamine, star as a doctor and his wife who becomes jealous when she reads the diary of her husband's impressionable nurse (Meiko Nakamura, who was a child actor in Naruse's 1944's THIS HAPPY LIFE). But the stars provide little more than a framing story for the film's real subject, the combative courtship between the nurse and a local grocer (Keiju Kobayashi), which is completely and successfully engineered by the doctor's wife to neutralize her rival. The youngsters are somewhat exaggerated comic figures 23

who do not discard their character defects in order to fall in love: the nurse has an ide fixe that a grocer's wife must subsist on leftover vegetables, and the grocer's dogged persistence as a suitor is a natural extension of his original stubborn resistance to marriage. Both young lovers are unaware of their own reversals of emotion and of how manipulable they are - and yet they convey enough sincere feeling to make us aware that this jerry-rigged marriage is as authentic as any other. The doctor and his wife assume center stage again in the film's last scenes to chew over the story Jane Austen-style, though Naruse and his writers (Zenzo Matsuyama, from a story by the well-known author Yjir Ishizaka, who also supplied the source material for Naruse's SINCERITY and CONDUCT REPORT ON PROFESSOR ISHINAKA) conclude with a rather ordinary twist ending. Continuously playful (after an uneventful opening, Takamine steps up to the camera - "I hope you don't mind waiting" - but she turns out to be talking to a patient) and not overly ambitious, "Women's Ways" is an exercise in character observation that showcases Nakamura and Kobayashi's comic skills.

1956
Sudden Rain
I found this film perplexing, and not entirely satisfying. The structure seems almost improvised, with the story moving from patch to patch instead of weaving the different strands together: I was especially perturbed when a long interlude about the husband's work life took over the film more than halfway through. The marital conflict in the film is quite interesting: I especially liked the way Setsuko Hara presents her familiar "ideal woman" persona to everyone but her husband, to whom she is a bit of a shrew. But I had the feeling that some of the big scenes and turning points weren't quite working, and that some aspects of the story were underdeveloped.

A Wife's Heart
Small, well-constructed, and really quite good. We get a lot of subtext right off the bat, as the "happy" Takamine-Kobayashi marriage functions on such a purely practical level that its shortcomings are conspicuous. When she finds love outside the marriage, Takamine is so predisposed to snap that her husband's decisive demonstration of decency does nothing but create a bitter sense of obligation in her. So the conventional "marriage tested and restored" plot, complete with the hope of financial success at the end, is actually a cover for a mirror-image "happiness promised and withdrawn" emotional dynamic that is as fully worked out as one could want. Takamine is very good, throwing in a particularly nice impression of a stereotypical cheerful hostess in the restaurant scenes; many directors would present such flexibility of self-presention as insincerity, but Naruse always accepts it as natural and never underlines it. The high-profile conflict over money with Kobayashi's family turns out to be just a warmup test for the couple, but is one of Naruse's scariest depictions of familial pressure.

Flowing
Almost on the level of the previous years FLOATING CLOUDS, but it doesn't have the conceptual daring of the earlier film: it's more in the sneak-up-on-you category than the what-the-hell-am-I-watching category. But it really sneaks up: there are four separate characters (I would throw Haruko Sugimura in as a primary along with Tanaka, Yamada and Takamine) whose inner lives are set into vibration, and at 24

the end they're all vibrating hard, so that every corner of the geisha house seems to be leaking mystery. Takamine's character is especially unusual: hard to the point of criminality (she almost certainly was intentionally shortchanging the employees, causing much of the house's trouble), but ashamed of her hardness because she identifies with the geisha tradition she rejected, and therefore paralyzed in her life decisions. The beautifully lit samizen jam at the end has great power: a new generation of geisha is in the wings, and the calm and authority of the demonstration reaffirms the traditions that give Yamada's life its meaning...but we know that things are falling apart.

1957
Untamed
I've been waiting for UNTAMED for so long that it's difficult to gather my thoughts about it. It's certainly a rich film, very inventive on a moment-by-moment level: Hideko Takamine gives a varied and creative performance, and the comedy that usually lurks under the surface of Naruse films breaks out in the slapstick Punch-and-Judy routines with Takamine and Daisuke Kato. This is more or less a serialized film along the lines of FLOATING CLOUDS or SCATTERED CLOUDS, built around a chain of successive events of equal weight, rather than around a dramatic situation that builds to a climax. But the CLOUDS films followed couples, and UNTAMED follows Takamine through a number of somewhat repetitive stages of life. Offhand, I can't think of another Naruse film with this kind of plan. There's a sense in which UNTAMED is ostensibly a women's film about a heroine passing through three relationships and different attitudes toward love, but is more substantially the record of Takamine's business life, driven by peasant perseverance and ultimately arriving at success. The section that highlights this duality is the aftermath of Masayuki Mori's death, with Takamine arriving too late, treated badly by the widow, then saying goodbye at the grave site. The graveside scene is exceptionally well shaded: Takamine is sad, a bit sentimental, feels the need for a final symbolic gesture, but can't quite mount the peaks of women's film melodrama, and finally says "sayonara" with as much resignation as grief, then returns to the more engaging world of commerce. One wonderful moment recalls the fake "The End" from MOTHER. Back in Tokyo after her failed romance at the mountain spa, Takamine responds vaguely when someone asks her about her plans for the evening. Naruse cuts to a long shot of a man and woman walking on the beach in semi- darkness. We assume that we are seeing Takamine, until it is revealed that we are watching a movie within a movie, and that Takamine is sitting in the theater with Mori, whom we had assumed had departed the narrative! The double jolt of Naruse faking us out with the movie- within-a-movie and Mori's unexpected return is delicious. One aspect of the ending strikes a false note with me: Takamine's final phone call, which shows her leaving Kato and stealing the staff of their tailor shop for her own new business. Wouldn't it have been much more Naruse-like for her to simply stop in that little shop, buy an umbrella, then walk off into the rainstorm? The phone call gives the ending a somewhat neat, abrupt aura of triumph. 25

As good as UNTAMED is, something about the structure feels a little less focused than in the best Naruse films. Somehow I expected a more thorough reappraisal of Takamine's life, an intimation that her trajectory could be interpreted in a different way from what the story led us to assume. On the level of character and situational detail, though, Naruse is at the top of his game.

1958
Anzukko
A clearly told and compelling story, well within Naruse's range of interests, and yet it somehow seems a bit thin, less behaviorally dense than some of his other "unhappy marriage" films. Perhaps the material is not as congenial as it looks: unlike other dueling Naruse spouses, the embittered, alcoholic husband is pretty much beyond the pale, incapable of putting up a good social front for anyone; which means that Naruse loses the ability to conceal the man's feelings behind routine behavior. The focus shifts almost immediately from "Can they get along?" to "How long can she take it?" More typically, the essentially sympathetic wife comes off rather haughty and hurtful to her husband, seeming to relish striking at his weak points. Not until the last scenes do we see the "zinger" that Naruse is hinging the film upon: the question is not when the wife will leave, but what hidden aspect of her nature keeps her in this marital hell. But I wished that I was "zinged" earlier, because the marital scenes inevitably become somewhat repetitive. Maybe a second viewing will look different, after the revelation of the ending. In the important role of the wife's father (object of the husband's jealousy), S Yamamura is a little too amiable and full of poetic wisdom for my taste - I wish he were a little more implicated in the problem. The father-daughter relationship, as warm as it is, seems to work in complex, possibly damaging ways in the daughter's mind - I feel as if this important side of the romantic triangle could have been shown with a more analytical eye. A good film, but I don't feel greatness in it very often.

Summer Clouds
I enjoyed this film more the second time around - I can't believe I thought it was too diffuse when I first saw it, because this time it seemed if anything too well organized around its theme, which is the passing of a patriarchal, family-centered way of life and the onset of an individualistic ethos that dooms collective enterprises like the family farm. I really enjoyed the early scenes with S Nakamura, who was equal parts oppressor and amiable grownup kid; and I was really struck by the extreme but beautiful illuminated backgrounds in the romantic scenes between Chikage Awashima and Isao Kimura. About 75 minutes in, I started to feel that the scenes were becoming verbal recapitulations of established thematic points; and the ellipses in the last hour didn't keep me from feeling that the theme was driving the characters. I was especially unconvinced by Nakamura's sale of his land - and, in general, I felt that some tension left the movie as that character's power ebbed. Once again, Naruse saves his "kicker" for the final scene: Awashima, whom we originally took for a force of individualistic change, is actually old school, one of the dwindling few who can be counted upon to sacrifice her happiness for the survival of her (hated) community. As in ANZUKKO, it would take a subtle eye to anticipate this kicker - I think Naruse wants these developments to be partly foreshadowed and partly surprising. I think of the film fondly, though not as an unqualified success. 26

1959
Whistling in Kotan
KOTAN seems to me one of Naruse's least interesting films. The story, about the social problems faced by Japan's indigenous Ainu, is mostly centered on the reactions of the characters to their oppressed state, and doesn't give Naruse as much room to maneuver as usual. Screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa's frequent collaborator, hits themes hard and simply - the effect doesn't bother me as much as when Zenzo Matsuyama does it, maybe because the subject matter here seems simple in the first place. In retrospect, the movie has a number of story complications, usually of an anticlimactic nature, that feel like Naruse to me. The section in which an old grandmother desperately tries to marry off her granddaughter across racial lines comes to a conclusion so bleak, destructive and absurd that it's hard to imagine it in anyone else's movie. But it still plays with too much pathos and high drama to feel distinctive. Actually, nearly every dramatic movement in the film fails to arrive at the expected moment of release. The most Naruse-like section of the film is the final one, with a major character dying senselessly and leaving a storytelling void that is unexpectedly filled by one of the most unsympathetic in a long line of unsympathetic Naruse males. And yet the characters here struggle in too narrow an emotional context for Naruse to craft any major, satisfying story inflections. The film looks great, anyway, with attractive widescreen compositions that place the characters solidly in the rural Hokkaido landscape and bring out the abstract, almost geometrical aspects of locations.

1960
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs
I do like this film, but as hard as I try, I can't turn it into a major Naruse work in my mind. The script doesn't seem to me quite as good as others Naruse has worked with, with lots of explicit statements and restatements of things that maybe should have been subtext. And something about the melodramatic structure just seems too everyday, and too foregrounded by Naruse's decoupage, which relies on cross-cutting between closeups, many of which are curiously held for an extra beat. Still, Hideko Takamine is really quite good, very indirect, very moving - she maintains her admirable composure while revealing fragments of anger, and even whining need, at unannounced times.

Daughters, Wives, and a Mother


This one gets a lot of love from some other Naruse admirers, but I was rather disappointed in it. The script wasn't exactly bad, but it leaned on its themes a little hard, especially the family's financial exploitation of Setsuko Hara. The romantic interlude between Hara and Tatsuya Nakadai was one of the most generic things I've seen in a Naruse film; Haruko Sugimura's devouring mom does everything but get in a catfight with her daughter-in-law (though Naruse does give her an interesting last scene); and Hideko Takamine waits in the wings for a LIGHTNING-like moment of truth that never really arrives. The structure doesn't feel quite right to me: the money theme dominates three-fourths of the film, then 27

gives way near the end to a MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW-type dilemma; and the surprise character revelation that Naruse uses so often is saved for the last two shots of the film, and was inscrutable to me.

Evening Stream
An auteurist guessing game. Naruse and Yuzo Kawashima share directing credit, without any clear indication of who directed what. But the two aren't trying to make a seamless film: their styles collide instead of blend. In her book JAPANESE FILM DIRECTORS, Audie Bock says, "Naruse filmed all of the older generation scenes and the Japanese restaurant scenes, while Kawashima did the younger generation and the geisha house scenes." This breakdown looks quite right to me, and with a little acclimation I felt that I was able to spot the directorial transitions. I believe that Naruse did all the scenes with the mentally unstable ex-husband of one of the geisha, even though this character interacted exclusively with the younger generation; and I also think Naruse had dibs on the scenes with the crippled restaurant cook. It looks as if the directors divided their work along the aforementioned lines even within scenes and locations. For instance, there's a single traveling shot, of the young geisha walking down a hospital corridor to visit the cook, that looks like Kawashima to me; but when they enter the cook's hospital room, Naruse seems to take over. Likewise, the opening pool scene is dominated by Kawashima's exaggerated comic style; but I'm guessing that Naruse did the brief poolside shots with Takashi Shimura and his cohort, and with Yoko Tsukasa and her friend. This schema gives more than half the film to Naruse; and, as Jean Narboni observes in the October 2008 Cahiers du Cinema, EVENING STREAM feels more and more like a Naruse film as it goes along. The easiest way to tell when Naruse takes over the film is that everyone starts to seem a little discontent! I'm exaggerating a bit, but the effect is conspicuous. It has a lot to do with acting, but also with the way Naruse tends to neutralize active, happy behavior by containing it in a larger still frame, sometimes including more subdued performances in the same composition. By contrast, Kawashima has an essentially exuberant directorial temperament, even when the subject matter goes dark. And he certainly enjoys bending the space to accommodate his demonstrative performances: he doesn't mind crowding the foreground or reframing with the actors' energy, and to this end he sometimes uses shorter lenses than Naruse. Neither director flourishes his style too disruptively, but the differences are made apparent by continual juxtaposition. I was quite surprised that this strange division of labor didn't stop me from liking the film quite a bit. The story centers on an uncomfortable love triangle - mother and daughter in love with the same brooding, incomplete male - that is sprung on us nearly at the halfway point. (Isuzu Yamada gives a surprisingly gentle and vulnerable performance as the mother, in a role that could have been played for melodramatic threat.) The climactic mother-daughter confrontation is played down or rather, its energy is transferred to the parallel plot thread with the unstable ex-husband, which culminates in what may be the most frightening scene in any Naruse film (and a hint of what Naruse might have been like as an action director). The love triangle collapses instead of detonates, as Naruse undermines the appeal of the male love object (who begins the film as a romantic figure) and embarks on a long anticlimax of uncomfortable but inevitable reconciliation and compromise. And then theres a final dark plot twist in 28

the last minute or two: an unusual move for Naruse, but then Yamadas character is much less willing than most Naruse heroines to let everyday life absorb her. At first Kawashima (A SUN-TRIBE MYTH FROM THE BAKUMATSU ERA) seems broad and unnuanced compared with Naruse, but his style has its charms: his exaggeration has a droll, knowing edge, and hes able to absorb serious dramatic material without breaking his comic stride. Its certainly odd to put a separate director in charge of the comic relief, and yet perhaps no more disruptive than the idea of having comic relief in the first place. To my surprise, the end result feels fairly coherent, even though the transitions between directors are far from smooth.

The Approach of Autumn


I have a feeling I might like this film a lot more if I ever get to see it again. It's mostly about the lives of two young children, who are maybe not quite interesting enough to carry the film, and one of whom (the girl) isn't a very good actor. But the film has a simple, pure structure that Naruse makes work for him: I especially liked the stereotypical long-suffering hard-working mom who is surreptitiously revealed as a delinquent. The Cinemascope photography is really good-looking, and the sad ending sneaks up on you. Perhaps this is a major film disguised as a throwaway project.

1961
As a Wife, As a Woman
On the whole, I think I enjoyed AS A WIFE, AS A WOMAN less this time than when I saw it in the 1985 travelling Naruse retrospective. Its very assured, and it starts out beautifully, with the husband/wife/mistress relationships among Mori, Awashima, and Takamine introduced with understatement and indirection. Takamines habit of singing traditional songs aloud (which turns out to be an early clue to the big plot surprise in the second half) is a fecund ambivalent sign, connoting both happiness and sadness, and Naruse manages this ambivalence beautifully by lingering on and isolating her singing scenes, varying the tightness of the frame to bring out different emotional overtones. The script is a little too much on theme (a quality I associate with Zenzo Matsuyama, one of the screenwriters), which isnt a great thing for Naruse, who benefits from leaving things unsaid. But the big problem, I think, is that the film is too full-blown a drama, tending to abstract its characters into largerthan-life, mythical figures of suffering. This is not a problem in itself, of course; but the films plot is constructed by much more expedient motivations: the competing pulls of love and money, the influence of immediate family and social groups on the behavior of individuals. Naruse is quite comfortable with these mundane motivations, but it proves difficult to express such concerns in the tragic mode that the film is pegged to. In place of the usual Naruse climax, which brings to the fore a previously subterranean theme, we have here a grand three-way confrontation, in which each of the characters states his or her case at length in a theatrical, portentous style. It sort of works for what it is, but its not all that complex by Naruses standards. Luckily, the indirection that usually marks Naruses climaxes is left over for the lovely coda, in which the drama-induced stature of the characters is effectively deflated. The wonderful final scene, in which the 29

couples teenage children shake off their status as victims and open up a new and more optimistic movie over the dead body of the defunct melodrama, leaves us with a distinctly Naruse-like mix of emotions.

1962
A Womans Place
Not too many years after DAUGHTERS, WIVES AND A MOTHER, Naruse and screenwriters Toshir Ide and Zenzo Matsuyama once again depict a casually venal family that makes life difficult for a widowed, virtuous daughter-in-law. The family dynamic in A WOMAN'S PLACE is somewhat reminiscent of TOKYO STORY, although Naruse characteristically makes the aged patriarch (Chishu Ryu) an ignoramus who would be at home in TOBACCO ROAD, while his reasonably sympathetic wife (Haruko Sugimura) is not averse to using daughter-in-law Yoshiko (Hideko Takamine) as a shield in family intrigues. Against a backbeat of petty financial squabbling, a number of soap-opera-ready plot threads jockey for place - but even an unexpected fatality at the film's climax can't prevent the siblings and their spouses from trying to wheedle money from each other between their greetings to mourners at the funeral service. (Spoilers lie ahead.) Ide and Matsuyama's script, never exactly subtle, occasionally suggests willful parody. (One of the eligible men tempting the family's several unmarried daughters sets a new standard for geographical romantic obstacles: he is a meteorologist who has accepted a job at the summit of Mount Fuji!) Naruse tends to dial up the absurdism when his material isn't ideal, and here he seems stymied by Takamine's long-enduring heroine, who for much of the film seems to exist only to set off the pettiness of her inlaws. Her concern for the education of her only son takes center stage when the boy unexpectedly commits suicide, but her conventionally emotive breakdown constitutes one of Naruse's weakest and least complex climaxes. Still, the film offers compensations for its underrealized central character. Naruse often gives the unenlightened family an appealing vulgar energy, as in the strikingly photographed scene of wastrel brother-in-law Masaaki (Tatsuya Mihashi) improvising a seaside dance for his in-laws. The rather vague affinity between the meteorologist (Ysuke Natsuki) and one of the family's daughters (Yko Tsukasa) gives Naruse the opportunity to construct a playful shadow narrative, completely revising our perception of the romance with a single light-hearted comment. But by far the most powerful material is the subplot of the mother's long-lost son from a first marriage, Musumiya (Akira Takarada), who materializes in the family's midst 45 minutes into the film. A dashing figure who catches the eye of a reclusive family relative (Mitsuko Kusabue, in one of her most memorable Naruse performances, both threatening and banal), Musumiya becomes smitten with Yoshiko, whose initial favorable opinion of him is eroded by a host of reports that he is an opportunistic con man. We see enough of Musumiya's maneuvers to believe the bad word on him, but his stunned dignity and nervous little smile as Yoshiko quietly but brutally rejects his overtures and banishes him from the family is one of the most heartbreaking moments in a directorial career long on doomed, polluted romantic relationships. 30

Naruse seems more inclined than usual to editing ploys and formal symmetry in A WOMAN'S PLACE. Movements of the film generally end in exterior shots of the family store, varying only slightly from each other; the repetition does not prevent Naruse from making interesting variations, such as when he obtains an ominous effect by carrying the unmotivated sound of a random police siren over from the previous scene to this exterior. The most assertive formal play occurs during a simple scene in which four different family members enter the kitchen where Yoshiko is working, to ask her help or to make demands of her. Naruse breaks the scene down with cross-cutting between almost identically framed medium shots of Yoshiko and her supplicants, even driving the mechanical repetition home by refusing to establish one of the entrances. Such editing ideas are perhaps too conceptual to become emotional high points. The same cannot be said, however, of the gentle mockery of the film's final montage, in which the children of the family are filmed one at a time in a lovely series of leisurely long shots, through windows and across rooms, as they idle around the house waiting for the return of the parents, not yet aware of a last-minute development that will frustrate their latest grasping maneuver.

A Wanderer's Notebook
I can't find a way into this movie. It manages to create a character for Fumiko Hayashi, but not much of a storytelling context: the focus remains on her stoicism in the face of relentless poverty, and on the poetry of her voiceover commentary on her struggles. Takamine's performance, though livened with comic moments, mostly seems actorish to me, too devoted to impersonation. Characteristically, Naruse gives only partial information about important character points: Did Hayashi really sabotage her literary rival? Was her bad record with relationships a character trait? But here the ambiguity doesn't suggest alternative narratives. The film winds up mythologizing Hayashi just by putting her so up front and center, and I'm not sure that mythologizing suits Naruse.

1963
A Womans Story
I started with a good impression of A WOMAN'S STORY, but after a while I felt as if it was in a bit of an artistic straitjacket. It's a family drama spanning two generations, heavy on flashback, set against the backdrop of Japan's wars of the 30s and 40s. The script, by Ryozo Kasahara, who also wrote Naruse's more modest (and ultimately more effective) THE APPROACH OF AUTUMN, is dramatically focused, paced to suggest a grand scale, and much more event-filled than usual for Naruse, with important characters keeling over left and right in the opening reels. Naruse certainly brings a lot to this unfamiliar form. The widescreen compositions, heavy on long shots, look great, and from beginning to end Naruse seems engaged by the changing background, throwing a lot of emphasis on the visual and aural texture of cityscapes and countrysides. (Maybe he had a little money for this project? It's no chamber piece.) The fatality-filled subject matter combines well with the director's characteristic emphasis on unglamorous character defects: it's interesting to see Naruse's parade of sullen, self-absorbed characters turning up dead at random times, without much dramatic preparation. At no point did I have the feeling that Naruse was coasting here.

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Before long the film feels rather flat, though. I think that the eventful story line doesn't leave Naruse enough room to find undercurrents. He manages to subvert the film's tearjerking appeal by keeping his usual focus on the mundane, but the noisy plot doesn't give him much subtext to work with. And then, though the script has dramatic urgency, it's a little unthoughtful in terms of expressing character issues. Its central character-based goal to justify Takamine's fierce opposition to her son's bar-girl wife is achieved by a rote repetition of slut attacks in the flashbacks. The more complex angle of Takamine and Akira Takarada's oddly loveless marriage actually works against this main goal, and therefore gets lost, though it clearly attracts Naruse's interest. And the subplot of the unconsummated love of Takamine and Nakadai does little except amp up the sentiment. (It's weird that Nakadai, a great and nuanced actor, is so often the least interesting character in Naruse films - the director seemed to regard him as little more than a pretty boy.) The most beautiful scene comes early (which is unusual for Naruse): at first embarrassed when instructed to bid her father a formal goodbye before her wedding, Takamine does so with a sudden surge of emotion, only to have her uncomfortable father dismiss the gesture. Though the material seems to me inappropriate for Naruse, his sensibility is evident almost continuously, right up to the lovely and characteristic final scene. I suspect he had high artistic hopes for the film.

1964
Yearning
I still think this is a good film, but I'm trying to work out problems with it that I didn't perceive when I saw it 20 years ago. The first half functions mostly as a setup, establishing Takamine as the face of heroic, long-suffering Japanese womanhood, and Yuzo Kayama as a dissipate due to frustrated love, a familiar fictional archetype. (Zenzo Matsuyama's script repeats these formulations, and others, a few times too often - I felt myself working too hard to overlook script flaws.) After Kayama declares his love, Takamine's surface starts to crack, and her behavior becomes erratic. The nasty family conflict, and all the business about the death of small grocery stores, serve not only as a background for the erosion of the fictional archetypes, but also as a slingshot to throw the would-be lovers out into that very nice train ride, where Takamine struggles coyly to modify her faithful-wife persona to allow the possibility of yielding to the persistent Kayama. The ending isn't resolving well in my mind: Takamine's freak-out at the kiss, and her subsequent regrets, work for me in terms of psychology, but not as a turning point for the story. Why does the steadfast Kayama take this glitch as a cue to give up and return to dissipation, even with Takamine sending him encouraging signals over the phone? It would make perfect sense, psychologically and structurally, for the film to gradually show Kayama's dissipation as character-based rather than as a response to romantic deprivation, but I feel that the film doesn't devote as much effort to exposing Kayama's hidden character traits as it does Takamine's. On balance, though, still a strong movie.

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1966
The Stranger Within a Woman
I gradually realized as I was watching this 1966 Naruse film that it has exactly the same plot as Chabrol's 1971 JUSTE AVANT LA NUIT (JUST BEFORE NIGHTFALL). Film history is no longer in its infancy, but when two of the world's greatest directors can faithfully adapt the same novel (Lebanese writer Edward Atiyah's 1951 THE THIN LINE) within five years of each other without it being common knowledge, it's clear that a great deal of groundwork remains before us. (Chris Fujiwara is the only writer I could locate who has made the connection.) Because Chabrol's adaptation is more assertive and stylized, I had trouble at first processing Naruse's relatively splashless approach. But I find myself admiring Naruse's take on the material more and more as I think about it. His dramatic concept is simple, but consistently applied: the unhappy protagonist Tashiro (Keiju Kobayashi) is almost inaccessible to us for most of the film, hiding his paralyzing guilt behind a mask of silence. The supporting characters' dialogue moves the film forward, even after we become certain that Tashiro is the holder of the answers to our story questions. He can emerge from the background only when his need for atonement begins to surface, and he does not truly become articulate until that need becomes irrepressible. Naruse matches this pure storytelling idea to a simple and lucid style, maintaining a placid everyday tone, but jolting the film forward with sudden, uneasy transitions that cut into and out of scenes without allowing them to settle. Tashiro's increasingly daring confessions are handled with little dramatic fanfare, often dropping out of his mouth without warning and the absence of drama is appropriate, as the confessions afford him no lasting relief. Chabrol's approach to the protagonist's dilemma has a tang of deadpan Bunuelian humor, with society's representatives persistently refusing, in the name of kindness and forgiveness, to give him the punishment that he craves. And Chabrol obscures the end of the film rather than the beginning, the better to convey his disturbance at the bourgeoisie's ability to rid itself of troubling moral problems. Naruse's simpler emotional tone seems at first less ambitious; but, by persistence and directness, he achieves an unsettling focus on Tashiro's anguish that Chabrol elides. His jagged transitions give Tashiro no relief from repetitive dissimulation, until he and we can no longer support the charade. There is no equivalent in the Chabrol film for the terror of the scene where Tashiro arrives home at night, after yet another confession that brings him no peace, and suddenly vomits into the sink, with his wife Masako (Michiyo Aratama) rubbing his back, able to deal only with his physical pain. THE STRANGER WITHIN A WOMAN contains some of Naruse's most beautiful images, starting with the beautiful deep-focus opening shot that tracks behind Tashiro on a busy city street - already signaling that our hero cannot be introduced to us. Naruse is attentive to atmosphere, to changes of weather, to the background sounds of each location: the natural phenomena of the familiar world are the setting that he imagines when he pictures hell. One can perhaps argue that the film's treatment of its other characters, especially Masako, with her desperate need to restore the status quo at all costs, cannot be as interesting as its ominous exterior view of Tashiro. Naruse reserves more conventional dramatic cues for Masako's story, using slightly 33

expressionistic compositions and lighting to describe her state of mind as she gradually learns the truth. Chabrol, by contrast, effortlessly finds mystery and complexity in his protagonist's social environment, which is perhaps his real subject.

Hit and Run


HIT AND RUN (1966) is still one of my least favorite Naruse films, as it was when I first saw it in the 1985 traveling retro. Based on a script by Zenzo Matsuyama, the project seems inspired by pulp fiction, and is lurid in a bunch of different ways: in Hideko Takamine's uncharacteristically histrionic performance; in its implausible story of a nice, bereaved mother determined to kill another woman's child in revenge; in its weirdly effect-ridden style, crammed with wipes, scrims, white infusions, and seasick pans and tilts. HIT AND RUN is such an outlying data point in Naruse's career than one assumes he was consciously experimenting with extreme storytelling. But how he expected to pull it together eludes me. As in his other 1966 film noir, THE STRANGER WITHIN A WOMAN, Naruse seems to want to take the gloves off and depict the despair of the human condition as directly and brutally as possible. The film's most powerful moments are its most unbearable: the sight of a critically injured child in a rearview mirror, struggling to stand up; a nurse's calm observation that the devastated Takamine has been trying to strangle herself with her own hands. Even in more routine scenes, the strand of morbidity built into the project is deployed with iconoclastic intent to shock. At times, especially in the middle section where the vengeful mother takes charge of the plot, the film becomes so fast-paced that it seems to find its style in sprinting through the minefield of melodrama. But this theory is hard to sustain, given that Naruse again and again steers straight into the material's over-the-top emotionality. The nagging sense that Naruse was making exactly the film he wanted to make is the only thing that keeps me engaged with this weird little item.

1967
Scattered Clouds
One of my favorite Naruse films. Like FLOATING CLOUDS, it's a love story, and it's parsed in the same way into a reiteration of meetings and partings, set in different locations and shaped with ellipses to emphasize cycles instead of forward motion. The hero and heroine are perhaps too well matched: a good little boy and girl who are at the same time strengthened and hemmed in by a sense of guilt and duty. The story's irresolvable dilemma is tailored just for them: one senses that many of the supporting characters would be able to cope adequately with this particular obstacle to love. As Yoko Tsukasa and Yuzo Kayama ricochet through their damaged lives, they sing and dance occasionally, drink a lot, play pachinko, bear up under morally compromising jobs, and generally try to have fun, though their next unexpected meeting always wipes the smiles off their faces. Much of the film's force comes from the spectacle of strong people maintaining their dignity through an unending trial. Maybe FLOATING CLOUDS is a love story in the guise of a story about endurance, and SCATTERED CLOUDS is the other way around. My one problem with this film is that the ending seems to hit too hard, with too

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many reasons for the lovers to part: maybe Naruse could have gotten away with just that terrible, violent train passing the lovers' cab, with its implicit sense of catastrophe.

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