I'm not thoroughly impressed by Naruse's celebrated humanism or bleakness of outlook, at least so far as his prewar output is concerned. My heart is simply elsewhere with cinema. My relationship with him hinges on ways he finds - or doesn't - to annotate otherwise simple melodrama. In The Stepchild it was actresses vying for control of a child's innocent gaze and ours. In Avalanche, a young girl daydreaming a movie plot using characters from photos in a photo book. Street Without End, the most sophisticated of all - I have written on all these and others. There are a few more that sound promising and I'd like to see from this era, but haven't had the chance.
This has directly cinematic charm most of all and is open enough to support personal self, almost incomplete when all's said and done. It has asymmetry that I value a lot, transient nature expressed with some poetry.
The idea is that a young bus conductress seeks out a writer to prepare a script for her, a tour guide's script that spices up the bumpy provincial route she works, a story that entertains and possibly illuminates a journey for the passengers. We go along for the ride.
Of course the company owner is strictly a moneyman and doesn't give a damn either way so long as he doesn't have to spend a lot of money. The script ready, she rehearses her lines with the writer, who coaches her on delivery and nuance. We get the sense that she's a bright, spirited person who yearns to communicate beauty that flutters in her belly.
But once the show is on the road, transient life foils her; an accident, then the company going bust after shenanigans with insurance and more modern competition. She doesn't know this, that once the route is resumed again after repairs it's going to be her last, so gets to deliver this poem she had been rehearsing with a smile. I believe this is where knowledge of Japanese pays off, as the girl was coached on the right intonation of the poem, and I presume getting to note the change in her voice when she finally recites makes all the difference.
So fleeting beauty on this last round of a landscape that inspires poetry, this is abetted in a very powerful way by the film clocking at barely feature length, over just as it has begun to bloom. I soak this in as the few brushstrokes of a haiku, each word a small puddle that reflects expansive skies, words interrupted by time but still echoing down the road for the next traveller that passes by.
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