Before starting off this small review, I would like to remark that I am really acquainted with Japanese cinema, and I generally appreciate everything that comes from there. Having said that, I will feel more comfortable justifying the title of my review.
White Beast is a film directed by Mikio Naruse, an unsung director outside Japan, but greatly appreciated by fans of Japanese cinema. I wouldn't venture to say this film is one of his most revered efforts, though. (The lack of any reviews firmly backs up my statement.) Furthermore, there doesn't seem to be many prints of this film.
The main theme of the film mostly focuses on the daily life inside a women's prison, whereby Japanese society attempted to reform prostitutes. The main and only activity the women had to perform was sewing. As a main character there is a somewhat conceited, arrogant lady who tries to seduce the chief of, if I may name it like that, the rehabilitation center. As a secondary character we have said chief (So Yamamura) trying to run things right inside the center, so that the women allegedly learn how to work honorably, in an otherwise discriminating society against prostitutes (not that nowadays it is not a frowned upon activity). Then there is the doctor of the center, a woman whose role is not really clear to me, as it adds little to no importance to the main plot.
Becoming tiresome on some occasions, ranging from interesting to uninteresting scenes and commentaries, the film kind of disappoints and fails at whatever it was supposed to convey. On the one side, we have the main character whose actions are childish at times, and that is not quite certain as to what role is correct to take in society; on the other side, we have the righteous and kind chief who apparently does his best to help the women, but that wouldn't in anyway hesitate to approve an abortion. In one of the last scenes the main character, when she becomes aware that she has been infected with syphilis, she overreacts at it and crawls all around the place. I understand that it most be shocking to find out about it, but the scene was exaggeratedly overacted.
The film is supported, however, by great and believable acting in general (except, of course, for the scene explained above), no matter how useless some characters might be. Also, in regards to directing techniques, the film is neither riveting nor dreadful; it is actually a nicely done film.
I would recommend people who would be willing to watch this film to only do so if they are honestly interested in immersing in Naruse's filmography; otherwise this might be a great disappointment not only to folk not familiarized with him and Japanese cinema as a whole, but also to those already knowledgeable in the field.
My score: 6.3/10
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