This is the story of Mama, a.k.a. Keiko, a middle-aged bar hostess who must choose to either get married or buy a bar of her own. Her family hounds her for money, her customers for her ... See full summary »
This is the story of Mama, a.k.a. Keiko, a middle-aged bar hostess who must choose to either get married or buy a bar of her own. Her family hounds her for money, her customers for her attention, and she is continually in debt. The life of a bar hostess is examined as well as the way in which the system traps and sometimes kills those in it. Written by
Compared to Ozu or Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse's films are much lighter in tone, with more humour, and less of the overwhelming sense of pain and tragedy. Sometimes this works really well, offering stories that are emotionally involving but not morbidly extreme, but in this film I think it results in a film that's shapeless and drifts past the viewer without really going anywhere in particular.
The performances are excellent; of course Hideko Takamine is wonderful in the leading role running a hostess bar, but Reiko Dan is great fun as a young, flirty, ambitious hostess, and Tatsuya Nakadai as the loyal young bar manager is like a hero of the French New Wave, quiet, cool, and intense. Keiko's customers at the bar are to an extent caricatures, but are nicely drawn.
The film offers a full and fair-minded account of the world of hostess bars, with Naruse's usual interest in financial matters and the minutiae of life. But despite the occasional sad event, the cumulative impression is not of a woman in a desperately tragic situation, but more a case of just one damn thing after another. It lurches from moments of high drama to silliness to tragedy to the mundane, failing to achieve a consistent attitude or tone.
There are perhaps too many characters, so that while some relationships are clear and powerful, others pass by with little emotional effect. Unlike in Iwashigumo (Summer Clouds) the main character of this film isn't heroic, isn't keeping up any tradition, and doesn't have any particular claim on our affections. Her defence about needing a fancy lifestyle and expensive apartment for her job, and her attitude to her family, don't seem likely to endear her to the viewer either.
Overall, it feels like a set of great talents wandering around in an inadequate storyline. It's not enough to present the facts; a great film needs to use them to show you something more general about life. And something more profound than, "Well, every job has its problems."
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