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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
Finding Naruse Mikio films has been very, very tough, and after seeing this I'd say it's a tragedy. This is among the most gorgeous dramas I've seen - a brooding and dark melodrama, shot in velvety black and white, with stunning widescreen photography.
Based upon my viewing of this and one other Naruse film (to date), I'd say that Naruse's worldview is considerably more cynical than Ozu or Mizoguchi (both of whom he seems to often draw unfavorable comparisons with, from the relatively few critics to have dug into his work) - the strength of women will be taken for granted, or abused by a hostile world regardless of shrewdness, intellect or beauty, and there is a shy jaded quality to this film that gives it an engaging intensity, that while not nearly as subtle, objective or cerebral as Ozu, IS definitely more passionate. Here, and also in the earlier LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, Naruse's women are idealized, heroic - symbolic in a larger sense of outsiders or rebels (of any variety) in a social milieu that values discretion and certain forms of conformity above all else.
If you can find this film, I highly recommend it - more of Naruse's work should be made available outside of Japan.
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