Hourou-ki (1962) was shown at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago with the title Her Lonely Lane. The film was co-produced and directed by Mikio Naruse, and is based on an autobiography written by Fumiko Hayashi. The film stars Hideko Takamine as Fumiko Hayashi.
This is the first Naruse film I've seen, and I feel as if I'm starting at the end of a cycle rather than at the beginning. Naruse had adapted several books by Hayashi for the screen, and this was the last. In the same way, Takamine was one of the director's favorite female actors, who had worked with him on several previous films. Under those circumstances, I can only give a general review of the film--I wish I could have seen it in sequence after having seen some of the others.
As a director, Naruse reminds me of Ozu. The movie is quiet, and the camera work is unobtrusive. The film is very sad. As portrayed in the movie, Hayashi's childhood and young adulthood were spent in bitter poverty. This is shown as something far beyond low income--Hayashi often doesn't have enough to eat, and has to take a succession of low-end jobs just to have enough money to pay for her meals and to send funds to her equally impoverished parents.
It's interesting that the film--and presumably the book--doesn't portray the protagonist as a saint. Hayashi not only makes bad choices, especially in men, but she commits a truly unethical act in order to advance her own literary career.
Even at the end, when the older Hayashi is wealthy and famous, she is scarred by the life she left behind. Rather than being portrayed as a kind, benevolent mentor, she is shown as shrewd, bitter, and self-serving.
I enjoyed this film, but I struggled somewhat with cultural differences about which I was uncertain, and subtitles which I suspect didn't do justice to the dialog. Even so, it was a privilege to be able to see this rare film and to learn of a new (for me) and highly talented Japanese director.
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