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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Another big Naruse family, 7 November 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Another sprawling extended family story. Toho must have loved these in the early 60s -- as they brought in Ozu to do one to (End of Summer). Perhaps they liked showing off their large roster of excellent stars? In part, rather like a first draft of "Yearning". Hideko Takamine is the widow of the oldest son of an extended family -- and runs the family's grocery. The upcoming threat of super-marketization is mentioned in passing -- but not followed through here. Much of the machinations here involve a marriage proposal for one of the younger daughters. The cast is marvelous -- with Chishu Ryu and Haruko Sugimura as the senior generation -- and with Yoko Tsulasa, Reiko Dan, Keiko Awaji, Keiju Kobayashi, Daisuke Kato and Tatsuya Mihashi as just _some_ of the children and in-laws and family connections. The plot starts as wry and sarcastic, but veers into seeming unnecessary high melodrama and pathos right before the end. Even here, a strange sarcastic tone creeps in -- as some of the crew behaves very casually at what ought to be a wrenching funeral.

Not on the same level as the extended family dramas that _are_ included in the current traveling Naruse retrospective -- but entertaining for fans of the many stars.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Naruse goes to the circus, 7 November 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Naruse left Shochiku (his original film company) for PCL (the foundation company for Toho films) so that he could make sound films. And he right got to work. Major films of his first year included "Three sisters with Maiden Hearts" and the award-winning "Wife! Be Like a Rose!". This film is a minor work, in comparison. It starred Kamatari Fujiwara (of later Kurosawa fame) and two of the "three sisters with maiden hearts" -- among many others. The main focus is on the 5 member band of a small circus as it runs into problems while touring rural Japan. It also pays lots of attention to the two daughters of the aging and irascible ringmaster-circus owner. The high points are the sound (and score) and cinematography featuring a lot of vertiginous panning (appropriate - as high wire trapeze artists are also an important element in the film). A fascinating side-light on 30s Japan.

17 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Naruse's second award winning film of 1933, 18 July 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

1933 was the artistic high point of Naruse's career in silent films. He garnered both third and fourth place in Kinema Junpo's best of the year citations (the most prestigious film "award") this year -- for "Apart from You" and this film, respectively (Ozu took first place for "Passing Fancy" and Mizoguchi second for "Water Magician"). Despite this, he got no respect from his boss at Shochiku, and soon would move on to PCL (the predecessor of Toho), where he would stay (mostly) for over 30 years.

In this film, Sumiko Kurishima plays a woman whose husband had deserted her, following the birth of her child. For lack of any better option, she has been forced to support her son and herself as working as a hostess at a waterfront bar. When her ne'er-do-well husband (Tatsuo Saito) returns, her first impulse is to reject him, but her neighbors prevail on her to give him a second chance. Saito proves to be a thoughtful father and a loving husband, but in depression-stricken Tokyo is unable to find work (and is deeply embarrassed that his wife must support the family in the tawdry way she does). When his child is injured in an accident, he tries to get money to pay for medical care by committing a robbery. His wife refuses the money, urging him to turn himself in. Unable to bear the shame, he drowns himself. At the end, less than a week after Saito's return, mother and son are left alone again.

Kurishima's performance here is simply one of the best I've ever seen. She was the first woman star of the Japanese cinema -- and by this point -- had been at the top of her field for over a decade (not counting early work as a child). Her ability to express herself (despite maintaining great reserve), with both face and body, is extraordinary. Tatsuo Saito's performance in a rare dramatic part (albeit with a few comic moments) is likewise exceptional, capturing the dreamy sweetness of his immensely kind (but unable to fit into the everyday world) -- one has no trouble understanding why Kurishima (whose everyday life is so filled with sordidness) has been attracted to him (and is willing to give him another chance). Supporting roles are (as usual with Shochiku's top tier efforts) superbly filled -- with regulars like Takeshi Sakamoto (as an overbearing ship's captain lusting after Kurishima) and Choko Iida (as the crusty, but ultimately not unfeeling, proprietress of the waterfront bar).

The cinematography (and editing) of this film is as perfect as the performances. This is Naruse's most visually audacious film ever, with an unsettling pattern of repeatedly tracking towards (and sometimes away from) characters, use of extremely deep visual fields -- and some extraordinary cutting. Indeed, Naruse's techniques were so audacious here that (despite critical praise), he was forbidden from using them again at Shochiku (thus, prompting his discontent -- and leading Ozu to recommend that he seize his opportunity to shift to a newer studio which would give him greater support).

5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A Mother's Revenge, 13 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Hikinige / Hit and Run (Mikio NARUSE, 1966).

In Naruse's next to last film, he returned to cinemascope format, but stayed with black and white film. This is once again, in terms of plot, a bit of a shocker. Soon after we meet Kuniko (a young widow, played by Hideko Takamine) and her much-beloved young only son, the boy is run over by Kinuko (played by Yoko Tsukasa the rich spoiled wife of an automobile executive). Kinuko, it turns out, was distracted at the time of the accident because her companion in the car, a hunkish younger man who is her lover, had just told her of his plan to soon begin a far-away job. Kinuko tells her husband of the accident (but not the precipitating cause), and he orders the corporate chauffeur (Yutaka Sada, who was also the unfortunate chauffeur in "High and Low"). Luckily for him, he gets off with a small fine and a suspended sentence.

Kuniko is disgusted, and while drowning her post-trial sorrows at a bar with her yakuza-ish younger brother, overhears an old lady discussing the accident with her friends, mention that "lady drivers are so dreadful". As it turns out, the old lady was an eyewitness -- and can describe the real hit and run driver. However, because the case has already been satisfactorily closed, the police take no interest in the story of Kuniko and her witness. Consequently, Kuniko decides to seek revenge on her own. She wangles her way into the executive's household as a temporary domestic servant – and because she is so devoted, soon gets hired as a live-in maid, on a more permanent basis. While there, she fantasizes methods of taking revenge against the rich couple's son (almost the same age as her own dead one). Kuniko actually makes a few furtive (but thwarted) attempts to carry out her plan of revenge against the boy. But, as she grows increasingly fond of him, she wonders whether she shouldn't take revenge directly against his guilty mother instead. Meanwhile, Kinuko is growing increasingly distraught over the impending departure of her lover.

Since this is a suspense thriller, I'll refrain from discussing the plot further.

This film is unique in Naruse's output in that it not only makes frequent use of flashbacks (far more common in these late films than in earlier ones), but also actually depicts Kuniko's fantasies (these are shown in very bright, very whitened tones). This technique turns out to be crucial in deciphering what actually happens at the climax of the film. It would seem that Takanine was not entirely comfortable with her part in this film as, from time to time, she resorts to more generic acting than was her norm. Not an entirely successful film, by any means, but nonetheless quite an interesting one.

9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Trouble in the family, 13 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Onna no naka ni iru tanin / The Stranger Within a Woman (Mikio NARUSE, 1966)

Although Naruse demonstrated mastery of both color and cinemascope in his 60s films, he reverted to black-and-white Academy format for his antepenultimate film. Perhaps this use of a conservative format was intended to counterbalance the fact that this film involves the most shocking plot of any Naruse film to date.

Again the film focuses on an ostensibly normal family father (plauyed by Keiju Kobayashi), mother (Michiyo Aratama) and two adorable young children. Tragedy strikes the family of their best friends (Tatsuya Mihashi and Mitsuko Kusabue) soon after the film begins, the wife of this childless couple is found murdered in her bed. Through flashbacks and confessions, it is gradually revealed that Kobayashi and Kusabue were carrying on an affair and that she enjoyed "rough sex" (which one day went too far, ending in her accidental death). Aratama's goal is too keep her husband from confessing, and ruining the family's honor and comfortable middle-class existence. He, however, is subject to ever-increasing throes of guilt and remorse. Aratama is left with the dilemma of what to do....

This film is as visually striking as it is sensational in terms of plot. Despite the out-of-the-ordinary subject matter, Naruse typically tends to downplay any sense of hysteria treating the events almost as if they depict just another little slice of ordinary suburban life. A fascinating film albeit more reminiscent of Nomura's work than of the "typical" Naruse film.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A tale of jealousy, 13 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Tsuma to shite onna to shite / As a Wife, As a Woman (Mikio NARUSE, 1961).

Keijiro and Ayako Kono (Masayuki Mori and Chikage Awashima) seem like a picture-book upper middle-class family. He is a respected professor and the couple has two amiable children (a high school-aged girl and middle school-aged boy). But the Kono's domestic siutuation is more complicated than it seems on the surface. The children are actually the illegitimate children of Kono's long-time mistress, Miho (Hideko Takamine). To compensate for giving up the children, the Konos subsidize a bar which Miho operates. Ayako, interested in eliminating her husband's continuing interest in Miho, pays the bar girls to "spy" on Miho, in the hope of showing Miho is not "faithful" to her husband. Miho becomes tired of the situation, and proposes that she break off relations with Kono but be given outright owner ship of the bar. After Ayako flatly rejects this (not wanting to bear the expense), Miho's mother (played by the delightfully redoubtable Choko Iida) suggests that, for leverage, Miho demand the children back. This proposal infuriates Ayako, and she decides to sell the bar out from under Miho. Miho retaliates by telling her son (who thinks she is only a somewhat engaging but disreputable friend of her parents) about his true parentage. He comes home distraught and locks himself into his room; when his big sister persuades him to let her in, he tells her the truth in turn. The two children angrily reject all three "parents". Afterwards, Miho and her mother are seen packing up their belongings, in preparation for a move to more humble quarters and a new job as operators of a street vendor stall. Miho's mother nonetheless sings cheerfully as she packs. To Miho's complaint that singing is out of place under the circumstances, her mother replies that she likes to sing – and things can't be helped by not singing. As the final scene, we see the two children in different school uniforms at a new school, it appears that they demanded to be sent away to boarding school – so as to avoid having to deal (at least for a while) with the problematic adults in their lives.

The color cinemascope photography here ( by Jun Yasumoto, who shot Yamanaka's wonderful "Million Ryo Pot" in the 30s and films by Naruse, Inagaki, Toyoda and Ichikawa therafter) is superb. The initial frosty civility and subsequent savage hostility between Ayako and Miho is masterfully handled by Takamine and Awashima. And the mother-daughter interactions between Choko Iida and Takamine are quite delightful (including a number of impromptu "duets"). A Naruse masterpiece that clearly deserves to be better known.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Post-war salaryman buddy movie, 13 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ore mo omae mo / Both You and I / more colloquially correct You and Me, Pal (Mikio NARUSE, 1946).

A post-war "salaryman film", this focuses on two older white-collar workers (played by Entatsu YOKOYAMA and Achako HANABUSHI) in a business office headed by a rather peremptory boss (played by Ichiro SUGAI -- later the father of Noriko in Ozu's "Early Summer"). Because these two are older (and have families to support), the boss thinks he can take advantage of them. accordingly, when he needs yard-work done, he sends them home to serve at the dictates of his wife. Because the two have shown at an office party that they can do an amusing kabuki imitation (as hero and "heroine" of some drama or other), the boss decides the two should appear (in faux-kabuki dress) at a music party he is giving at his home. As it turns out, however, the eldest daughter of one of the two and her (apparently more well-off) fiancé are also at the party – and the daughter begs him not to embarrass her by appearing in kabuki drag. The father realizes the possible consequences of thwarting the boss's expectations, but to please his daughter he sneaks out to go home. His partner offers to perform solo, but the boss angrily sends him off as well. At work the next day, the whole office knows the two are in deep disgrace – and all the younger workers are gossiping over their likely fate. One of the men, then the other go into the boss's office to confront him – but discover he isn't in at the moment. They practice defending themselves – and while they are doing so the boss walks in. Accordingly, they proceed to defend their dignity for real. As they do so, all their co-workers applaud and shout encouragement (as all are hovering right outside the door, trying to eavesdrop). The two then march off proudly for home. Through thick and thin, the two friends are still a team.

This is a very enjoyable film – looking back to Ozu's "I Was Born But" and Naruse's own "Flunky Work Hard" and (in a different setting) "Traveling Actors", but also reflecting the pro-democracy values demanded by Occupation film censors. The ending also looks ahead to the solidarity of the two redoubtable old retired geishas at the end of "Late Chrysanthemum".

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Touching war-time short, 13 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Natsukashi no kao / A Face from the Past / literally A Fondly Remembered Face (Mikio NARUSE, 1941).

A sweet and touching short war-time film. The focus here is on a partial family -- a mother, her young son, and a daughter-in-law (with newish baby -- usually slung on her back). The boy and his friends are fond of model airplanes. One day, the boy's plane gets stuck at the top of a tree, and he hurts his leg trying (in vain) to get it down. The village postman tells the mother that, while watching the newsreel at the nearest cinema (a considerable distance away), he thought she saw a glimpse of the oldest son (who is serving in the army). The mother travels to town -- and, since she wipes away some tears as she watches the newsreel, one surmises the postman was correct. She tells her daughter-in-law -- and the next day the young woman sets off to town and the movie theater. On the way there, she finds a local shop selling model airplanes of just the sort her young brother-in-law had lost, and kind-heartedly buys one for him. When she arrives at the theater, she learns that she doesn't have enough money to pay for admission -- and sadly stands around as she misses the show. The young woman returns home and gives the delighted boy his airplane, pretending she did see the newsreel too. After a neighbor says that she didn't see the daughter-in-law in the movie theater, the boy is upset and tosses aside his gift. All turns out well, however, when the schoolmaster comes to tell the family that he has arranged to have the newsreel screened for the whole village the next night at the schoolhouse.

Ostensibly made for propaganda purposes, this film was apparently not shown much because it was so short (only 30-some minutes). Perhaps it was also not much shown because it was, in fact, so little propagandistic. Like "Traveling Actors", this is only a small slice of rural life in war-time Japan. This does not even boast any star performers. Yet, within its bounds, a very fine little film.

11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Naruse's shaggy horse tale, 13 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Tabi yakusha / Traveling Actors (Mikio NARUSE, 1940)

This film like Ozu's "story of Floating Weeds" depicts a troupe of wandering kabuki players traveling through rural Japan. It seems to have been inspired by a tiny element of Ozu's film -- the funny "kabuki horse", animated by two performers -- the master for the front half (played by Kamatari FUJIWARA, of later Kurosawa fame) and the apprentice for the rear (Kan YANAGIYA). At first all goes well, and they makes friends with some accommodating local lady folk (Tamae KIYOKAWA and Sugiko ISE).

Unfortunately, however, their local patron (a somewhat over-important barber, played by Ko MIHASHI) gets drunk and accidentally crushes the horse's head. After the two object to the pathetically repaired head he proffers, the barber decides that their fake horse was no good anyway (despite the audience approval they always received) -- and replaces them with a real horse. The displaced pair take their revenge, after moping awhile, by going on a rampage through the town (initially in their guise of a wild horse) and let the real horse loose. As the film ends, both the real horse and the two actors (now carrying their bits of horse costume) flee the town.

Overall, a charming film. Lighter in tone than Ozu's film, it is more reminiscent of the contemporary work of Hiroshi SHIMIZU (albeit with a more conventional sense of pacing and structure). Some lovely rural cinematography by Seiichi KIZUKA. Also entertaining performances by the two halves of the horse. Especially noteworthy is a scene where Fujiwara demonstrates his mastery of horse noises for the lady-folk -- and Yanagiya unwittingly demonstrates why he is still only an apprentice horse's back end.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
First-rate potboiler, 13 June 2005

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Kafuku I and II / Learn from Experience, Parts I and II / literally Ups and Downs (Mikio NARUSE, 1937)

This 2-part film romance (clocking in at just a bit under three hours) was based on a story by noted author Kikuchi Kan (who also founded Japan's one of Japan's most prestigious literary prizes, named after fellow author Akutagawa). It is a surprising blend of real and unreal. Everyone in the film seems to come from marvelously rich families -- and lives in very large houses and apartments. And yet the human interactions are generally realistically (and credibly) depicted.

The central character here is Toyomi (played by Takako IRIE, star of Mizoguchi's "Water Magician), a rich young woman in love with Shintaro (Minoru TAKADA), a rich young man. Unfortunately, Shintaro's father is in the process of arranging a marriage for him with Yurie (Chieko TAKEHISA), the scion of an even wealthier family. In order to avoid this, the two young lovers flee to Tokyo to live together. When Shintaro comes back to proclaim his intent to marry Toyomi, his father browbeats him into attending the long-arranged marriage meeting with Yurie. While Shintaro is back home, Toyomi goes on a vacation trip with her closest chum, Michiko (Yumeko AIZOME). At a class reunion, Toyomi is to distressed (at not having heard from Shintaro for so long), she doesn't go out on the town with her classmates. Michiko, however, runs into Shintaro and Yurie (also out on the town), and pulling him aside, demands an explanation. When Toyomi ultimately learns of her betrayal, she flees back home -- but getting a less than warm reception from her father, returns to Tokyo, where she takes a job as a junior shop-girl at ritzy dress shop. And this, covers (briefly) just the first half of the story.

In the second half, we discover that Toyomi is pregnant -- and while Shintaro and Yurie are on their extended honeymoon, she bears his child, a girl named Kiyoko. She is supported in adversity by Michiko -- and gets considerable moral support from not only her own mother but also from Shintaro's mother and siblings. Even more surprisingly, Yurie strikes up a friendship of sorts with her. When Yurie learns that the child is Shintaro's, she convinces Toyomi that it would be best to let Shintaro (and her) raise Kiyoko, so Toyomi can get on with making a proper life for herself. Tearfully, Toyomi agrees. Sometime later, Michiko goes to visit Toyomi -- and sees her at work, as a kindergarten teacher.

This film portrays an amazingly Americanized Japan. Reflections of American culture abound -- advertising signs, cars, clothes, music. Of the younger generation, Toyomi alone remains steadfastly traditionalist, wearing only kimonos -- until her final scene (where she too is dressed in the latest of Western attire). Equally surprising, while the film is circumspect in its depiction of the forbidden premarital relationship, there is no hint of moral disapproval on the part of the film maker. Visually, this is presented in a largely straightforward manner -- but with an usual freedom of camera movement at times (almost as if showing off new, more mobile cameras). This might not be a cinematic masterpiece for the ages -- but was an interesting and entertaining piece of popular entertainment.

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