Mikio Naruse – Tsuma yo bara no yô ni AKA Wife! Be Like a Rose! (1935)

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The effervescent and charming Chiba Sachiko (Naruse’s wife at the time) plays Kimiko, the bold daughter who travels to the countryside to find her estranged father to seek his consent for her forthcoming marriage . When Kimiko discovers that her father has taken up with a young geisha and is just as difficult as ever, her journey forces her to reconsider her ideas about familial ties. The film was Naruse’s biggest success to date and one of his warmest films. WIFE, BE LIKE A ROSE! won first place in Kinema Junpo that year and became one of the exceedingly rare Naruse films to earn distribution in the US. Continue reading

Mikio Naruse – Aki tachinu aka Autumn Has Already Started (1960)

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Shigeko, a recently widowed mother from Nagano,brings Hideo,her sixth-grade son,to live with his uncle in Tokiyo.Shigeko soon gets a job at the Mishima hotel.The shy Hideo doesn´t respond wellto his newsurroundings,preferring the companyof hisKabutomushi (helmet beetle ) to that of other people.He does,however,meet Junko,daughter of the woman who runs the Mishima and the two become goods friends.Junko´s mother has a patron who supports her and one day he comes to the city with his legitimate family. Junko feels inferior to his real children.Hideo too experiences the sorrow ot wathching his mother Shigeko prepare to go out with one of her patrons (Tomioka).Meanwhile,his beetle disappears and he depends more and more on Juko for companionship.hideo´s aunt sends him a replacement beetle.Elated,he runs to tell Junko,only to discover that she has left Tokyo and the Mishima has been sold.Saddened,Hideo brings his beetle to the roof of a building and looks out on the Tokyo skyline. Continue reading

Mikio Naruse – Ukigumo AKA Floating Clouds (1955)

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Quote:
“The elegance and indisputable hard punch of Naruse’s storytelling become immediately clear the moment the lovers kiss and the director cuts, midclinch, to an almost identical shot of them kissing in the past, an edit that suggests this is a passion that transcends even time and space.”
– Manohla Dargis, New York Times (October 28, 2005) Continue reading

Mikio Naruse – Tsuma no kokoro aka A Wife’s Heart (1956)

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Quote:
The best moments of A Wife’s Heart involve things not said or seen and this is most explicit in the interactions between Kiyoko (Hideko Takamine) and her bank clerk bachelor confidant Kenkichi (Toshiro Mifune). Kiyoko, along with her husband Shinji (Keiju Kobayashi), wants to open a coffee shop and so goes to Kenkichi to ask for a loan. Director Mikio Naruse never focuses on the duo’s talk of money; as filmed, their entire relationship is a series of beginnings and endings with the middles cut out. It is at first purely a business association, though after Shinji (at the manipulative behest of his matchmaker mother) gives a majority of the loan to his deadbeat brother Zenichi, Kiyoko starts to think that her feelings for Kenkichi may be more then platonic. Following through on his setup, Naruse never lets either character nakedly confess their heart’s desire. The closest they come is during a sequence, set against the backdrop of a torrential downpour, where Kenkichi utters the first few words of a thought that he will never finish. In other hands this scene might have played as masochistic repression, but Naruse allows the rainstorm to act as an expressive emotional outlet—nature thus concludes what Kenkichi cannot. Continue reading

Mikio Naruse – Shiroi yajuu aka White Beast (1950)

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Quote:
The third film that Naruse made in 1950, White Beast (Shiroi yaji, 1950), was described by Kinema Junpo critic Tsumura Hideo three years later as “so indescribably miserable as to haunt me even today.” Tsumura represents the bulk of Japanese critics of the time, who felt that Naruse experienced a terrible slump throughout the 1940s and this film seemed to be the “bottom of the ocean.” The critical establishment was clearly not prepared to accept a woman’s prison film featuring former prostitutes recovering from venereal diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and estranged lovers. With its catfights, hysterical tantrums, film noir lighting, and dramatic music, White Beast is indicative of the new influences of the Hollywood psychological thriller on Naruse. Caged (John Cromwell, 1950) initiated a cycle of women’s prison movies in the United States that may or may not have been shown in Japan, but the stylistics of White Beast draw on the same paranoid woman’s films and film noir conventions that preceded the American cycle. Continue reading

Mikio Naruse – Midareru AKA Yearning (1964)

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Slant Magazine wrote:
At first, Yearning appears to be a typically late-Narusian offering, a low-key and observational drama that obsessively details Reiko’s day-to-day routines. In addition to keeping her small business afloat, Reiko must deal with her meddling in-laws, who have their minds set on selling the grocery store, and also attend to Koji, who inexplicably indulges in a rebellious cycle of petty crime and violence. One of Naruse’s great talents is in making the mundane mysterious so when Koji declares, seemingly out of nowhere, that he’s been in love with Reiko for years, it takes more than a few moments to acclimate to the film’s suddenly malleable emotional terrain, even though, in retrospect, it makes perfect psychological sense. It’s a shock to witness how charged and raw the duo become after Koji’s admission, and Naruse’s camera, under the guiding eye of cinematographer Jun Yasumoto, never blinks, maintaining a harsh, voyeuristic presence as the characters move, like increasingly frenzied celestial bodies, through a space made unfamiliar because of a naked confessional moment. Continue reading

Mikio Naruse – Okasan aka Mother (1952)

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Mikio Naruse presents a compassionate, resigned, and poignant examination of human struggle, perseverance, and sacrifice in Okasan. Juxtaposing the innocence and optimism of youth with the austerity of life in postwar Japan, Naruse reflects the gradual erosion of hope in the face of change and uncertainty: the town festivals that coincide with episodes of illness and death in the family; the Fukuharas’ fond reminiscence of their hectic life as young parents with a newly opened business, as Ryosuke looks forward to the laundry shop reopening despite his debilitating illness; Chako’s picnic at an amusement park that exacerbates Masako’s motion sickness. From the opening shot of Toshiko’s affectionate voice-over against the image of the resourceful Masako, arched forward, cleaning the house, Naruse conveys the understated and bittersweet image of his archetypal, resilient heroine – an unsentimental, yet graceful and reverent portrait of a tenacious, aging woman struggling – and literally yielding – against the interminable burden of poverty, heartache, disillusionment, and unrealized dreams. Continue reading