Mikio Naruse: Part II

by clarencecarter
October 13, 2005 4:49 AM
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So, four more from the Mikio Naruse retrospective for me this past weekend--Floating Clouds (1955), Flowing (1956), Sound of the Mountain (1954), and Yearning (1964). Given that ideas of stasis and entrapment figure both in his narratives and in his aesthetic, I’m not sure if I’ve really come any closer to any sort of prescription for why Naruse’s been relatively unknown here, except perhaps to say that the extra evidence has offered more proof of a decidedly downbeat (if often bittersweet) worldview. Watching this additional four was not unlike the time I spent with definitely minor Fassbinder like Rio das Muertes, Nora Helmer, or Pioneers of Ingolstadt--none of these works really taught me anything necessarily new (though the Naruse films are far greater than these) but rather deepened my appreciation for their creator’s talents.

Walked out of masterpiece Floating Clouds and caught this snatch of conversation: “It was okay….but it was a little melodramatic…not sweet like that Chinese seamstress movie.” Well, duh, melodrama is Naruse’s stock and trade—and if you aren’t ready to take these stories on those terms, then you’re out of luck and will miss out on the sublime, tragic incredulity of the finale to Yearning (choice comment overheard: “That was the worst ending I could have possibly imagined”), or the way he builds a formless, static movie like Flowing to a stunningly emotional close with an Isuzu Yamada shamisen performance. Hideko Takamine owns Floating Clouds and Yearning (and last week's When a Woman Ascends the Stairs)--someone should zero in on the Takamine/Naruse works someday and just tour those, even though Naruse is unformly great with women (see the greatest hits cast of six or so in Flowing). Easiest of all to love perhaps is Sound of the Mountain (based on the Yasunari Kawabata book) with Ozu favorite Setsuko Hara coping with her indifferent husband by forming a close, complicated (platonic) relationship with her kindly father-in-law. It definitely doesn’t end the way Ozu would have finished it (think Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice), but remains no less wondrous.

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  • Michael Kerpan | October 28, 2005 4:25 AMReply

    I wasn't able to get to any of the color films at this retrospective, but I have seen some of these (on video) in the past. My sense is that these do not work as well (on average) as the contemporaneous black and white films. Naruse depends so much on light (and darkness) to work his magic -- and this technique is weakened when he shot films in color.

    That said, several of his last films are more over the top dramatically than his norm -- including those shot in black and white (e.g "Stranger within a Woman" and "Hit and Run").

  • Mark | October 15, 2005 7:05 AMReply

    If you get a chance, you should see at least one of his color films-- I just saw (read: slept through more than I would have liked to) Summer Clouds here in NYC, and the melodrama that's kept relatively in check in his black & white stuff comes real close to Sirk terrritory in his expressive use of the palette. It's an interesting variation of his aesthetic, at least-- and it may even be, formally, truer to the subject matter than the surprising understatement of something like the comparatively sober cinematography of Floating Clouds.