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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse


Mikio Naruse (成瀬巳喜男 , August 20, 1905 – July 2, 1969) was a Japanese filmmaker, screenwriter, and producer who directed some 89 films spanning the period 1930 (towards the end of the silent period in Japan) to 1967.

Naruse is known for imbuing his films with a bleak and pessimistic outlook. He made primarily shomin-geki (working-class drama) films with female protagonists, portrayed by actresses such as Hideko Takamine, Kinuyo Tanaka, and Setsuko Hara. Because of his focus on family drama and the intersection of traditional and modern Japanese culture, his films are frequently compared with the works of Yasujirō Ozu. His reputation is just behind Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Ozu in Japan and internationally; his work remains less well known outside Japan than theirs.

Akira Kurosawa called Naruse's style of melodrama, "like a great river with a calm surface and a raging current in its depths".

Mikio Naruse was born in Tokyo in 1905. For a number of years he worked at the Shochiku film company under Shiro Kido as a property manager and later as an assistant director. He was not permitted to direct a film at Shochiku until 1930, when he made his debut film, Mr. and Mrs. Swordplay (Chanbara fūfū).
Naruse's earliest extant work is Flunky, Work Hard (Koshiben gambare, also known as Little Man Do Your Best) from 1931, where he combined melodrama with slapstick, trying to meet the demands set by Shochiku's Kamata studio, who wanted a mix of laughter and tears. In 1933, he quit Shochiku, and began working for Photo-Chemical Laboratories (later known as Toho).

His first major film was Wife! Be Like a Rose! (1935) (Tsuma yo Bara no Yo ni). It won the Kinema Junpo, and was the first Japanese film to receive theatrical release in the United States (where it was not well received). The film concerns a young woman whose father deserted his family many years before for a geisha. As so often in Naruse's films, the portrait of the "other woman" is nuanced and sympathetic: It turns out, when the daughter visits her father in a remote mountain village, that the second wife is far more suitable for him than the first. The daughter brings her father back with her in order to smooth the way for her own marriage, but the reunion with the first wife – a melancholy poetess – is disastrous: They have nothing in common, and the father returns to wife number two.

In the war years, Naruse went through a slow breakup with his wife Sachiko Chiba (who had starred in Wife! Be Like a Rose!). Naruse himself claimed to have entered a period of severe depression as a result of this. In the postwar period he collaborated with others more often, less frequently writing his own scripts. Notable successes included Mother (1952) (Okasan), a realistic look at family life in the postwar period, which received theatrical distribution in France, and 1955's Floating Clouds (Ukigumo), a doomed love story based (like many of Naruse's films) on a novel by Fumiko Hayashi.
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) (Onna ga kaidan o agaru) tells the story of an aging bar hostess trying to adapt to modern times. The film is notable for having almost no close-up shots or exterior scenes. Scattered Clouds (1967) (Miidaregumo) (a.k.a. Two in the Shadow) was his last film, and is regarded as one of his greatest works. A tale of impossible love between a widow and the driver who accidentally killed her husband, it was made two years before his death.

Naruse is known as particularly exemplifying the Japanese concept of mono no aware, the awareness of the transience of things, and a gentle sadness at their passing.

Naruse's films contain simple screenplays, with minimal dialogue, unobtrusive camera work, and low-key production design. Earlier films employ a more experimental, expressionist style, but he is best known for the style of his later work: deliberately slow and leisurely, designed to magnify the everyday drama of ordinary Japanese people’s trials and tribulations, and leaving maximum scope for his actors to portray psychological nuances in every glance, gesture, and movement.

Naruse filmed economically, using money- and time-saving techniques that other directors shunned, such as shooting each actor delivering his or her lines of dialogue separately, and then splicing them together into chronological order in post-production (this reduced the amount of film wasted with each retake, and allowed a dialogue scene to be filmed with a single camera). Perhaps unsurprisingly, money is itself a major theme in these films, possibly reflecting Naruse's own childhood experience of poverty: Naruse is an especially mordant observer of the financial struggles within the family (as in Ginza Cosmetics, 1951, where the female protagonist ends up supporting all her relatives by working in a bar, or A Wife's Heart, 1956, where a couple is swindled out of a bank loan by the in-laws).

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

1. Sakasu gonin-gumi aka Five Men In The Circus (1935)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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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. (from arananfms.blogspot.com)
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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

2. Joyu to shijin aka The Actress And The Poet (1935)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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Our hero here is played by Hiroshi Uruki, the nominal "poet" – who writes children's songs and is also the somewhat hen-pecked husband of an actress (Sachiko Chiba). When not doing house chores, he dabbles at song-writing and chats with neighbors and friends (including Kamatari Fujiwara, who is currently way behind in the rent at his apartment). After one neighbor (an insurance salesman) sells a life insurance policy to a nice (but somewhat nervous) couple that have just moved into the neighborhood, Uruki celebrates with the neighbor and his chatty, nosy wife. After drinking lots of beer, the neighbor acts out one of Uruki's children's songs (played on a phonograph) about a tanuki (raccoon dog). Uruki is in a somewhat truculent mood when he gets home, but is too far gone to notice his wife's arrival. (from arananfms.blogspot.com)

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

3. Otome-gokoro - Sannin-shimai aka Three Sisters With Maiden Hearts (1935)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts, writer-director Mikio Naruse's first sound film, tells the story of three very different siblings forced to work as samisen street musicians to make ends meet. O-Ren (Chikako Hosokawa), the eldest, is on a downward spiral into Tokyo's Asakusa district underworld, exasperated middle sister O-some (Masako Tsutsumi) attempts to protect her sisters by appeasing their demanding mother Hahaoya (Chitose Hayashi), and Chieko (Ryuko Umezono), the youngest, pursues love and romance with kindly restaurateur Aoyama (Heihachiro Okawa). Three Sisters is one of Naruse's most formally experimental works, making use of an intricate, yet playful flashback structure and a fluid, constantly moving camera to delineate the sisters' varying paths through life. Chieko's Folies Bergere-like dance numbers are a particular highlight, demonstrating Naruse's affinity with and understanding of the psychology of performance. And even at a relatively brief 64 minutes, it feels as if Three Sisters explores a lifetime of heartache and tragedy, culminating in a wrenching train station climax where O-some makes the ultimate sacrifice to preserve a complicated sense of familial status quo.(from www.worldscinema.com)

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

4. Tsuma yo bara no yo ni aka Wife! Be Like a Rose! (1935)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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This is a tender love story taking place about the time when the Japanese war machine was raping Nanking (Nanjing), enslaving Korean women, attacking the Philippines, and preparing to bomb Australia and America. These contrasts are startling as is the contrast that is in the lesson of the film. Naruse-san teaches us once again that the truth about a person resides not in the words and inferences spoken, rather in direct observation and understanding. Here we have a young women approaching the age of independence being raised by her mother who continually painted the absent father as an unfaithful woman chaser living with a woman of ill repute. The daughter wants to actually meet her father and she wonders why he left her and her mother. She trains to the remote village where the father lives with the infamous lady. (from imdb user comment)

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

5. Uwasa no musume aka The Girl In The Rumor (1935)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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A marvelous film visually, even if occasionally a little abrupt narratively. A story of two sisters, the older being more traditional, the younger a "moga" ("modern girl"). Their widowed father runs the family sake shop – but is running into financial trouble (causing him to make some bad decisions). Meanwhile, his long-time mistress's little business is also on the rocks. Amidst this, the older sister is introduced to a well-off suitor (a university boy who is much more intrigued by the less traditional "little sister"). Add a dotty grandfather, an officious uncle and busy body neighbors – and you have a very good (but probably not quite “masterpiece” level) Naruse film. (from rozmon.blogspot)

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

6. Tochuken Kumoemon (1936)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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The male protagonist of Tochuken Kumoemon (1936), played by Tsukigata Ryunosuke, is an egoistic performer of rokyuko drams who sports a flashy ponytail and is followed around by a coterie of flunkies and advisers (the main one played by Fujiwara). One critic said that the film should really have been called "the wife of Tochuken Kumoemon." As played by Hosokawa Chikako, the wife is a long-suffering woman who accompanies Tochuken on the samisen, even after he has taken up with a geisha, played by Chiba Sachiko. When the wife gets T.B., Tochuken refuses to see her in the hospital, as he cannot bear to think that she is "just a woman." He wants to think of her as a performer, an ideal; he excuses his own arrogance with the same argument, claiming that he doesn't care about being a good father, because his performance is the main thing in his life. His son, he says, "tries to make me a perfect person. He tries to separate me from my performance." (from arananfms.blogspot.com)

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

7. Kimi to yuku michi aka The Road I Travel With You (1936)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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On one level, a film like "The Road I Travel With You" is about the display of wealth (a number of Naruse's films in this period are set among the upper middle class), even if the characters are not particularly empowered by it. "The Road I Travel With You" concerns two brothers of marriageable age and their mother, a former geisha who has been set up by an absent patron in a spacious country home in Kamakura. The futures of the two boys, torn between love matches and arranged marriages, are inseparable from the loaded questions of family status, money, and decisions made by the head of wealthy families. (from arananfms.blogspot.com)

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

8. Nyonin Aishu aka A Woman's Sorrows (1937)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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In his review of Feminine Melancholy in Kinema Junpo, critic Mizumachi Seiji praises Irie's performance as the best of her talkie career. However, he is very critical of the film itself, which he sees as a typical story of a woman in an unhappy marriage. He is not sympathetic toward the heroine's patient suffering and describes the nagging mother-in-law as a "hackneyed theme." Naruse's detailed "documentation" of Hiroko's role in the household is dismissed as a "manneristic obsession," and Mizumachi suggests that the director is hiding behind "the shadow of the materials." Most severely, he criticizes Naruse for "abandoning his authority as an auteur" by resorting to "shinpa-tragedy," which is seen as a capitulation to a form that has "wielded a powerful hold over the imagination of the masses." Although Mizumachi notes that Naruse has probed into "the deepest recess of the female psyche," he doesn't recognize this as the film's achievement, perhaps because he is looking for something else from the director. His review reveals the difficulties Naruse faced in maintaining his "auteur status" while moving with the tides of popular culture. For Mizumachi, the character of Yoko is the most typical Naruse heroine, perhaps because she is dragged down by her delinquent lover; however, in retrospect, it is evident that Hiroko's tenacious survival of adverse circumstances looks forward to Naruse's postwar heroines. (from arananfms.blogspot.com)

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

9. Kafuku zempen aka Learn From Experience, Part I (1937)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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This 2-part film romance (clocking in at just 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 surpising 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. (from criterionforum.org)

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

10. Kafuku kohen aka Learn From Experience, Part II (1937)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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This 2-part film romance (clocking in at just 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 surpising 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. (from criterionforum.org)

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

11. Nadare aka Avalanche (1937)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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On his movie in 1937, "Nadare (Avalanche)", which was based on a novel written by Jiro Osaragi, a film master Akira Kurosawa helped him as the assistant director. In Kurosawa's autobiography, he wrote "He wasn't quite satisfied with the piece, but I learned a lot from him during the shooting." Akira Kurosawa has been an assistant on this movie. In his auto-biography, Kurosawa said he had been impressed by Naruse Know-how, his steadyness, his strictness and sometime austerity. Naruse made sure no time was wasted on set, tight on schedule and on film, break time were strictly timed… This movie look into japan upper class and is strking by the quality of cinematography, the purity of language. Like other movies of the same time (late 30's) this movie has been considered part of Naruse' "Manerism" trend. (from arananfms.blogspot.com)

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

12. Tsuruhachi Tsurujiro (1937)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro is primarily a vehicle for its very attractive stars Isuzu Yamada and Kazuo Hasegawa. As the titular, exceedingly popular performing duo (respectively a samisen player and a Shinnai singer) they enact a tragicomic tale of unrequited love that—save for a deeply affecting, pathos-ridden final scene—is far removed from director Mikio Naruse's usual cinema obsessions. Adapted by Naruse from a Matsutarô Kawaguchi novel, Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro is a film of beguiling and seductive surfaces. Its beauty, much like its constantly bickering protagonists, is only skin deep. The film's many musical sequences, well-composed though they are, lack the thematic depth of Naruse's best work with the form—rather than illuminating and/or counterpointing each character's unique inner state (as in that masterpiece to come, The Song Lantern), they instead encourage our considerably blind adulation of Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro. (Toward this point, it is especially difficult to delineate the line that separates the adoring on-screen audience from its doting off-screen counterpart.) With stars like this, though, it is almost silly and most certainly futile to complain: Yamada and Hasegawa have the sort of sacrosanct chemistry that creates its own kind of insight and profundity. And though Naruse would use both actors to more layered effect in two future productions (Yamada as the dancing geisha-in-training O-Sode in The Song Lantern, Hasegawa as the enigmatic samurai Karatsu Kanbei in A Tale of Archery at the Sanjusangendo) there is a grand thrill in watching them perform together here, like bearing witness to dual forces of nature in a constant state of flux, forever moving between the emotional extremes of embattlement and reconciliation, of selfishness and sacrifice. (from Keith Ulich, Slant Magazine)
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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

13. Hataraku ikka aka A Working Family (1939)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

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The Whole Family Works, Mikio Naruse's adaptation of a Sunao Tokunga novel, feels more of a piece with the writer/director's quietly observant and psychologically charged later work. For the Naruse-familiar, it is an anomaly only in its placement within his filmography—indeed, this could be a film made by the elder, stasis-minded Naruse momentarily inhabiting, through a metaphysical twist of fate, his stylistically exuberant younger self. Set in depression-era Japan around the time of the Sino-Japanese War (which the director evokes, during a brief dream sequence, by dissolving between children's war games and actual adult warfare), The Whole Family Works gently observes a family coming apart at the seams. Ishimura (Musei Tokugawa) is the jobless father of nine children. Unable to find work he tasks his sons and daughters with the monetary support of the clan, an order no one questions openly until eldest son Kiichi (Akira Ubukata) comes home with a discontented headful of ideas imparted by his platitudinous teacher Mr. Washio. (Similar filial discontentedness behind the scenes: Naruse scholar Audie Bock suggests that the film's focus on "the working poor" quite deliberately skirted the requirements of the national policy propaganda films then encouraged by the patriarchal Japanese government.) The tension between father and son builds over the course of the film until they fight it out during a torrential downpour, a sequence featuring one of Naruse's most striking juxtapositions: a dissolve between Ishimura and Kiichi's heated debate and the increasingly violent rainstorm pattering rhythmically against the outer walls of their home. Though The Whole Family Works finally feels like something of a warm-up for the director's stylistic and thematic obsessions post-Ginza Cosmetics, it is moments such as this (along with an equally striking last image, breeding revolution, of the younger sons heedlessly somersaulting on the floor above their parents) that show Naruse's raw, burgeoning talent shaping itself into something expressive and masterful. (from arananfms.blogspot.com)

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

14. Magokoro aka Sincerity (1939)
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Lang: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Genre: Classics | Director: Mikio Naruse

IMDB


The Kinema Junpo critics were, of course, mistaken to think that Naruse had abandoned his emphasis on women. His next film, Sincerity, features two strong female characters, played by Irie Takako and Murase Sachiko, each of whom have a daughter. The girls are schoolmates, but one (Nobuko) is from a middle-class home and the other (Tomiko) is from a poor family. Tomiko's mother Tsutako (Irie) is a single mother who works from home as a seamstress, while Nobuko's mother lives in an elegant home with her husband, Kei. Eventually, it is revealed that Kei had a romantic relationship with Tsutako, and may be Tomiko's father as well, but he is conscripted shortly after this revelation and goes off to war. This is very much a home front film, in which the women are involved in supporting activities, and the whole town cheers on the new recruits. As Kei is a banker, he is conscripted as an officer. He is introduced brandishing a magnificent sword, indicating his readiness for his call-up, for which everyone congratulates him when it comes. The wartime context is little more than a backdrop to the story of paternity and former love. The complex emotions among the women are conveyed through cutting on eye movements and eye lines, and through the use of the pastoral location. (from www.worldscinema.com)

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Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

Mikio Naruse's 14 films in 1930s

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