April 13, 2010


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Mikio Naruse - 1952
Daiei Studios 35mm film

The day before I saw Lightning, I viewed the DVD of Late Chrysanthemums. The films are similar in that there is no dramatic arc as in a film like Yearning. Mikio Naruse has instead chosen to present a slice of life as it were, about the lives of women in Japan following World War II.

What is stated by one of the women in Lightning is how the loss of lives, of Japanese soldiers, in turn caused chaos in the traditional social fabric following the war. Late Chrysanthemums is about older women, former geisha, who resort to various ways of surviving without the male patronage that they had previously depended upon. The three sisters in Lightning are younger, but only one of them heeds the lessons by observing her siblings.

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Hideko Takimine plays the youngest daughter, Kiyoko, of the most dysfunctional family in Japan. She and her two sisters and one brother have the same mother, but each had a different father. The fathers are all presumably dead, and the brother is of no help to the family, using the war as an excuse to keep from finding a job. With one exception, the men in Lightining are either emotionally weak, or lacking in scruples. The eldest sister, Nuiko, attempts to set Kiyoko up with the relatively prosperous Goto. The owner of a bakery, at a time when food was still scarce, with investments in other businesses, Goto is also coarse, and not very attractive. The married Nuiko flirts openly with Goto, and soon are soon openly living together, causing more pain for Nuiko's alcoholic husband. Goto helps the middle sister, Mitsuko, set up a small coffee house, and has set up house with her as well. Mitsuko's husband has died, leaving behind a secret mistress with a child, and an insurance policy that the family squabbles over even while its existence is doubtful. Given this view of family life, Kiyoko flees to a small rented room in a quiet area away from Tokyo.

Kiyoko is first presented to the audience in the course of her work as a tour guide on a bus, showing the sites of Tokyo. Unlike her sisters or mother, Kiyoko is independent of marriage or male patronage. In her new home, though, it is suggested she might get together with the boy next door, a handsome, and more reliable type, who lives with his sister, plays Chopin on the piano, and does his own laundry. Like Repast, Lightning is also taken from the writings of Fumiko Hayashi.

There is one memorable scene which harkens back to Naruse's roots in comedy. The old widow who rents her available room to Kiyoko invites her new tenant to share in some noodles. The widow comments on how her husband liked her unique recipe. Kiyoko pulls out some noodles with her chopsticks. The noodle strands are impossibly longs, seemingly endless. Mikio Naruse was observant of human foibles, but long after his time with silent comedy, he still had an eye for a visual gag.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 13, 2010 12:44 AM