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April 08, 2010

Sound of the Mountain

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Yama no oto
Mikio Naruse - 1954
Eureka! The Masters of Cinema Series Region 2 DVD

I don't think I've ever seen Setsuko Hara laugh so much, and I'm not sure if I can recall watching her laugh onscreen, as she does in Sound of the Mountain. Again, as in Repast, she is paired with Ken Uehara as an unhappily married couple. Adapted from a novel by Yasunari Kawabata, the film chronicles the destabilization of one Japanese family and unspoken love.

Hara is first seen riding her bicycle up a pathway, meeting with her father-in-law, played by So Yamamura. The music track is a rippling piano arpeggio. I could imagine the audience falling in love with Setsuko Hara at that moment. Hara plays Kikuko, with Uehara as her husband Shuichi, and Yamamura as Shuichi's father, Shingo. Shuichi complains about Kikuko being like a child, mistaking continual enthusiasm and cheerfulness for child-like behavior.

Kikuko and Shuichi live in the same house with Shuichi's parents in Kamakura. Father and son work together in Shingo's firm in Tokyo, where they commute by train in the morning, but return home separately at night. Both at home and in the office, it is understood that Shuichi has been having extra-marital affairs. The only one who is unaware of what is going on, or at least appears to not be aware is Kikuko. The parents are also wondering when Kikuko and Shuichi will produce a grandchild, indirectly suggesting that Kikuko is at least partially responsible for any problems with her marriage. That attitude changes when Shuichi's sister returns home with her two children, and a complaint about being unloved by her husband. Fusako also complains that Shingo expresses more fatherly affection to Kikuko than he has ever had towards her.

Kawabata had contributed to the screenplay of Repast, and both films share a similar structure of mirrored tragedies. Where the film is more similar to Naruse's other work is in making Kikuko the primary character on whom most of the narrative pivots, unlike the novel, which is from the point of view of Shingo and his memories. The title refers to a sound only heard by Shingo, referred to in the novel, but not in the film.

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A couple of scenes that act as commentary involve the gift of a mask. The theatrical mask, of a child, serves as a literal reference to the story where people disguise there own feelings, or conversely, unmask their emotions to give full vent to their emotions. Filmed in black and white, the mask appears almost life like, and perhaps intentionally looks less like a child than a woman, and for at least one person writing about this film, not too dissimilar to Hara.

Naruse has a nifty visual metaphor to close out the film. Kukiko and Shingo meet in a park following an unstated period of following Kukiko departure to live with her parents. The scene takes place during the Fall, with the two walking among the bare, leafless trees. The space suggests the loss that all of the characters have experienced, particularly Kikuko and Shingo. The unobstructed view of the sky through the trees echoes Kikuko's own words about seeing things from a distance with clarity.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 8, 2010 12:51 AM