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April 28, 2011

Silent Naruse - Disc 2

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Apart from You/Kimi to wakarete
Mikio Naruse - 1933

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Every-Night Dreams/Yogoto no yume
Mikio Naruse - 1933
Eclipse Region 1 DVD

The two films on this second disc are complementary in subject matter. Both are about single mothers and their sons, a geisha and a bar girl, respectively. Naruse's characters live in humble apartments, where laundry flaps in the breeze, and men's socks have holes in the toes. The women do not like their jobs, but do them as means of supporting the children whom they hope will have better lives.

The two films show further evolution, a paring down, of Mikio Naruse's visual style. There are repeated uses of mirror shots, but less use of obvious framing devices. Frequent dolly shots moving towards the actors are used for emphasis. A montage of a car accident in Every-Night Dreams is less elaborate than a similar scene in Flunky, Work Hard. Naruse does redo a scene from that earlier film when the young son sticks his fingers into the hole of his father's shoe.

That both films will make familiar viewers think of When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is probably inescapable. Apart from You is about an aging geisha, Kikue, who discovers that her son, Yoshio, in his late teens, has been ditching school, and feels resentful about how his mother supports the two of them. Yoshio has no problem being friendly with Terugiku, a younger geisha who works at the same house as Kikue. Terugiku takes Yoshio to visit her family, but also to open the young man's eyes to the kind of sacrifices his mother has made on his behalf.

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This might be melodrama, but stuck in the middle is some laugh out loud humor. In Terugiku's seaside village, a hapless salesman and customers are befuddled by the workings of a yo-yo. Terugiku's wide mouthed little brother demonstrates his savvy in getting to yo-yo to wind back up the string. It's not an important moment in the narrative, but it belies the reputation that Naruse's films are totally serious. As the young geisha, Sumiko Mizukubo is captivating. It is little wonder that she starred in films by several of the top directors of the era, including a couple of films with Yasujiro Ozu. Mitsuko Yoshikawa, the suffering mother of this film has a supporting role in Every-Night Dreams.

Naruse's familiar themes are repeated in Every-Night Dreams. Sumiko Kurishima, plays the popular bar girl, Omitsu, raising a young son, Fumio, alone. Omitsu's husband, Mizuhara, returns from a three year absence with the promise to be a good husband and father. Even among the working poor, the husband is unable to get work. As he would do in future films, Naruse looks at the trade offs required for financial security. When focusing on Mizuhara, Naruse appears to be reworking some of his visual and thematic idea from Flunky, Work Hard, although in this film, even being a flunky seems to be a dream out of reach.

The Naruse films in this series have jazz inflected scores by Robin Holcomb and Wayne Horvitz. The music generally supports the films, and isn't distracting, and yet it also brings up questions concerning the use of music for silent films. Some of the questions are raised in a humorous and horrifying post by Greg Ferrara concerning Nosferatu. For Japanese silent films, there are the questions of not only musical choices, but also noting that silent Japanese films also had live narration provided by a benshi. While I have not seen any of these films, I wish to point out that there is a small company based in Japan that offers silent Japanese classics with benshi narration on DVD. One would hope that one of the major boutique DVD labels, Criterion or Masters of Cinema, would follow suit with a classic in need of DVD resurrection.

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Posted by peter at April 28, 2011 08:30 AM


In Terugiku's seaside village, a hapless salesman and customers are befuddled by the workings of a yo-yo.

That's worth the price of admission right there!

This post got me to thinking: Wouldn't at least 70 or 75 percent of all movies made now be better if, instead of dialogue, there was a benshi onstage telling the story? In fact, with some movies today, you could opt to just listen to the benshi narration.

Posted by: Greg Ferrara at April 28, 2011 11:11 PM

The problem, based on my experience in customer service, is that some people have poor listening skills, so they might yell at the benshi to repeat himself or explain further because they just don't get it.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at April 29, 2011 03:24 AM

That reminds me of the Woody Allen short story, "A Little Louder Please!" where the lead charater, ostensibly Allen himself, can't comprehend mimes and during a performance keeps yelling guesses as to what the mime's miming, hoping for a confirmation of some kind when he guesses right.

Posted by: Greg Ferrara at April 29, 2011 11:11 PM

Does no-one in this country understand the difference between "complementary" and "complimentary"? You want the former, not the latter.

Posted by: RJ at May 2, 2011 01:16 PM

It's good to know someone is reading me closely.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at May 2, 2011 02:58 PM