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May 03, 2011

Silent Naruse - Disc 3

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Street without End/Kagirinaki hodo
Mikio Naruse - 1934
Eclipse Region 1 DVD

I wouldn't be surprised if someday, someone creates a Youtube montage of car accidents in Mikio Naruse's films. Consider that one of Naruse's last films was titled Hit and Run. Nothing fatal happens in Street without End but the plot hinges on the actions of the man behind the wheel.

The street is one in the Ginza section of Tokyo where two waitresses work in a cafe that apparently is famous for its pancakes. Sugiko and Kesako are coworkers and roommates. A couple of guys from a movie studio have their eyes on Sugiko to take the place of a recently retired movie star. Sugiko puts the idea on hold, also thinking about the future with her boyfriend. Distracted, Sugiko gets hit by a car, and wins the heart of the driver, Hiroshi, a man from a wealthy family. While Sugiko is on the mend, Kesako jumps at the chance to be a star, taking her street artist friend with her. The two women learn that wealth and glamour aren't all they seem to be.

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In his last silent film, Naruse pares down the stylistic flourishes of the earlier films. There is one emphatic dolly shot closing in on Setsuko Shinobu as Sugiko. While Naruse would continue to favor traveling shots, such as those with the camera moving in pace with his actors, there are fewer shots using obvious framing devices. The film begins with an extended montage of the Ginza, with its shops, restaurants and movie theaters.

Hiroshi talks Sugiko into going to the movies with him. On the screen is a scene from Ernst Lubitsch's The Smiling Lieutenant with Miriam Hopkins and Maurice Chevalier arguing over a chess board. One could make the case that both Naruse and Lubitsch were interested in some of the same themes regarding the crossings of love, class, and money, and the conflicts between tradition and personal integrity. I'm not certain how to interpret Naruse's intentions as the audience of watching Street without End is watching an except of a sound film within a silent film. Additionally, the audience watching The Smiling Lieutenant is solemn, even though Hopkins and Chevalier are engaged in a display of boisterous comedy. Almost certainly, Naruse was contemplating how best to make use of sound and dialogue in his own future work.

There is a brief scene within a movie studio featuring the street artist, Shinichi. Painting part of what appears to be a tenement room, Shinichi is revealed to be standing in a movie set. What first looked like a realistic setting turns out to be an illusion of reality. Without hammering his point, the illusion of cinema is likened to the illusion of dreams, or at least those dreams equating love and happiness with social position or public prominence. Naruse also takes a swipe at studio politics when Shinichi is caught sitting in a director's chair, and later told off by Kesako that the rumors about the two of them are hurting her chances at getting good roles. As it turned out, Street without End was Naruse's final film with Shochiku Studios as well as his final silent film. In 1935, Naruse took up with P.C.L. Studios, later to become Toho Studios, where he could both start making sound movies and enjoy greater freedom in his own filmmaking.

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Posted by peter at May 3, 2011 08:06 AM