Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

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Mike Gebert

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSun Jun 12, 2016 9:43 am

Couple of more thoughts on Naruse:

Were traffic accidents really common in Japan, then, or did Naruse just find them a really convenient (too convenient) way to shift the plot into a higher, more serious gear? I ask that because between these five films, there are no fewer than four auto accidents plus someone hit by a train, and considering that Apart From You and Every-Night Dreams don't have any at all in them (I think), that puts the other three at an average of 1.67 road accidents per film, which seems really high for movies not actually about racing. And one's a short!

* * *

On Naruse as the second Ozu— of course the repetitive plot of Ozu's later years is the family where the parents are getting older, usually the daughter is thinking she needs to self-sacrifice to care for them, and the parents engineer a way that that won't happen. This is his variation on Make Way For Tomorrow, and though it's often poignant and kind of sad, it also communicates certain things that are fundamentally reassuring— that even as things change in Japan, the family is still a loving and beneficial place; and that things should change in Japan, and the family shouldn't take precedence over individual happiness. So Ozu serves a kind of nostalgia to his audiences, who have probably gone through the same postwar uprooting and moving to bigger cities as people in industrialized countries everywhere did; and yet, at the same time, he tells us we have to let go of that a little bit.

But Ozu hasn't gotten to those plots yet by the early 30s, though some of the same family themes are there— but they're more often about young men who've found themselves hemmed in to salaryman jobs and asking, where now are the dreams of youth? So by telling stories about family obligation, Naruse is more Ozu than Ozu at this point, but by telling them from the point of view of women, geishas and prostitutes in particular, Naruse is doing it from a very different perspective than the respectability of middle class professional men. (Which is why he's more Barbara Stanwyck or Stella Dallas than Ozu, too.) But it also means that Naruse's viewpoint isn't as warmly reassuring as Ozu's— there's literally no example in these films after Flunky, Work Hard where the family is a primarily healthy, mutually beneficial institution. In No Blood Relation the only positive relationship is between adoptive mother and child; in Apart From You, the younger geisha's family exploits and denigrates her; in Every-Night Dreams the Depression destroys the family as a unit; in Street Without End it's downright gothic. (The one commonly positive relationship seems to be between older sisters and younger brothers who move to the city.)

In the end, I think the similarities between Naruse and Ozu are fundamentally superficial, or they're similar in genre but not in approach— Naruse seems much closer to Mizoguchi for favoring tales of exploited and downtrodden women told with great sympathy.

* * *

Forcing myself to watch all the films in a set by publicly announcing my intention to do so is working extremely well for getting me to actually break out these sets and not just watch one thing and put them back on the shelf forever. I recommend it!
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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Daniel Eagan

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostFri Jul 15, 2016 10:23 am

Risking how many here hate being dragged into the present, I wanted to recommend Hirokazu Kore-eda's new movie Our Little Sister, which ties directly to both The Makioka Sisters and to Ozu in general. (Most of the film takes place in Kamakura, where Ozu is buried.) Three sisters attend their estranged father's funeral, meet their younger stepsister for the first time, and invite her to live with them. That's about it for narrative, but I was moved by the acting, Kore-eda's vision of life, and the film's combination of optimism and loss. If it had been made fifty years ago, it would be talked about as a classic today.
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Mike Gebert

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostTue Aug 15, 2017 9:45 am

TCM was showing something called Sound of the Mountain. Instantly I suspected a Japanese film of which I had not previously heard, and found that it was, in fact, a Mikio Naruse film from 1954, with a notable pedigree— a novel by a Japanese Nobel prize winner (unknown to me), Yasunari Kawabata.

It took a while, and Bob Lipton beat me to writing (very well) about it, but I finally watched it. Lush music suggests mid-50s Sirk, and the opening scene establishes an Ozu-like tale, depicting a warm, humane evening conversation between an older father and his daughter-in-law (Setsuko Hara, who would play the daughter in so many of Ozu's films around this time).

Then the rest of the movie demolishes it. If you want to see the difference between the two directors, this is it in stark contrast: where Ozu films find the poignancy in family members sacrificing for each other, Naruse explores the hidden rot that came from domineering parents, choices made out of social respectability instead of love, and above all, decisions— really, assumptions— made without considering what the female end of the combo truly wanted.

Setsuko Hara's daughter-in-law is loved because she is servile and caters to the older parents; her husband, though, finds her childish, and we see that she has, indeed, found a way to avoid growing up into her own marriage through these adoptive parents. The actual daughter, estranged from a husband sliding into criminality, resents her because she feels like she was never good enough for the parents— though she also remains a bit of a brat, unwilling to accept their overtures as anything but reasons to whine more. Meanwhile the son, Hara's husband, is kind of a monster— cold to her, abusive to the mistress he openly carries on with— yet when the father tries to have a talk with him, the son asks, "Did you never have a fling after marrying mother?" and, well, the conversation sorta dries up.

In an American movie (or play) this would lead to third-act yelling, clearing the air. But Naruse's approach is more like a guiltier Wild Strawberries, or even a reverse It's a Wonderful Life— everything the father did, mostly unthinkingly rather than maliciously, affected somebody for the worse, and all he can make are the smallest amends, uncertain of whether they too will have ill effects. I generally dislike the genre of It's All Dad's Fault, as in, say, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, because the answer is too easy— an excuse for not making the effort to grow up. This is a drama in which the repercussions are spun out subtly and credibly, humanely and sorrowfully, and though you could make a case that this is a drama in which the boil is kept down to Low for too long, nevertheless it's a masterful work that ought to be better known. As it had a Criterion logo at the beginning, I assume it's available to view on Filmstruck, and there's also an (out of print and very expensive) Masters of Cinema set that contains it in the UK.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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boblipton

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostTue Aug 15, 2017 11:03 am

First, last, it makes little difference, Mike. Everyone has a viewpoint, and if the writer has the ability to express it, it's worth writing, whether it's a different take or even when it's in agreement -- different readers may find even a "me too!" post clearer. I often wish that some of my fellow MOMA frequenters would comment on what they felt good about a movie I didn't care for, or t'other way round.

Bob
He was deeply moved, for the whisky had been generously measured.

-- Dorothy Sayers
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