Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lost Island of VHS...

Wife! Be Like A Rose - Mikio Naruse - 1935

This is a terrific film from what many call the fourth master of the classic Japanese cinema: Mikio Naruse. Naruse, no doubt, stands on his own in film history but having never seen any of his films this one felt like a fusion both in style and content of two of those other great masters Yasujir┼Ź Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi. Like the films those two filmmakers made this film deals with domestic issues in 1930's Japan as well as the plight and/or roll of women in the society. In this film a young woman (Sachiko Chiba), soon to be married, goes to the country to bring back her father who left his wife and kids for a geisha twenty years before. What she does not know is that he has fathered two other children and is quite happy in his present life.

Despite the built-in drama and serious themes Wife! Be Like A Rose is on the lighter side and almost comedic at times. In part, this is due to the actress Sachiko Chiba who charms and smiles in each scene. Nothing much seems to phase her as she comes to accept the fact that reuniting her mother and father in not in the cards. [The Japanese title is Kimiko, which is the main characters' name].

Stylistically, the film also incorporates the "tatami shot" - used notably by Ozu - in which the camera is placed at a low height, along with distant framing shots and smooth camera movement which were utilized so well by Mizoguchi.

I'm am not sure why only one Naruse film is available in the US on DVD. I can only guess there are rights issues. Perhaps Criterion will eventually unspool a few of them in an Eclipse set. One can only hope.

A longer review of the film can be found here.

An interesting piece of history on the film when it opened and closed in New York in 1937 is here.

There are good notes on Naruse retrospectives at Filmforum and Harvard Film Archive.

Also a good piece over at The Evening Class.

It's time for Naruse to be re-discovered...or maybe just discovered.


Anonymous said...

I actually "discovered" Naruse, Matt, four years ago during a wonderfully comprehensive Film Forum retrospective of his work in Manhattan, where I managed 19 of the films offered including the film you review here. It's certainly one of his masterworks, along with FLOATING CLOUDS, REPAST, WOMEN WHO ASCENDS THE STAIRS, LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, and one or two others.

-Sam Juliano

I also at that time thought Naruse the fourth Japanese master, but have since discovered Yoshida, who truthfully surges ahead of all of them, save for Ozu and Mizoguchi.

Terrific review-wonderful blogsite!

Matt said...

Hi Sam
Thanks for the words. Yeah I mention Naruse as the 'fourth master' but try to emphasize he was from the classic period which I would consider the 1930's to 1950's; i.e. filmmakers who started making films in that period. While Yoshida, Imamura, Ichikawa and Oshima I would consider maybe a post classic period. Of course Kurosawa sort of straddles the two eras.

But I will indeed seek out Yoshida's films. I've only seen one and it was without subtitles.