Monday: Naruse & Takamine
Of an Auteur and Actress
Monday, January 9 • 7 • 87m
Mikio Naruse, 1952 • Opening in the charged, drifting spaces of an urban landscape with Kiyoko (Takamine), a young woman who has just freed herself from a family-backed engagement, this stunning, crystalline image of the disintegration of the Japanese patriarchal family was Naruse's second adaptation of a novel by Fumiko Hayashi. One of four siblings, each fathered by a different man, Kiyoko has procured independence by breaking from her mother's home. However, her move even further threatens the family's shaky foundations, leading up to a dramatic final confrontation between mother and daughter.
Monday, January 16 • 7 • 123m
Mikio Naruse, 1955 • Based on a novel of the same name by Fumiko Hayashi, Floating Clouds concerns two lovers in post-WWII Tokyo who meet after a long absence. They remember and reflect upon their wartime affair and first meeting, and these flashbacks intersperse with haunting walks in (and through) the present which, as the heroine observes, lead nowhere. The film's editing and imagery ineffably crystallize the idea of infinite time, etching its paths through space. Past and present frequently collapse and pass through one another in what is perhaps the most famous of all Naruse's works.
Monday, January 23 • 7 • 101m
A Wife's Heart
Mikio Naruse, 1956 • Narratively turning on the efforts of Kiyoko (Takamine) and her husband to raise money in order to open a coffee shop, A Wife's Heart also features characteristically precise editing and impressive use of sound to convey a landscape both rich and harsh. From the outset the husband's family impinges on the couple's plans when the brother, with wife and child, returns from an ill-fated business trip. When part of the money for their café goes to the brother, Kiyoko starts to resent the other couple while reevaluating her feelings for bachelor Kenkichi (Toshiro Mifune).
Monday, January 30 • 7 • 117m
Mikio Naruse, 1956 • Flowing begins with a dispute over money, a dispute which will carry through almost the whole film. This is but one thread of the narrative concerning money; several others will concern a dramatically changing culture. All the while, daily life will ebb in and out at any instant, from any angle. This ensemble piece, centered around a failing geisha house, is one of Naruse's densest films. It is a rich catalogue of movements, gestures, looks, with characters of unsurpassed depth, each representing in some way the changes occurring around them, and each seemingly a whole world.
Monday, February 6 • 7 • 121m
Mikio Naruse, 1957 • Set in the Taishō period of Japan (dating from 1912 to 1926), Untamed follows the fiery Oshima (in a superbly eccentric performance by Takamine) as she passes from one suitor to another, a series of calamities befalling her along the way. Characteristic of Naruse's work, urban and rural settings are juxtaposed: the moody Tokyo streets against a majestic mountain village. At each point, the various situations Oshima is caught in seem uncannily bound up with her surroundings. It's worth noting that the film, while not widely known, is singled out for praise by critic Chris Fujiwara.
Monday, February 13 • 7 • 111m
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs
Mikio Naruse, 1960 • Exhibiting a formal elegance and economy that’s striking even for Naruse, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is justly acclaimed as a classic of World Cinema. Playing Keiko, a widowed bar hostess in Tokyo, Hideko Takamine gives potent and commanding performances. As we watch Kieko struggling to climb through a rigid social order, minute details are "excavated”, acquiring profound psychological importance. When Naruse expands the scope of the film, the landscape that engulfs Keiko is revealed to be even more cold and desolate than it initially appeared.
Monday, February 20 • 7 • 123m
Daughters, Wives and a Mother
Mikio Naruse, 1960 • Displaying a crowning mastery of 'Scope and color, Daughters, Wives and a Mother, raises the familial tensions recurrent in Naruse's oeuvre to a sublime plane. A melodrama of considerable vastness, with a psychological depth worthy of Henry James, and a strong ensemble of Japanese stars of the era (including Setsuko Hara at the center), it also has one of the great transcendental endings in all of cinema. Hara plays Sanae Sakanishi, whose recently-deceased husband left her a sizable insurance payoff, an act that prompts much discord, quarreling, and backbiting with the husband's family.
Monday, February 27 • 7 • 124m
A Wanderer's Notebook
Mikio Naruse, 1962 • According to actress Hideko Takamine, this was among Naruse’s favorite of their many collaborations as actress and director. Based on Fumiko Hayashi’s autobiographical first novel, A Wanderer's Notebook follows Hayashi’s difficult early life in poverty through to her adulthood, where she is an acclaimed writer. Sticking with ‘scope but eturning to black and white, Naruse imbues every image with significance, with a marmoreal stateliness. He crafts lyrical compositions that use a sensitive play of lightness and darkness to make one savor the sweeping details in every frame.
Monday, March 5 • 7 • 98m
Mikio Naruse, 1964 • Perhaps the most devastating of Naruse’s late melodramas, this neglected treasure sees Hideoko Takamine once again playing a widow. Rieko (Takamine) runs a small grocery store owned by the mother of her late husband. When a supermarket opens just down the street, the store falls into dire financial trouble. After Koji, her delinquent brother-in-law, confesses his love to her, Rieko decides to flee to her hometown. However, Koji follows Reiko. Over the course of train ride, the two find themselves growing closer and an unlikely romance results. It’s a masterpiece not to be missed.
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