(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the FilmStruck app on Apple TV; built-in screen-capturing is disabled during playback from the Web and from the FilmStruck app on iPhone/iPad.)
The Criterion Channel has begun offering a selection of films by Mikio Naruse not released on Blu-ray or DVD by the label, and I plan to write about each of them (many of which I've never before seen) in chronological order of their release. I'm starting with 1951's Ginza keshô [Ginza Makeup, a better translation than the title by which the film has been more commonly known in the west: Ginza Cosmetics, which suggests a product-line or shop-name, rather than the idea of concealment].
The go-to reference work in English about Naruse's films is Dan Sallitt's A Mikio Naruse Companion: Notes on the Extant Films, 1931-1967, which exists as a WordPress site accessible from the link. I've been reading his entries on each film after my initial viewing, and have been enjoying tremendously the lucid and sensitive considerations he's drawn from his own viewings over the years.
The flat of Yukiko Tsujin (Kinuyo Tanaka) is not immediately or clearly defined by Naruse as her own. It might be an inn, like the one we'll see later in the film featuring a similar balcony set off the sitting-room; it might be the top-floor apartment of some commercial establishment she's involved with. Soon we meet a small child, her son Haruo (Yoshihirô Nishikubo). Who is the man dressing this morning to leave for work? Not a spouse; is he a john? A boyfriend? He goes by Fujimura (Masao Mishima). And this Kyôko (Kyôko Kagawa) who enters the scene: a roommate? A tenant? Yukiko's younger sister? She mentions a ¥3,000 bill due, which Yukiko promptly tells her to ignore.
Relationships, definitions will become gradually clearer as the film progresses. In five minutes Naruse establishes the major themes and ambiguities of the aptly titled Ginza Makeup, and foreshadows events that will reach peak thrust only in the final 20 minutes out of 87, when it becomes strikingly apparent that the director has taken a coherent and practical découpage and grafted it upon an unusual dramaturgy: 67 minutes perambulating through the lives of a clan of hostesses down on their money-luck, when suddenly the prospect of a husband and a secure future for Yukiko materializes.
It doesn't pan out. The man in question, Kyôsuke (Yûji Hori — no relation to Yûji Horii of DragonQuest fame) ends up falling for and getting engaged to Kyôko — a cruelty of fate of that stings all the more keenly given the closeness of Kyôko to Yukiko, especially given her role as a mentee (and, as is gradually revealed, a paid house-helper) to the elder woman, who throughout has been telegraphed as past-her-prime at 41: single with child, manager of a hostess bar, damaged goods.
Money, in its presence or absence, contuses and corrupts. It's the practical passion, most would agree or concede. Yukiko's acquaintance Shizue (Ranko Hanai) latched a ways back onto a man for security (nevertheless, her Kasai [Yoshio Kosugi] presently rents their house until he "has funds later this year"), and wishes to introduce Yukiko to her companion's boss, Kanno-san the Orthodontic (Eijirô Tôno). She agrees to a meeting, but Kanno's aggressively thrifty and sexually lurid manner spoils the arrangement of a ¥200,000 loan to Yukiko to prevent the hostess bar BelAmi's proprietress from selling the place. Perhaps to throw Yukiko a (nefariously callous, overly calcified) bone in remuneration, Shizue will later enlist her to guide a visiting lover, Kyôsuke, around Ginza and greater Tokyo. "Yukiko graduated from college," she tells him. "So she'll make a great companion." It turns out Yukiko is indeed more than nominally educated; she confirms Kyôsuke's observation that the BelAmi is named after the Maupassant novel, and, in the scene that clinches her attraction to him, recites by heart the words of an ode to the romance of cosmological constancy. (Yukiko, giddy the following afternoon: "Kyôko-chan, do you know about Andromeda? Or Cassiopeia?" — "What are they — bars?")
Following her son Haruo's short disappearance from home, Yukiko will become ostensibly re-grounded from Big Notions: the boy's comfort in joyful lone wanders amid the neighborhood in pursuit of a pick-up stickball game or a bucket of fish contrasts starkly with the mother's hitherto alleycat necessity of the lean-to noodle joint and crepuscular shortcut.