Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Fresh Wounds, Every Morning

(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.)

Prefatory note: 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.


Financial clerk Hatsunosuke (Ken Uehara) is married to Michiyo (Setsuko Hara), housewife. The thirty-something couple reside in a small Osaka two-story centrally located on a narrow lane adjacent to the main road; the neighbors stop by daily to share neighborhood news or request neighborly favors. One afternoon, Hatsunosuke's 20-year-old niece Satoko (Yukiko Shimazaki) arrives unexpectedly in town on the train from Tokyo to take an extended (unannounced) holiday in the household of her favorite father's-brother, escaping in the process a marriage offer she's not seriously considering.

Money pressures have weighed upon the couple; rather, have pressed upon pecuniary-minded Michiyo more than active-earner Hatsunosuke. Childless, the two make do on the salary of the husband, who had been promised prospects at his current post greater than have yet come to fruition. His secretary packs a more fulfilling bentô lunch than he does. On a rare afternoon, Michiyo leaves the zone of her washing room / de facto kitchen/pantry (designated as her zone by its cardinally framed recession up-stage in Naruse's recurring master-shot of the living room) and splurges to attend a reunion with her school friends for ¥100. The lunch is brief, given that most of the other attendees have been called away by their day-duties to their families and children.

Michiyo runs into a handsome single cousin, Kazuo (Hiroshi Nihon'yanagi), who offers to lend her the money for her Tokyo trip. We perceive Michiyo's scrimping and saving maybe as almost pathological, an assessment made difficult to gauge without qualification by her husband's own supreme indifference and lassitude.

It's hard to empathize with any of the main characters of Meshi [Repast, 1951] — especially to do so with protagonist Michiyo, the star typed here as the harried and suspicious housewife, but it's easy to take her as a complete bitch... Then again, the viewer recalls her situation, that she's likely been dealt her lot-in-life by way of a parentally-arranged marriage. 'Cattiness,' as in Naruse's previous '51 picture, Ginza Makeup: while Michiyo is out with the girls, Satoko greets Hatsunosuke home from the office. They flirt, he pings her on the forehead (Naruse makes a glorious cut-on-action here from a medium two-shot to the full-shot). Laying down she's overcome with a nosebleed he consequently attends to. She goes to sleep without having prepared the evening meal she'd promised the couple.

Michiyo packs up and leaves for Tokyo, accompanied by Satoko her albatross who figures it wise to return to her parents, even as in chance parallel Michiyo is returning to her own for the purpose of spousal hiatus. In the course of the train ride, who appears but Cousin Kazuo; Michiyo grows visibly perturbed by the advances made on Satoko's part to her finely groomed and chiseled blood-relative. She resents Satoko's carefree approach to life and love, and her indifference to a marriage proposal (arranged or not?) that awaits in Tokyo. As with the 'weirdness' between her husband and his niece, so exists a tension-on-crush for Michiyo towards her cousin.

Once in Tokyo, Michiyo's brother quickly disabuses her of the decision to reintegrate even briefly into the nuclear family, on the basis of a disruption to their own routine while she works through her own situation, having taken leave from the marriage house and in search of work. The final act, out of a contemporary Hollywood picture, heralds a typhoon that disrupts the already unsettled house with restless sleep and structural damage to the home.

Shortly after Satoko wonders aloud to Michiyo that, "It would make you and Hatsunosuke happy if I married Kazuo, right?", the elder woman erupts into a crazed laughter upon which Naruse punctuates the scene. Hatsunosuke arrives in Tokyo, cowed, or chastened, or whatever suggests an equivalent more invisible. A pair of street-troupers gambol down a lane (just as in Ginza Makeup) providing an interlude of relief from the bittersweet drama at hand. Hatsunosuke explains that he's found new income — his uncle has given him a job offer, and the prospect of increased income, money is reignited.

The couple boards the train back to Osaka, and Michiyo's internal monologue returns in voice-over narration (taken from text from the Hayashi source novel?) for the third time in the film, following the opening and her arrival in Tokyo: "...as we share our lives together in search of happiness: perhaps that is what true happiness means to me."


More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Mikio Naruse:

Koshiben ganbare [Flunky, Work Hard, 1931]

Nasanu-naka [No Blood Relation, 1932]

Kimi to wakarete [Apart from You, 1933]

Yogoto no yume [Every-Night Dreams, 1933]

Kagirinaki hodô [Endless Pavement, 1934]

Ginza keshô [Ginza Makeup, 1951]


Monday, January 30, 2017

Face aux fantômes

And Yet

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Criterion Blu-ray for Night and Fog.)


Face aux fantômes [Facing Ghosts] by Jean-Louis Comolli and Sylvie Lindeperg, produced by Argos Films under the aegis of the INA in 2009, details in 99 minutes the background of the creation of Alain Resnais's 1955 landmark Nuit et brouillard [Night and Fog]. The film takes the form of a lengthy and elucidating interview with historian Sylvie Lindeperg conducted and shot by Comolli within a hangar-like media-workspace illumined by footlights and various blue gels. The first shot reflexes upon a dolly track setup, with 'bowed' angle of the camera recording the traversal of the track's length; unnecessary apparatus for this kind of project, one would think — indeed the entire space seems a little ostentatious or overreaching, albeit this context of steely, 'futuristic' cavernousness perhaps materializes an interior 'third-image' of Night and Fog intended by Resnais in the course of what he would come to describe as a "re-presentation" of the death-camp footage.

1945. French families awaiting deportees' return. The image that will survive: the patriotic deportee: the Resistance fighter coming home to France. Lindeperg: "This of course left unmentioned the specific and tragic fate of the Jews deported for extermination. Images of deportees begin to be shown in late April 1945; they're used to convey this message, even though the faces and bodies tell another story, one that wasn't part of the message of Frenay's ministry nor of the French news."

She continues: "When the Auschwitz camp was evacuated in January of 1945 due to the advance of Soviet troops, the deportees were evacuated westward, in what was later called 'death marches,' to the concentration camps of the Greater Germanic Reich. At that point, they were mixed with, notably, Resistance prisoners. This was the case at the Bergen-Belsen camp, which received many evacuees from Auschwitz. They were liberated in April by British forces and repatriated to France along with other categories of deportees. So if we examine the image of the camps and deportees as seen from France, these deportees return to France together, and that contributes to the confusion. Furthermore, the dominant political line presenting deportees as Resistance fighters reinforces the image of the concentration camp as the only sort of camp, one in which Jews and non-Jews, without distinction, suffered the same fate. In addition, the images shown to the French immediately after the war are of the Western camps. No images of the liberation of Auschwitz or Majdanek were shown. When we speak of the creation of the collective image of the concentration camps and their liberation, all the images were of the Western camps."

Lindeperg goes on to relate that in November 1954, an exhibition opened in Paris titled "Résistance — Libération — Déportation, (1940-1945)" at the Musée Pédagogique. "It's helmed by the French Committee for the History of the Second World War, and more specifically, its secretary general, Henri Michel, and Olga Wormser, who oversees the section on deportation." Wormser, in the early '50s, also joined the committee on the history of deportation, which concentrated on examining the structure of the concentration camp system and whose members included ex-Resistance fighters among others. Their mandate "was first to gather evidence, and then to write the history."

Wormser and Michel write Tragédie de la déportation, 1940-1945, témoignages de survivants des camps de concentration allemands, based on accounts from Resistance prisoners while indicating the gaping absence of the genocide of the Jews. (Lindeperg: Wormser "does this discreetly, first because the narrative frame doesn't allow for it, and also because her understanding of the two phenomena still lacks clarity.")

Fast-forward: Henri Michel ("working under the gaze of the deportees"; Lindeperg cites "the demands of memory and of history") contacts Anatole Dauman (co-founder with Philippe Lifschitz of Argos Films), asks can he produce such a work. Dauman writes to Michel accepting, on the grounds the film will only ever exist if it aims for and meets "the highest artistic ambitions". The film will be produced within the context of the aforementioned exhibition of documents and relics pertaining to the war and in accord with the vision the Réseau du Souvenir. It must honor the dead. Amid these tensions Nuit et brouillard must operate. And it will further serve to advance Olga Wormser's own inquiries.

Resnais will operate on "the principle of accumulation". He is given access to the documents and objects used in the exhibition.

Resnais's modus operandi in part was to make a film in direct contrast to Les camps de la mort (realized by correspondents, Allies, etc.) — a print of which the director owned on 16mm as a "reference". Lindeperg notes that for Resnais it was essential to find the balance between the straight presentation (let's say, an archive dump) and artistic construction.

"It's no longer 1945 — he's 're-presenting' these archival images."

The images of Westerbork and the transport contain no narration by his screenwriter, Jean Cayrol. "Resnais shows a sort of intuition that comes before perceptual knowing...""One must both pierce the mystery, and preserve it."

"Were the subjects reassured by the camera's presence?""The camera pans to seek out her face." — her name was Anna Maria "Settela" Steinbach.

Wormser was historical consultant to Resnais — her knowledge and point of view was still being shaped; as Lindeperg puts it, and as indicated earlier: the film is "a rough draft and an initial synthesis of a history still taking shape."

Resnais had to tweak Cayrol's narration to fit the editing — as he Cayrol couldn't bear to return to the editing room. — "This was where Chris Marker came in.""He did a sort of rewrite of Cayrol's text, but based on the film's images, of course. So then Cayrol pulled himself together and rewrote Chris Marker's version, but this time in the editing room. That's how we moved forward: sentence by sentence. We'd try each one out. So the structure of the narration is very much in the style of Chris Marker, but it's Cayrol's words and thoughts."

Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland and Resnais's arrival to shoot there — no 'museum' in an institutional sense as with the site of "Auschwitz I" — where the filmmaker shoots in black-and-white various interiors. Lindeperg: "This choice implies that everything shot in the museum [of Auschwitz I] is relegated to the past."

The film concludes with a thread about Celan's adaptation of Cayrol's V.O. for the German-language dub: How does it differ from Cayrol's original French-language version? "It shows intent." Here the word is directly used: They "lied".


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ginza Makeup [aka "Ginza Cosmetics"]

Days and Nights of Money

(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.