Saturday, August 05, 2017


Circle of Death

(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.


Okaasan [Mother, 1952]: Specific summary: "Okaasan" is not a noun for "mother" in Japanese; it is a form of address. Masako (her name only used once?) is Mother, but "Mother" is extensive in Masako's world: she is "Mei-chan,", "Okaa-chan," and so on. She's mother to Susumu (ill ostensibly from the dust in a factory for "woolens," played by Akihiko Katayama), Toshiko (Kyôko Kagawa), and Chako (Eiko Miyoshi). She's sister-in-law to Noriko (Chieko Nakakita). She's sibling. She's auntie to Tetsu (Takashi Itô). She's wife/caretaker/"Mother" to Ryôsaku (Masao Mishima) — then she's widow — and then she's courtee of Kimura (Daisuke Katô)... Then...

Victimhood or passivity in the protagonist marks a type in cinema especially in the Japanese film of the era; but a martyr type (caretaker, etc.) moulds another: a protagonist bent over the sickbed. (Masako has to be martyr to stay awake among the incandescent lights that seem never to be turned off, despite the children sleeping in the same area — her work is never done — dreamtime never comes.) As I've noted before, you can't talk entirely formally with all these Naruse pictures: more often than not Naruse's signature lies in recurring narrative tropes and dramaturgic strategies (including predilections with regard to subject material), as opposed to mise-en-scène moves — which nevertheless include such expressivity as the isometric two-people-in-conversation traveling shot, and the recessive framing of three spaces within a family home.

In Masako-Okaasan we have a woman who slides into surrounding lives and empathies, or perhaps they slide into her (the only satisfaction she might be said to receive in this her present stunted carnality. [Aside: She's been listening to father crunch his toasted beans doused in soy sauce for twenty years now...]): Toshiko's POV is established as the dominant before it too slides, away: Toshiko's narration at the outset of the film never returns until the very end, by which time we've already long forgotten about the device: one of the radical strategies used by Naruse in this great film, and only one element of a composition that Sallitt in his Mother entry deems, justly, as dipping into a strange, and fascinating, dramaturgical "abstraction." Bookends.

Three ellipses in the first half of Mother jagged and fresh:

Ellipsis No. 1: Susumu passes away. (Plus: one single flashback (no structure rooted in the device): Ryôsake playing with the little Susumu.)

Ellipsis No. 2: Papa Ryôsake dies.

Ellipsis No. 3: "The End" appears onscreen 45 or 48 minutes in: it turns out to be the closing credit of a movie the Fukuharas are watching, which occurs shortly after ruining the client's dyed hat. It's an indication maybe that we're to take Mother as Naruse's most self-reflexive (and self-reflective) expression to date — I won't go so far as to call it prismatic with regard to the interplay of points-of-view, but I will attach this sequence to the same notion that might inform the shot from the children's vantage as they look down the street bent over between their own knees, which is one of Naruse's bolder formal flourishes since his days in the silents.

Then we have the second half, with its small vignettes. cf. That few-minute-long lesson on efficiency in ironing, as told-and-sold by "Uncle POW," Kimura. This "ironing out," if you will, leads to a series of questions that permeate the remainder of the film, further adding wrinkles to the drama:

-Has Toshiko scared off Kimura (short-term or not) from proposing to her mother, Masako-Okaasan?

-What will come of Chako's aunt and uncle's successful attempt to adopt her, as seen from Chako's, Masako's, and Toshiko's respective points of view?

-Whether on the table or not, should Masako remarry? and what will the children think?

-What if Noriko — who will dress Toshiko in wedding garb for the sake of a fashion contest — wins the prize and can afford to marry and take Tetsu back into her own home?

-What does Masako stand to lose if Toshiko, herself the protestor of her mother's new wedlock, makes good on her intent to marry her beau Shinjirô (Eiji Okada)?

A new apprentice is brought to the house — 16-year-old Kunihiko — to take over from Kimura who will leave to work in Chiba for the summer and save up to open his own laundry. One night early in his apprenticeship the boy falls asleep at his desk before a letter that's only just begun: "Dear Mother..."

Toshiko's voice-over returns: "Another night deepens in silence..... Mother, my dearest Mother, are you happy?..."


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]

Okaasan [Mother, 1952]

Meshi [Repast, 1953]

Tsuma [Wife, 1953]

Yama no oto [The Sound of the Mountain, 1954]

Bangiku [Late Chrysanthemums, 1954'

Ukigumo [Floating Clouds, 1955]


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.