Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Late Chrysanthemums

"Neither He Nor I Can Afford a Shot of Pork Innards for Energy":
A Précis

(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.


Late Chrysanthemums [Bangiku, 1954] is among the sexiest of Naruse's Fumiko Hayashi-based pictures.

Haruko Sugimura, harridan of Naruse and Ozu, here cast as type, Okin.

The movie is about money, the need for it, the power that it itself lends to the holder or recipient, and the abstraction of its circulation. The film is unlike other Naruse pictures up to this point insofar as it is built upon a kind of hand-off/anthology-film structure that leaves Sugimura to focus on her lendees and pass-to-pass, such that the first-time viewer is disoriented until 30 or 35 minutes go by and a pyramid structure hierarchy comes into focus as the framework of the film.

(Money: initial announcement of the Sakae Shopping District Association raffle-sale. Sugimura counting her banknotes in her opening shot.)

A deaf housemaid she can feel superior to and who is her only domestic companion besides a puppy and her agent/business-manager/consigliere Itai-san (Daisuke Katô). Okin buys property and lends money: the premise is very simple: for Okin, a former geisha and tea-room girl, money made (and continues to make) money. Itai: "Can a deaf girl do a good job?" Okin: "Yes — she's quiet." Itai: "Ah, all your secrets are safe with her...!"

Naruse films nearly as many shots as Ozu or Kinoshita of the comings-and-goings through house entrances. One example of Okin's parsimony: the locking of the front door (despite her maid due to rearrive after a mere minute out) and the insertion of the shiv. Okin enters the backdoors of her debtors' establishments in case they attempt to flee — a ridiculous notion but one she nevertheless brings up to each of them in a half-joking chuckle.

The subplot involving Okin's ex, Mr. Seki (Bontarô Miake), is diaphanous. The two share a history of an attempted double-suicide, that was read by police as a homicide attempt (with little dissuasion from Okin). Now he's returned to town in the manner an American stage character or, recently, a Horace and Pete character to request money from a rebuffing, unsentimental Okin, who remarks: "He needs to get his life in order so he can bring an offering to my funeral." (If at first you don't succeed...)

Tomi (Yûko Mochizuki) and Tamae (Chikako Hosokawa), who share a house, are ex-coworkers of Okin in their former life, and now count among her debtors. Tamae has a son Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Koizumi) — they seem merely a decade apart in age... After she starts going on about his father, one suspects she is perhaps his stepmother... He shows up at the house while Tamae is receiving Okin who, in classic Naruse dramaturgy, upon Kiyoshi's arrival takes her leave and announces she'll return some other time. In the confrontation between mother and son, Naruse colors more details: Tamae wants Kiyoshi to break up with his girl ("You made me tell people you were my sister," he exclaims) and expresses her anger over not being consulted before he took a new job in a Hokkaido mining office.

Tomi's daughter Sachiko (Ineko Arima) frequently lends her mother money. She has decided to move out from her mother's and Tamae's upstairs — it takes no more than five minutes to pack — whereupon she brashly asks the visiting Okin to consider advancing her and the fiancé with whom she's eloping that very night some money towards renting a new house, before briskly bidding sayônara. It's as though this alone is a stab at spiting her mother and her money-managerial incompetence.

Having returned from Burma, Tabe-san (Ken Uehara) shows up at Okin's one afternoon, as per his letter, dressed in a schlubby suit. Upon his arrival, a delighted Okin primps till, it seems, nightfall. (The joke is an external shot showing how far the sun has set, while a spread of food and sake provide refreshment for Tabe the entire time in Okin's absence — maybe the funniest exchange in the film: Okin: "I'm sorry for the wait..." Tabe: "You look younger than my wife!") After they toast some sake, an internal monologue of Okin abruptly plays on the soundtrack: "Why did he come here today?... Seki was after me, but Tabe was my sanctuary..." Why: by now in his cups, Tabe admits he's in need of a loan. Okin won't grant the request. In three cross-cuts, Naruse contrasts this now fraught evening with the first night spent alone by a drunk Tamae and Tomi. Tomi: "You were the most graceful parlor-maid at Sanraku..." Tamae: "I remember how you used to wear your hair in the Shimada style..." ..... Tabe spends the night, passing out, at Okin's as rain falls on the city...

The next day comes: full-circle to the film's opening: Mr. Itai stops by Okin's to review finances. The restaurant owner Nobu (Sadako Sawamura), object of Okin's earlier backdoor collection tactics, rushes in to inform her that Seki is being held by the police on account of a suicide attempt? Okin: "Whether Seki goes to jail or hangs himself I don't have time to care. All men feed off of women's blood. We have to protect ourselves. It's not only men who face life-and-death struggles."

Tamae and Tomi accompany Kiyoshi at the train station to provide him a send-off to Hokkaido, when they eye two geisha flurry around their patron in anticipation of accompanying him on his departure. They observe, too, another passer-by striking a 1954 vogue — the "Monroe walk." Tomi tries her hips in imitation — sad results. Tamae: "Act your age!", and the two laugh.

Okin and Itai descend the stairs of the station to a train, en route to inspect some potential new real estate.


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.