It’s hard for me to believe that a novel than only takes up 276 pages in English (the National Book Award-winning one of Edward Seidensticker) was serialized over the span of five years, but future Nobel Prize-winner Kawabata Kasunari’s Yama no Oto was (Sound of the Mountain, 1949-54; simultaneously with Thousand Cranes). It was then quickly made into a movie (1954) directed by Naruse Mikio.
In that both Kawabata and Naruse generally focused on female characters, another surprise is that the focus of TSound of the Mountain is a man. Ogata Shingo (Yamamura Sô) starts to think that he must have been a failure as a father, since his selfish son, Shuichi (Naruse and Kinoshita regular Uehara Ken) is out drinking most every night with his mistress, neglecting his uncomplaining wife Kikuko (Hara Setsuko, the dutiful daughter of many Ozu family dramas, notably “Tokyo Story,”mistreated/underappreciated by Uehara Ken characters with some frequency). And Shingo’s daughter, Fusako (Nakakita Chieko), has left her husband and arrives with her bratty daughter and baby in her father’s home. (It suprises me that the children were so spoiled, having grown up during the war with its privations for those at home.)
Shingo is the only one who seems to conceive that Kikuko might have feelings. He feels sorry for Kikuko, though he—as much as and his wife, daughter, and son— avails himself of her domestic skills and readiness cheerfully to undertake doing whatever needs to be done. (With her as a de facto servant, there is no rush to find a new maid.)
Kikuko also seems to remind Shingo of the older sister of his wife (the coarse and entitled-feeling Yasuko, played by Nagaoika Taruko); he had been in love with her, but she died and he married the plainer-looking younger sister. This is reprised in Shingo’s preference for his daughter-in-law over his daughter, which his wife and his daughter complain about. Fusako and her mother both blame Shingo for the failure of Fusako’s marriage, as if he had raised Fusako and his wife had not been involved, though the daughter is coarse, whiney, and selfish like her mother, whereas Kikuko is refined and uncomplaining.
The saccharine Saitô Ichirô music annoyed me, and the images have not aged well, but eventually Kikuko takes an action that surprised me, and Suichi’s mistress ups the melodrama. Not much is resolved at the wistful ending in Shinjuku Park after the leaves have fallen from the trees—this is still Shingo’s point of view. Neither he nor the viewer knows what Kikuko really thinks about his adoration or the lack of even common courtesy from his son (her husband). In contrast, the mistress’ perspective is spelled out when, late in the movie, she appears.
The set for the Ogata home was modeled on Kawabata’s own, btw.
©2016, Stephen O. Murray