Naruse’s 1952 “Mother”/”Okasan”


Life was hard for the widowed, self-sacrificing titular mother in Naruse’s 1952 film (Okasan), though the commemoration through an affectionate daughter’s voiceover verges on sentimentality (in contrast to Kinoshita’s (1953) “A Japanese Tragedy”). Tanaka Kinuyo (Sansho the Bailiff, The Life of Oharu) is the somewhat sentimentalized mother, Fukuhara Masako, seen from the perspective of her older daughter Toshiko (Kagawa Kyôko who played Mifune’s wife in “High and Low” and the second female lead in “Sansho, the Bailiff”). The patient husband/father Ryosuke (Mishima Masao) waited for the property (laundry/dyeing establishment) on a main street that the wartime government expropriated to be returned, but dies before that happens. Their adult son, Susumu (Katayama Akihiko) has to go off to a sanitarium (presumably tuberculosis, though some work-related lung condition may be the reason). The Fukuharas’ life is no picnic, though a picnic relieves the struggle for survival shown in most of the movie. (There’s also a carnival interlude.)

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I find it hard to understand why Masako allows her younger daughter (Chako) to be adopted while continuing to raise the younger boy child (Tetsuo) of her sister Noriko (Nakakita Chieko) who is studying hairdressing, then beginning work as a beautician. I was interested to see the young Okada Eiji (Hiroshima, Mon Amour) as Shinjiro, a baker hoping to marry Toshiko. He provides much of the comedy, romantic and other, including singing and coping with a date for which Toshiko shows up with her younger sister and de facto younger brother.

©2015, Stephen O. Murray












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