Naruse’s last movie

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Naruse’s last movie, “Midaregumo” (1967, “Two in the Shadow” in its IMDB listing, “Scattered Clouds” in the Criterion Edition title) show yet another struggling widow, this one, Yumiko (Tsukasa Yoko) going to work as a maid/geisha at the northern (Lake Towada) resort inn inherited by her sister-in-law Katsuko (Mori Mitsuko).

Rather than be fixed up with a business associate of Katsuko’s married lover, she overcomes her aversion to the man who was driving the car that killed her husband, Mishima Shiro, played by the very good-looking Kayama Yûzô (who played the arrogant younger doctor counterpoised to Mifune in “Red Beard” and the brother seeking revenge against Nakadai in “The Sword of Doom”). Mr. Mishima was exonerated by the court but very conscientious in making monthly payments to the widow, before falling in love with her.

Romance shyly blooms, but after Yumiko asks him to transfer, he is being sent to Lahore (viewed by the Japanese as the birthplace of cholera). Plus they see the wreckage of another automtive crash and a man hauled away with the same bandaging as Yumiko’s husband. Not that I expected a happy ending from Naruse. (I did wonder what happened to the child she was three months pregnant with when her husband was killed, though!)

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There are many scenes with interlocutors in the frame rather than his usual alternation of shots of alternating speakers. And color is well used (the other Naruse films I’ve seen were shot in black and white). The Takemitsu score is very conventional “movie music,” not sounding distinctively like Takemitsu.

(Yumiko was preparing to accompany her husband to the Japanese embassy in D.C. at the outset, and Mr. Mishima’s look seems western, as does Yumiko’s hairdo. Catherine Russell’s book on Naruse suggests she desires a western gentleman. Lord knows, Kayama looks like a Japanese version of Hollywood movie star with a tan and gleaming white teeth.

Naruse ground out a lot of movies for Shochiku, overshadowed by Ozu (and for the grinding indignities visited on women without prosperous husbands, Mizoguchi).

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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