Tag Archives: Uehara Ken)

“Money is everything”: Naruse’s “Bangiku”

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The “Late Chrysanthemums” of the title of Naruse Mikio’s 1954 movie (“Bangiku” in Japanese, based on three 1948 stories by Hayashi Fumiko [whose fiction was also the source of Naruse’s 1955 “Floating Clouds”]) are four middle-aged former geishas, who had made it through the (Pacific) war. The one with the most screen time, the miserly Kin (Kinoshita and Ozu regular Sugimura Haruko), is a property speculator and money-lender. She goes around collecting rent. She retained some nostalgia for a married patron, Tabe (Uehara Ken, typecast as a seductive cad), who was also in the army in Manchuria and primps for his visit, only to find that he is there hoping to borrow money. As is her one-time lover, Seki (Miaka Bontaro), who tried to kill her in a failed “double suicide” (he cut his throat and stabbed her, for which he was rightly convicted of “attempted murder,” since Kin had not wanted to die then). Kin does not drink or gamble or go out except to collect rent (she has a deaf-mute serving girl (Sawamura Sonosuke) to buy groceries).

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Two of her former peers are widows, each with one feckless child. Tomi’s impudent daughter, Sachiko is marrying without consulting letting alone gaining approval of the match to an older, affluent man from her mother. Tamae’s son Kiyoshi (Koizumi Hiroshi) has never held down a long-run job (I think he has been a gigolo), is sponging on a woman old enough to be his mother, and is going off to Hokkaido for a new job. Both the alcoholic Tomi (Arima Ineko) and the sickly Tamae Hoskoawa Chikako) are in debt to Kin, and the fourth, Nobu (Sawaura Sonosuke), is running a small bar in property owned by Kin. Nobu (a character not the focus of any of the three Hayashi stories) lives with a husband and seems more content with her lot than the other three

Children, thus, are as unreliable as geisha patrons. None of the four women is happy, though the one making some money betting on bicycle races and playing Pachinko (I don’t know how anyone can turn a profit from the latter and the movie provides no enlightenment or any portrayal of playing it.) Tame works as a chambermaid, but is frequently incapacitated with migraines.

Though not holding any shot for very long, the camera never moves within a shot, interior or exterios (in contrast to the fluid camerawork of Mizoguchi and early Kurosawa). Saitô Ichirô’s music is innocuous, minimalist Japanese.

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Though the movie has its admirers (Dennis Schwartz considers it “emotionally gripping” and Keith Uhlich lauded it as “a film of unbridled riches.” I find it drab and boring and not showing much of interest about Japanese attempts to deal with either the war crimes or the devastation of firebombing (and nuclear weapon bombing) visited on Japan. Nor is there much in the way of female solidarity to celebrate. The movie was made after the end of US Occupation and censorship of the Japanese movie industry.

©2016, Stephen O. Muray

 

Naruse’s adaptation of Kawabata’s Sound of the Mountain

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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.)

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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.

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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