So, four more from the Mikio Naruse retrospective for me this past weekend–Floating Clouds (1955), Flowing (1956), Sound of the Mountain (1954), and Yearning (1964). Given that ideas of stasis and entrapment figure both in his narratives and in his aesthetic, I’m not sure if I’ve really come any closer to any sort of prescription for why Naruse’s been relatively unknown here, except perhaps to say that the extra evidence has offered more proof of a decidedly downbeat (if often bittersweet) worldview. Watching this additional four was not unlike the time I spent with definitely minor Fassbinder like Rio das Muertes, Nora Helmer, or Pioneers of Ingolstadt–none of these works really taught me anything necessarily new (though the Naruse films are far greater than these) but rather deepened my appreciation for their creator’s talents.
Walked out of masterpiece Floating Clouds and caught this snatch of conversation: “It was okay….but it was a little melodramatic…not sweet like that Chinese seamstress movie.” Well, duh, melodrama is Naruse’s stock and trade—and if you aren’t ready to take these stories on those terms, then you’re out of luck and will miss out on the sublime, tragic incredulity of the finale to Yearning (choice comment overheard: “That was the worst ending I could have possibly imagined”), or the way he builds a formless, static movie like Flowing to a stunningly emotional close with an Isuzu Yamada shamisen performance. Hideko Takamine owns Floating Clouds and Yearning (and last week’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs)–someone should zero in on the Takamine/Naruse works someday and just tour those, even though Naruse is unformly great with women (see the greatest hits cast of six or so in Flowing). Easiest of all to love perhaps is Sound of the Mountain (based on the Yasunari Kawabata book) with Ozu favorite Setsuko Hara coping with her indifferent husband by forming a close, complicated (platonic) relationship with her kindly father-in-law. It definitely doesn’t end the way Ozu would have finished it (think Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice), but remains no less wondrous.