A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, August 7, 2017

Late Chrysanthemums (Mikio Naruse, 1954)

Haruko Sugimura in Late Chrysanthemums
Kin: Haruko Sugimura
Tomi: Yuko Mochizuki
Tamae: Chikako Hosokawa
Nobu: Sadako Sawamura
Kiyoshi: Hiroshi Koizuma
Sachkiko: Ineko Arima
Tabe: Ken Uehara
Seki: Bontaro Miake

Director: Mikio Naruse
Screenplay: Sumie Tanaka, Toshiro Ide
Based on stories by Fumiko Hayashi
Cinematography: Masao Tamai
Music: Ichiro Saito

In 1993, writer-director Nora Ephron satirized a prevailing male attitude toward "women's pictures" in Sleepless in Seattle. When the character played by Rita Wilson tears up while recounting the plot of An Affair to Remember (Leo McCarey 1957), Tom Hanks's character dismisses the film as "a chick's movie," and he and Victor Garber's character mock her by bursting into tears while recalling the thoroughly macho ending of The Dirty Dozen (Robert Aldrich, 1957). Although Ephron's film had the downside of reinvigorating the old put-down phrase "chick flick," it also sent video sales and rentals of An Affair to Remember through the roof. The male-female audience split, and the willingness of filmmakers to cash in on it, dates from the days when there were movie theaters within walking distance of almost every neighborhood, and women who worked at home could take a break to watch a movie while the kids were in school. So the "matinee weepie" became a standard product of Hollywood studios, usually focusing on the problems women had with their families and their husbands -- or their lack of families and husbands. In Japan, however, women's problems were compounded by history and rapid social change: The institutions women had learned to adapt to before and during the war were being revolutionized. The constitution drafted during the occupation of Japan in 1946 went perhaps even further to establish the political and social equality of women with men than was common in the United States. The Japanese version of a "woman's picture," Mikio Naruse's Late Chrysanthemums, demonstrates both how liberating and how traumatizing this newfound equality could be for older women by focusing on four former geisha, now in late middle age, past the time when the one skill they had been trained in, pleasing men, could support them. One of the women, Nobu, has found stability by running a small restaurant. Another, Kin, had socked away the money she had earned and, never married, now lends money and invests in real estate. But Tomi and Tamae, each of whom now has a grown child but no husband, have had harder times. They share a house, but Tomi is addicted to gambling and Tamae is in poor health, which keeps her from earning what she could as a housekeeper in a hotel. Tomi is also upset that her daughter, Sachiko, who dresses in modern Western clothes, is marrying an older man, while Tamae frets first about the fact that her son, Kiyoshi, has a mistress and later that he has decided to move to Hokkaido. There's no real plot to Late Chrysanthemums, but instead a concentrated focus on characters and their reactions to a changing world. Kin, for example, is drawn back into the wartime past by the return of two men: Seki, with whom she was once so in love that they attempted a double suicide, and Tabe, an ex-soldier who was her patron. She spurns Seki, now a derelict ex-con, but eagerly receives the handsome Tabe, only to be disillusioned when it turns out that he only wants to borrow money and gets sloppily drunk. Haruko Sugimura, who was usually cast in rather vinegary roles, like a Japanese Agnes Moorehead, gives a performance of depth and understanding as Kin, but all of the film's performances are richly accomplished.

Watched on Filmstruck Criterion Channel

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