A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, August 11, 2017

Mother (Mikio Naruse, 1952)

Kyoko Kagawa in Mother
Masako Fukuhara: Kinuyo Tanaka
Toshiko Fukuhara: Kyoko Kagawa
Shinjiro: Eiji Okada
Ryousuke Fukuhara: Masao Mishima
Susumo Fukuhara: Akihiko Katayama
Hisako Fukuhara: Keiko Enami
Uncle Kimura: Daisuke Kato
Tetsuo: Takashi Ito
Aunt Noriko: Chieko Nakakita

Director: Mikio Naruse
Screenplay: Yoko Mizuki
Cinematography: Hiroshi Suzuki
Music: Ichiro Saito

Mutatis mutandis, Mikio Naruse's Mother could almost have been a 1950s Hollywood family drama starring Irene Dunne or Myrna Loy in the title role: a woman struggling to help her family survive difficult times. Of course, the necessary change would be that of setting: Mother is very much a portrait of lower middle class Japan in the immediate postwar years. Masako Fukuhara is not just trying to feed her family but also struggling with the effects of the war, including disease -- the death of her only son from tuberculosis -- and crippling loss -- she and her husband, Ryosuke, take in her sister Noriko's little boy, Tetsuo, after Noriko returns from Manchuria, where her husband was killed. Masako's struggle gets worse after Ryosuke works himself to death reestablishing the family's laundry business. Fortunately, there is Uncle Kimura, who had been a prisoner of war in Russia, to help out in the laundry, but Masako still has to raise her teenage daughter, Toshiko, as well as her younger daughter, Hisako, called Chako. What links Mother to the Hollywood films is some sentimental melodrama, a characteristic not usually ascribed to Naruse's work, and some rather conventional comic relief, such as the scene in which Toshiko's boyfriend, Shinjiro, sees her dressed as a bride and thinks she's marrying someone else, when in fact she's modeling for Noriko, who is trying to make it as a hair stylist. Fortunately, Naruse knows how to work against sentimentality and convention with some distancing tricks. In mid-film we are suddenly presented with a title card that says "The End" in Japanese -- a moment that actually made me reach for the remote control to see if the screening service had somehow skipped to the end. It turns out to be the end title for a movie that Toshiko and her friends have gone to see -- a weepie that has left them in the tears guaranteed by its advertising. It also helps that Mother has the extraordinary Kinuyo Tanaka and Kyoko Kagawa playing mother and daughter -- a relationship they would repeat in Kenji Mizoguchi's Sansho the Bailiff (1954). It's also fun to see Eiji Okada as Shinjiro, one of his early performances, before he achieved international fame in Hiroshima Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959) and Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964).

Watched on Filmstruck Criterion Channel

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