Tatsuo Saito and Sumiko Kurishima in Every-Night Dreams
Why do the plots of so many Japanese films from the 1930s hinge on the illness of a child? It was the case in three of Yasujiro Ozu's films I watched recently: That Night's Wife (1930), Tokyo Chorus (1931), and An Inn in Tokyo (1935), and it happens again in Mikio Naruse's Every-Night Dreams. In two of the Ozu films, a man commits robbery to get money to pay the child's hospital bills and is sent to jail. The man in Naruse's film also commits a robbery but, wounded and desperate, he commits suicide -- an instance of how much darker in tone Every-Night Dreams is from the Ozu films. It's also different in that the central figure is a woman, rather than the men who seize the focus in the Ozu films. The dominant figure in Every-Night Dreams is Omitsu, played beautifully by Sumiko Kurishima, whom we meet as a single parent, working as a bar hostess to support her small son, Fumio (Teruko Kojima). Soon, however, the boy's father, Mizuhara (Tatsuo Saito), shows up, down and out. She's reluctant to take him back after his earlier abandonment of them, but he's so needy and the boy is so glad to see his father that she gives in. Mizuhara is a weakling in both body and character, however. He searches for work that will allow Omitsu to give up her rather disreputable job -- there's a scene early in the film in which she gets reproachful glares from the passengers on a streetcar -- but he is turned down for factory work because the employer thinks he's not strong enough for it. And then Fumio is struck by an automobile: He survives, but the doctor says he will need extensive therapy to regain the use of a shattered arm. So Mizuhara pulls off a robbery to get the funds, but is wounded by the police in his escape. He brings the money to Omitsu, but she is appalled by what he has done and urges him to turn himself in to the police. He leaves, and the next morning Omitsu learns that he has drowned himself. In a touching final scene, she urges Fumio to grow up strong. Though Naruse is credited in IMDb with 92 titles as director, from short films in 1930 to his last feature in 1967, his reputation in the West has been overshadowed by that of his contemporaries Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Akira Kurosawa. But Every-Night Dreams displays a fiercely original talent, with a distinct bias toward portraying strong women like Omitsu. In contrast to Ozu, who preferred to work with carefully framed scenes with little camera movement, Naruse favors an active camera -- zooms, pans, dolly shots -- and fast-paced editing: The scene in which Fumio's accident is announced is a series of quick cuts from a toy car rolling off the edge of a table through shots of the boy's playmates running in with the news. He likes narrative foreshadowing: In one scene, a despondent Mizuhara looks out over the harbor as the camera pans from boats and buildings down to the water itself, while in another, Mizuhara urgently signals to Fumio to stay on the other side of a road until a car speeds past and the boy can cross safely. Yet he also allows his actors room to develop their characters: Kurishima builds up our sense of Omitsu's inner strength through her expressions and gestures. The film's story is by Naruse and the screenplay by Tadao Ikeda; the cinematographer is Suketaro Inokai.