A movie log 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

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Wife (Mikio Naruse, 1953)

Yatsuko Tan'ami and Ken Uehara in Wife
Mihoko Nakagawa: Mieko Takamine
Toichi Nakagawa: Ken Uehara
Fusako Sawara: Yatsuko Tan'ami
Tadashi Tanimura: Rentaro Mikuni
Yoshimi Niemura: Michiyo Aratama
Setsuko Sakarai: Sanae Takasugi
Eiko Matsuyama: Chieko Nakakita
Hirohiso Matsuyama: Hajime Izu
Taeko Niemura: Yoshiko Tsubouchi

Director: Mikio Naruse
Screenplay: Toshiro Ide
Based on a novel by Fumiko Hayashi
Cinematography: Masao Tamai
Production design: Satoru Chuko
Music: Ichiro Saito

I was well into Mikio Naruse's Wife when I had a sudden feeling of déjà vu: I felt like I had seen this film before. It struck me when Nakagawa goes to a cafe with Sawara, a typist who works in his office, and she identifies the music playing in the background as a violin concerto by Édouard Lalo. I thought I had seen the cafe setting before: It's distinctively divided into two levels, with some ornamental ironwork separating the upper from the lower level where Nakagawa and Sawara are sitting. Later in the film, when Tanimura, the painter and art student who rents a room from the Nakagawas, appears, and still later when Nakagawa's wife, Mihoko, rents another room to a young woman who's the mistress of an older man, I knew I'd seen Wife before. At my age, any memory lapse like this can be disturbing, but I also thought it told me something about the kind of film Wife is. For the main story of the film, about the stagnant marriage of Toichi and Mihoko Nakagawa, is so low-key that it's hard to latch onto anything specific about it. We've seen troubled marriages and illicit affairs before, but the Nakagawas hold their emotions in such tight check that they never explode into memorable scenes. The parts of Wife that the memory holds onto are the unique ones -- a classical melody, a distinctive set (as contrasted with the Nakagawas' typically boxlike home), or colorful characters. Even the title, Wife, has a generic quality to it -- like some of Yasujiro Ozu's titles, it doesn't give the mind much to hold onto. This is not meant to be a knock on Naruse's film, however. The pain experienced by Mihoko when she learns of her husband's affair, and that felt by Toichi and Sawara when they're forced to part, is very real and quite delicately observed. And there's something particularly devastating about the lack of resolution at the film's end, when, having achieved a kind of stalemate, the Nakagawas return to routine. He goes off to work and she stays home, both condemned to trying to work things out. In a way, I'm glad I had forgotten that I'd seen Wife before: It gave me a chance to rediscover a work whose subtlety and finesse outweigh its lack of flashy memory hooks.

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