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September 30 - October 10, 2005

Mikio Naruse: A Centennial Tribute

Following in the tradition of the celebrated Yazujiro Ozu Centennial, the Harvard Film Archive proudly presents a centenary celebration of another master of Japanese cinema. Mikio Naruse (1905-1969) is often overlooked by Western audiences in the pantheon of great Japanese filmmakers in favor of contemporaries such as Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Akira Kurosawa. He produced over eighty films during his lifetime, and primarily focuses on domestic dramas, films that would be dismissively classified as "women's pictures."  Yet, within these remarkable stories of women, he presents an honest depiction of human struggles, both male and female, and the hypocrisies that result from familial and social conformity. This touring program includes a selection of newly struck film prints courtesy of Toho Films and Kadokawa Pictures.

This program is organized by James Quandt, Cinematheque Ontario and is co-presented with the Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies at Harvard University, the Japan Society of Boston and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Please visit www.mfa.org/film for additional film screenings. Special thanks to Toho Films, the Japan Foundation, Kadokawa Pictures and Janus Films. Program notes adapted from the Gene Siskel Film Center.



September 30 (Friday) 7 pm

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga kaidan o agaru toki)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1960,  B&W, 111 min.
With Hideko Takamine, Masayuki Mori, Reiko Dan
Japanese with English subtitles

Set in the back-alley bar rooms of Tokyo's Ginza district, the film tells the story of Keiko, a "mama-san," or bar proprietress whose work is to entertain men for money. A thirty-year-old widow, Keiko realizes that she is at a stage in her life in which she must either remarry or own her own business. Refusing to descend into prostitution yet besieged by the furious competition of other mama-sans, Keiko attempts to borrow the money she needs to continue without a male "sponsor," but her plans change when one of her customers proposes marriage.

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September 30 (Friday) 9 pm

Mother (Okasan)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1952, B&W, 98 min.
With Kinuyo Tanaka, Kyôko Kagawa, Masao Mishima
Japanese with English subtitles

After the death of her husband, a widow (Tanaka) with three children tries to manage her husband's dry-cleaning business. Told from the point of view of her eldest daughter, the film is an unabashedly sentimental hymn to maternal self-sacrifice and dedication, yet a certain edge becomes evident as Tanaka's self-deprecation takes on an unsettling, obsessive quality. A perennial Japanese favorite, Mother is, for Naruse, an uncharacteristically humorous film.

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October 1 (Saturday) 7 pm

Wife! Be Like a Rose! (aka Kimiko) (Tsuma yo bara no yo ni)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1935, B&W, 73 min.
With Sadao Maruyama, Tomoko Ito, Sachiko Chiba
Japanese with English subtitles

Considered by many to be Naruse's pre-war masterpiece, the film was also the first Japanese "talkie" to be exhibited commercially in the United States. Kimiko, a "modern-thinking" office worker, decides to re-unite her estranged parents. She seeks out her father, who has been living with a former geisha in the country for several years; pleading with him to consider his obligations to her mother, she persuades him to return with her. Perhaps in none of his other works in this period does Naruse so determinedly flout the conventions of cinematic narration; space is relentlessly fragmented in the film, so that even characters conversing together in the same room are locked into visually discontiguous areas.

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October 1 (Saturday) 8:30 pm

Traveling Actors (Tabi yakusha)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1940, B&W, 70 min.
With Kamatari Fujiwara, Kan Yanagiya, Minoru Takase
Japanese with English subtitles

 

A distinguished kabuki troupe brings its performance to a rural village.  In this rare comedy from Naruse, the director focuses on the backstage antics of two actors who perform as a pantomime horse and find their place in the show threatened by the show's funder, who wants to replace them with a live horse.  In addition to the film's comic elements, Naruse offers a cautionary reflection on war as the actors watch two of their own sent off to battle.

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October 2 (Sunday) 7 pm

A Tale of Archers at the Sanjusangendo (Sanjusangendo toshiya monogatari)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1945,  B&W, 76 min.
With Kazuo Hasegawa, Kinuyo Tanaka, Sensho Ichikawa.
Japanese with English subtitles

A young man whose father had been disgraced after losing an archery competition and compelled to commit suicide devotes his entire life to training as a bowman.  In order to help him avenge his father's death, the current champion archer assumes a secret identity so he may help train the young sportsman, whose strong commitment may prove fatal. Naruse was renowned for his modern family dramas but this film marked a turn toward more traditional storytelling techniques.

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October 2 (Sunday) 8:30 pm

The Song Lantern (Uta andon)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1943, B&W, 93 min.
With Shotaro Hanayagi, Eijiro Yanagi, Ichijiro Oya
Japanese with English subtitles

A self-absorbed young actor humiliates an elderly Noh performer, who then commits suicide. His act of cruelty compels his father to disown him, leading the once promising actor to a life on the streets. But his desire to win back the respect of his father and the affection of the dead actor's daughter pushes him toward a more noble existence. Naruse employed a delicately structured mise-en-scene in this family melodrama, which evokes the work of Josef von Sternberg.

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October 7 (Friday) 7 pm

Late Chrysanthemums (Bangiku)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1954,  B&W, 101 min.
With Haruko Sugimura, Sadako Sawamura, Chikako Hosokawa
Japanese with English subtitles

In Naruse's films, family life is often depicted as oppressive; yet the freedom seemingly available to those individuals, especially women, who have lived outside the family system is often illusory. Based on three short stories by Fumiko Hayashi, the film follows the lives of four former geishas who, after years of fending for themselves, have become rightfully suspicious of the ways of the world.  A rich, probing character study, the film depicts a special kind of warmth and camaraderie that develops among four women who have learned to depend on each other for emotional support.

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October 7 (Friday) 9 pm

Repast (Meshi)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1951,  B&W, 96 min.
With Ken Uehara, Setsuko Hara, Yukiko Shimazaki
Japanese with English subtitles

A poignant study of a disintegrating marriage, the film is told from the point of view of a childless young wife who longs to escape her dreary routine and return to her family in Tokyo. When she finally does, she finds a defeated post-war city now occupied by a foreign army, which is at odds with the Tokyo of her memories. Naruse's mature style took full bloom here; framings are rigid and settings sparse, with a minimum of technical flourish, yet this calm seems, and is, unnatural, with tensions seething below its surface. It was also with Repast that Naruse discovered the novels of Fumiko Hayashi, an important feminist author; over the next decade, Naruse would adapt many of her important works for the screen.

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October 8 (Saturday) 7 pm

Floating Clouds

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1955,  B&W, 123 min.
With Hideko Takamine, Masayuki Mori, Mariko Okada
Japanese with English subtitles

Consistently voted one of the greatest works of the Japanese cinema, the film follows two mismatched lovers from the time of their meeting in Indochina during the war through their unhappy end several years later. After their initial affair, the two return to a Japan that no longer has the same meaning for either of them—he to his wife, and she to a lonely existence that prompts her to focus more and more obsessively on the love she has lost.  In the frenetic atmosphere of a postwar Japan rebuilding and westernizing, the memory of their brief encounter becomes a symbol for a life and tradition lost to a new world.

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October 8 (Saturday) 9:15 pm

Lightning (Inazuma)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1952,  B&W, 87min.
With Hideko Takamine, Mitsuko Miura, Kyôko Kagawa
Japanese with English subtitles

The second adaptation of a Fumiko Hayashi novel to be filmed by Naruse, the film continues and expands on the theme of entrapment within a family system that the director introduced in his pre-war works.  Kiyoko (Takamine) grew up with three half-siblings.  One of her half-sisters attempts to arrange a marriage for her, but Kiyoko suspects her intentions; meanwhile the husband of her other half-sister dies suddenly, leaving a large insurance policy to his widow.  As family members move to outwit or gain advantage over each other, Kiyoko attempts to cut off ties and strike out on her own. The complex network of contradictory emotional attachments is subtly yet exactingly delineated in a family study with broad implications about postwar society.

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October 9 (Sunday) 7 pm

Flowing (Nagareru)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1956,  B&W, 116 min.
With Kinuyo Tanaka, Isuzu Yamada, Hideko Takamine
Japanese with English subtitles

The film charts the decline of a geisha house as witnessed by a loyal, elderly maid (Tanaka). The proud mistress of the house, Tsutayakko (Yamada), has accumulated large debts in her efforts to maintain standards; refusing to turn her establishment into a restaurant or a brothel, Tsutayakko attempts to get in touch with a former patron to see if he might come to her aid, but the man cynically responds by sending a paltry sum he designates as "severance pay." Gradually, each woman in the house comes to realize that her way of life is drawing to a close.

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October 9 (Sunday) 9 pm

Sound of the Mountain (aka The Thunder of the Mountain) (Yama no oto)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1954,  B&W, 95 min.
With Setsuko Hara, Sô Yamamura, Ken Uehara
Japanese with English subtitles

A profoundly moving study of loneliness and changing postwar values, the film is an adaptation of one of the best-loved novels of Nobel Prize-winning author Yasunari Kawabata.  Hara plays a traditionally raised woman living with her in-laws and callous, philandering husband.  Often alone, she develops a close and complex relationship with her father-in-law, through which she is able to cope with the indignities heaped upon her by her wayward husband. The film is one of Naruse's most cinematically understated works; complex emotions, dreams, and courses of action are expressed through the subtlest gestures and movements.

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October 10 (Monday) 7 pm

A Wanderer's Notebook (aka Her Lonely Lane) (Horoki)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1962, B&W, 123 min.
With Hideko Takamine, Akira Takarada, Kinuyo Tanaka
Japanese with English subtitles

A young novelist endures a series of personal upheavals en route to literary success. Her affairs with a handsome writer who encourages her to join a writer's group but betrays her in romance and an alcoholic writer who is at first supportive and eventually destructive prove costly for the talented writer.  The film is based on the autobiography of Fumiko Hayashi, whose writings Naruse had previously adapted in the films Repast, Lightning and Late Chrysanthemums.

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October 10 (Monday) 9:15 pm

Yearning (Midareru)

Directed by Mikio Naruse
Japan, 1964,  B&W, 97 min.
With Hideko Takamine, Yuzo Kayama, Mitsuko Kusabue
Japanese with English subtitles

A war widow (Takamine) lives a quiet existence caring for her aging in-laws and managing their sake shop. Their neíer-do-well son (Kayama) returns from Tokyo and continues to live a life of philandering and intemperance until he falls for his brotherís widow. Unfortunately, his family wants her to remarry outside of their clan so they will not have to carry her burden, which leads to tragic results for the would-be lovers. This family melodrama provides a convincing depiction of romance between an older woman and a younger man and explores the impact of modernization on traditional family values.

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