by Allan Fish
(Japan 1935 77m) not on DVD
Aka. Tsuma yo bara no yo ni
Neglected I remain these many years
d/w Mikio Naruse novel “Two Wives” by Minoru Nakano ph Hiroshi Suzuki ed Mikio Naruse m Noboru Ito art Kazuo Kuho
Sachiko Chiba (Kimiko Yamamoto), Sadao Maruyama (Shunsaku Yamamoto), Tomoko Ito (Etsuko Yamamoto), Yunko Hanabusa (Oyuki), Setsuko Horikoshi (Shizue), Heihachiro Okawa (Seiji), Kamatari Fujiwara (uncle), Kaoru Ito (Kenichi),
Made when he was only 29, Naruse’s first masterpiece was made during the first golden era of Japanese cinema – the era when Ozu and Mizoguchi also first came to prominence and Yamanaka was still to be cherished. Like all his films, it has lain not so much forgotten as undiscovered in the west, and viewings today are few and far between. Along with Ozu’s An Inn in Tokyo, it’s the first masterpiece of Japanese talking cinema, and one of the most emotional and empathetic tales Naruse ever told.
Kimiko is a young woman who works in an office in the city. She is about to be married to her beloved Seiji, which will mean she has to leave her mother. She is a poet who spends her time writing poetry on her misfortune, which she traces to her husband leaving her fifteen years previously to live with another woman in the hills far away. As her father is expected to do his duty towards his daughter at her forthcoming wedding, Kimiko endeavours to try and get her father and mother back together, with the blessing of her somewhat unfeeling uncle. However, once she tracks her father down to his country home, she finds she quite likes his new family and sees how happy he is. When he comes back with her to do his pre-nuptial duty, she sees how unhappy her somewhat selfish mother would make him and tells him to return.
What always stands Naruse apart is his ever so real streak of pessimism, and it’s as obvious here as in any of his films. It wasn’t experience that brought this, for he was still so young, and it therefore must have been inherent. It’s not that his contemporaries – particularly Ozu, to whom he is most compared – didn’t do sadness, but they didn’t do it like this. His portrait of Kimiko’s family is wonderfully etched, with much of the story being told through the lighting and cutting, all dextrously combined with the skill of an old master. In Chiba he has an optimistic heroine, but also a realist, a far cry from the cynicism of Mizoguchi’s Sisters of the Gion or even the even-tempered gentility of Setsuko Hara’s portraits for Ozu. In turn, Chiba gives a lovely performance, filled with longing and regret, but also filled with humour (particularly in a wonderful scene where she tries to hail a taxi in the style which she saw in the movies, and proceeds to copy Clark Gable in It Happened One Night, which was released the previous year) and a desire to make things right which in the end proves itself to be unselfish. Praise, too, for Ito as the mother, who literally cannot change how she is for anyone and thus loses happiness. The whole cast are perfect in truth, with special mention for Fujiwara as the exasperated but ultimately not-understanding uncle. To me, though, this film will always be a testament to Sadao Maruyama. His performance as the old father, both disillusioned with his previous family and his futile attempts at gold prospecting, and yet still happy with his new loving family, is one of the greatest in Japanese film, and all the sadder to remember his tragic death in the Hiroshima bombing ten years later. It’s also interesting to compare his performance to that of Chishu Ryu in the Ozu films of the post war years. There are undoubted similarities, yet Maruyama is undoubtedly more fatalistic. You can see the pain he’s going through meeting his wife again and them acting like strangers. When that taxi takes him away in the final scene, you are left equal parts devastated and elated, because you know that, even though his daughter is the poorer, it’s the right decision. Those who know Ozu will testify to him being the supreme master student of familial relationships. Maybe so, but Naruse is snapping at his heels. And no-one else comes within hailing distance, which is testament enough.