(Japan 1951 97m) DVD2
All over a nosebleed
p Sanezumi Fujimoto d Mikio Naruse w Toshiro Ide, Sumie Tanaka, Yasunari Kawabata novel Fumiko Hayashi ph Masao Tamai ed Mikio Naruse m Fumio Hayasaka
Ken Uehara (Hatsunosuke Okamoto), Setsuko Hara (Michiyo Okamoto), Yukiko Shimazuki (Satoko Okamoto), Yoko Sugi (Mitsuko Murata), Haruko Sugimura (Matsu Murata), Akiko Kazami (Seiko Tomiyasu), Ranko Hanai (Koyoshi Dohya), Keiju Kobayashi (Shinzo Murata), Chieko Nakakita (Keiko Yamakita), So Yamamura,
“I am moved by the sadness to be found in the simple lives of people in the limitless space of the universe” wrote Fumiko Hayashi, quoted over the opening titles of this, one of many adaptations of her work made by Mikio Naruse. One can safely presume that Naruse held the same ethos, and watching films such as Repast it’s easy to see why. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it; something very ordinary about it, if we’re being frank. Yet that very ordinariness is what makes the film so compelling and, as is the case with all the best films – and certainly the best of this director – true.
Michiyo is married to Hatsunosuke, who works in the financial district of Osaka, and they live together in the south of the city. They have been married for five years, having relocated from Tokyo due to his work commitments. Their marriage, without them really noticing it, is on the rocks, their love not so much dwindling away as already on the way out of the door. Into this fractured atmosphere arrives Hatsunosuke’s teenage niece, who has run away from Tokyo. He treats her like a princess, taking her wherever she wants and spoiling her rotten, much to the consternation of his suffering and put upon wife. Finally, she decides she’s had enough and, in taking the niece back to Tokyo, leaves herself to go back to visit her own family, leaving Hatsunosuke to fend, somewhat pathetically, for himself.
Repast begins with one of his beloved alley shots – indeed, it ends with a shot not too dissimilar – and as in several of his films, a cat is much in evidence. There are symbolic references to the disintegrating marriage everywhere, most noticeably in the shot of a clock that has stopped, as if quite literally calling time on their love. Hatsu can only think of one thing when he gets home from work; his stomach. He criticises his wife if dinner, supper or breakfast is not just so and when he wants it, and refuses to see that she works at least as hard as he does when he’s out at work himself. Her cat, Yuri, is her only company, and she even admits as much to her astonished friends. When one of them somewhat undiscerningly says she looks happy, Michiyo turns to her somewhat incredulously and says “do you really think I look happy?” It’s as if no-one can see or acknowledge what disappointment she feels, her dreams all dashed and faded like the essence of yesterday’s incense.
As a study of a woman’s dissatisfaction with her lot this would be insightful enough were it not also interested in the plight of her husband, who could well be seen to be reliving his lost dreams with his young niece, as a way from escaping his own form of drudgery. Certainly he’s played by Ken Uehara with a perfectly judged veneer of disheartened acceptance that rings very true (Naruse’s shot of his shoes recalling Bill Holden’s comment from Sunset Boulevard about looking at a guy’s shoes to know the score). He’s matched all the way by the truly imperious Setsuko Hara, in one of her greatest performances. In her roles for Ozu, she always projected the vision of traditional obedience, but for Naruse she became a different sort of muse, one content to show the pain behind the ever-smiling façade. Naruse in turn maintains the equilibrium of the plot with sublime subtlety, helped by Hayasaka’s unobtrusive score. As Akira Kurosawa once said; “a flow of shots that looks calm and ordinary at first glance reveals itself to be a deep river with a quiet surface disguising a fast-raging current.” No-one could have put it better.