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Monday, January 2, 2017

Mikio Naruse | 乱れる Midareru (Yearning)


the shock of truth
by Douglas Messerli 

Zenzo Matsuyama (writer) Mikio Naruse (director) 乱れる Midareru (Yearning) / 1964

Having now seen my third Mikio Naruse film, I beginning to think that, although his subjects and themes are limited, he may be a better director than those of his generation, Ozu and Mizoguchi—not that ranking such three great filmmakers much matters. All three deal with trapped, yet forceful women, although Ozu’s heroines more often find solace in the family. But there is a kind feminist strength in Naruse’s characters that makes them far more complex and interesting, leaving us, at film’s end, to want to still know them better.

         

     Not that the hard-working widow, Reiko Morita (Hideko Takamine), would allow herself to imagine that she is a feminist or even that she lives a complex life. For her, survival is a necessary thing, and working in a small mom and pop grocery store for 8 years after her husband’s death is simply something that she sees as her responsibility. Besides, her mother-in-law is now quite elderly, and that woman’s two older daughters have husbands and jobs of their own. And who else would care for her husband’s younger brother Koji (Yūzō Kayama), who, although he has gone to college and worked for a short period at a job, is now a troublesome loafer, who prefers to drink and gamble, now and again getting into fights? Reiko treats the young man as a mother might, lying for him and cooking late meals when he arrives home, sometimes after midnight. The one thing he seems to most enjoy is to eat, and we see the handsome boy several times in this film, shoveling in whatever Reiko serves him.
       Yet Reiko, from the very beginning of this film, begins to sense that something is in the wind, that despite her dedication to family and the traditions of the past, something is beggining to dreadfully change. First of all, a new supermarket has opened up in her part town, and, as an advertising truck announces time and again, its prices are much lower than the older, smaller grocers. Consequently, she and other small store owners have begun to lose customers. One local shop owner, foreseeing financial collapse, commits suicide. 
      Koji and his sisters, however, see what’s coming clearer than Reiko, and Koji becomes determined to turn his small shop into a larger supermarket. Although Reiko has been unbelievably loyal to the family, the two sisters do not wish to have her to be one of the corporate heads, while Koji feels to do would be only just. Naruse demonstrates their lack of feeling through hundreds of tiny gestures, a flip of the hand or a turn of a head, as they attempt to convince their mother that it is time for Reiko to remarry and move on.
       Fortunately Reiko is unaware of their hostility and Koji’s plans, and feels it’s still her duty to remain and keep the store going as long as she can. When Koji finally does tell her about selling the shop he also tells her another secret that finally forces her hand: he has left his job because he did not want to leave her since he is and always has been in love.
     That confession alters the very atmosphere of the shop, as the two, Reiko and Koji circle in avoidance of one another. The only way to end the potent push and pull between them is for Reiko to go, and she suddenly determines to return to her original family home in another city. 
     Many a Naruse film would end there, but this time he appears ready to take us into that new complexity of character, as Koji follows her, and the two are drawn closer and closer together as the train moves forward into space; indeed there is a kind of lightness here as the two gradually move closer and closer one another, and at one stop, where Koji leaves the train to eat, Reiko signals him to quickly return before the train leaves the station. Perhaps these two he
might imagine can actually find a way to break with customs relating to their age difference and family internal relationships. Before they arrive at her hometown, Reiko even suggests that they  spend the night in a small mountain town.  
     Here the air is almost white with a thick fog, intimating that she will be unable to see her way clear. Once more she tells Koji that his love cannot be returned, offering him, like a child, a ring made of string. 
     Like so many nights in the past, Koji finds his way to a bar. Upon awakening the next morning Reiko watches from her window men carrying a dead body they have discovered under a cliff. Observing the ring of string on the man’s figure, Reiko pulls back in horror much like Brecht’s Mother Courage, in the realization that her lack of ability to change and speak her heart has been responsible, in part, for Koji’s death.

Los Angeles, January 2, 2017

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