Mikio Naruse Retrospective, Part I

Last weekend I caught a couple of films in the Film Center’s two month long retrospective of classic Japanese films by director Mikio Naruse. And judging from these two, my movie dance card just got a little fuller through February.

Last year’s Ozu Fest at the Film Center was one of the highlights of my film going experience. Not only were the films universally outstanding, watching them became a communal experience shared by a group of us regulars. By the end of the two-month long series, we were all on a first name basis. And I have to say, it was such a treat to show up at the theatre and not really know a thing about the films I was going to see, other than who directed them and that they were sure to be great. Very rare. By the end, not only were faces in the audience familiar, but actors in the Ozu company were like familiar friends. It got to a point where the audience would break into applause when favorite actors first appeared on screen in each film.

All of this is my way of saying that when I learned the Film Center was to feature another classic Japanese director in the early months of the year, I was thrilled. We regulars in the audience joke that we’ve gotten off the Ozu bus and onto the Naruse train. (Like seasoned riders on the El, we Film Center regulars tend to sit in the same seats each time.)

Sound of the Mountain (1954) was a wonderful film for me to start off with since it stars Ozu regular Setsuko Hara, an unintentional bridge from Ozu to Naruse. It’s the moving story of a neglected housewife (Hara) who forms a strong bond with her father-in-law. This family’s slice of life story has at its heart a beautiful and bittersweet father-daughter relationship. Highly recommended. [***** out of 5]

Though it’s sensibilities are very Japanese, Scattered Clouds (1967) is more of a straight melodrama. I couldn’t help but think of Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession as I was watching it. A woman’s husband is struck and killed by a car; shortly after the accident, the man driving the car approaches the widow with an unusual offer. Though he’s not legally responsible, he wants to do the right thing, and offers to assist her financially over a period of time. Eventually, their awkward and uncomfortable relationship develops into something more. As soap operas go, this one wasn’t half bad; fine acting and beautiful locations helped to elevate it. [*** out of 5]

2 thoughts on “Mikio Naruse Retrospective, Part I

  1. I saw a bunch of the Ozus last year at the PFA in Berkeley and loved them. I’m looking forward to the Naruses. We’re getting Sound of the Mountain in Seattle, but not Scattered Clouds. This weekend, we have When A Woman Ascends the Stairs.

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