The Films of Mikio Naruse

by Dan Sallitt

This blurbs were written during the Mikio Naruse festival at Film Forum in New York in Oct-Nov 2005, and originally posted on the Yahoo group a_film_by and the Google group NaruseRetro.  Some of them are slightly revised, with additional material interpolated.  Apologies for the variations in length and detail.

Flunky, Work Hard! (1931). Rather a nice little film, an O. Henry-like vignette that feels complete at 38 minutes.  Naruse seems to be working out of Ozu's universe here: the film lacks his usual storytelling sprawl, though we get some of his visual gravity and his bleak vision of family and poverty.  The physical humor is often deft (there's a very funny gag where the mother's compulsive sweeping threatens an infant lying on the floor), but the film peaks with the harsh scene of the father's unjust punishment of his son, ending in a beautiful long shot of the crying boy's retreat through a sunny field.  Naruse is already punching up the story with camera moves and effects, but not as continuously as he would in a few years: the camera style remains calm until the plot takes an emotional turn.

Not Blood Relations (1932).  One of my least favorite Naruse films, mostly because I don't enjoy this sort of prolong-the-agony plot.  But I don't think that Naruse obtained any kind of unusual perspective on the goings-on, and the characters stayed close to their archetypes.  His very busy camera style of this period gives the film a nice, lively feel - I think that its principal effect is to give Naruse more control of emphasis, rather than to give us a spatial perspective.  Many good directors seem to have felt a need to combat the tyranny of the diegesis in silent films, and then settled down in the more contrapuntal environment of the talkies.

Apart From You (1933).  A disciplined melodrama that perhaps doesn't get as far under the surface of its characters as one would like.  Of the three leads, only the young geisha played by Sumiko Mizukubo develops any complexity (her bitter confrontation with her unpleasant family is quite good), and, even so, her emotional location in the final scenes becomes obscure to me.  Whereas the character of the boy simply flips from delinquency to goodness without much exploration at all.  (Akio Isono looked about 45 years old in that schoolboy outfit and Ish Kabibble haircut, which was a distraction.)  The wild camera style that Naruse liked in this period is here refined into a reliance on dollies in and out, though the effect is approximately the same: a way to distribute emphasis that is not beholden to story.  The appealing settings in the middle of the film - an evocative train ride, the seaside location of the girl's family home - establish an idyllic mood, but the darker melodrama of the climax doesn't build from it: Mizukubo's final decision didn't seem to have a lot to do the knifing and recovery that came before; and the dynamic of leaving/staying hadn't been important in the film until that point. By the end I had trouble remembering the good will that the film had built up earlier.

Every Night Dreams (1933).  A slow-building film that pays off with a powerful ending.  Naruse's  hyperkinetic camera style pumps up the melodrama of rejected husband Saito trying to make good on his second chance with his estranged wife Kurishima and his daughter.  But the characterization of the husband is too balanced to be the stuff of melodrama: his terminal weakness and fickleness is presented as clearly as his childlike gentleness and sincerity.  Only when the overwrought plot reaches its climax do we realize that Kurishima's melodrama diverges from ours: even in death, Saito evokes in her not pathos, but fury and contempt.  Naruse's devious approach to the emotional material, honoring its form but not its expected redemptive function, foreshadows the storytelling techniques that he would hone in the 50s.

Street Without End (1934).  A relatively conventional story, filmed with assurance by Naruse, and helped by an appealingly restrained lead performance from Setsuko Shinobu.  The vigorous, eclectic camera style works through, not around, the drama, giving the impression that Naruse is completely engaged with the material.  Even so, the film never develops the narrative complexity that is his specialty.  Though Naruse doesn't do enough with Shinobu's participation in the death of her hapless husband, he scores big with the final scene, which returns to the opening visual theme of city chaos to amplify Shinobu's lingering sense of loss from an earlier relationship.

Three Sisters With Maiden Hearts (1935). A fascinating film, so visually dense and languorous that the characters seem suspended in dreamlike stasis.  From the opening shots, Naruse shows the titular sisters immersed in a profusion of street detail; though some of the footage is semi-documentary, the cumulative effect is abstract, almost Sternbergian.  The revelations of the sisters unfold slowly, punctuated by flashbacks (weirdly bracketed by focus-outs and focus-ins) and narrated in a state of revery.  When a plot kicks in near the end, it is outrageously melodramatic and not very effective in illuminating the characters' lives - though the last line of dialogue hints that the middle sister's sacrifice may have been an unusual form of suicide.  Undeniably impressive, on the edge of being lugubrious, the film makes me wish it were more plotted or less

Wife! Be Like a Rose (1935).  Something different for Naruse, but quite a nice film.  It starts a little flip and goofy, but falls into an interesting, contemplative state, without a lot of incident or drama.  In a way, it's almost the record of someone making up their mind, with imagery and landscape as visual aids to the decision-making process, and the story an experiment to gather data.  It's perhaps Naruse's most Ozu-like film, but the ending, if not exactly a kicker, points up a Darwinian undertone that gives the gentle story some bite: sorry, Mom, you were weighed in the balance and found wanting.

Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro (1938). A competent comedy-drama that gives Naruse no opportunity to do anything interesting.  The stylized pattern of quarrel and reconciliation between the two leads seems particularly inappropriate for a director whose vision of conflict is far more pervasive and entropic.  Though he can do little with the characters, Naruse shoots the musical numbers beautifully, favoring low angles and spacious backgrounds, and giving the film a sense of drama by cutting to the stage at odd times and sustaining the tension of the performances with long takes.

The Whole Family Works (1939). Not too ambitious, but rather a nice film, full of dark character observations that are well integrated into a light comic tone.  (I especially like the conflict between the casually venal mother and the diligent fourth son, who spends his savings rather than let his parents "borrow" them again.)  An irresolvable conflict emerges - the children can escape lives of grinding poverty only by leaving the rest of the family in the direst of straits - and is played out to its grim conclusion.  Unfortunately, the final section is defaced by the intervention of the children's gasbag teacher, whose function seems to be to give the story a phony tone of resolution and optimism.  Is this the hand of censorship?  At any rate, Naruse managed to sneak in a final, desolating shot of the parents, presumably looking starvation in the face now that their children have been liberated.

Travelling Actors (1940).  An uncanny film that seems much better in retrospect than it did when it was in progress.  Early on, we realize not only that the story is predicated on a single joke - the excessive identification of the protagonists with their equine acting persona - but also that this conceit is an abstraction that inhibits any deep study of character. Despite the narrowness of the psychology, Naruse pulls humor from small, realistic interactions, and the country atmosphere is a strong presence. (There's a beautiful, leisurely sequence in which the rejected actors wander through a series of pastoral long shots on their disgruntled way to the river - John Ford couldn't have struck a better balance between the timeless appeal of landscape and the melancholy of the human drama enclosed in the vastness of space.)  The ending is transformative: the narrowness of the characterizations is acknowledged and amplified into absurdism, as the funny horse suit triumphantly leaves the confines of the theater and claims the expansive landscape for its own.  Paradoxically, the crazy ending makes the film feel like a deeper study of people: one imagines that Renoir or Boris Barnet would have liked to have made this film.

The Song Lantern (1943).  Painfully circumscribed by the mythic characters and the period setting, Naruse falls back on pictorialism.  Some of the lighting effects are truly striking, but nonetheless the film just sits there. Yamada's two dance scenes, filmed with drama and an interesting sense of space (Naruse lets Yamada crowd the camera more tham was his wont) are the highlights.

Tale of the Archery at Sanjusangendo (1945).  Another period piece, with legendary characters and vaguely martial overtones.  The script has some wit, and the screenwriter makes a small effort to give the characters dimension, but there's really not much that Naruse can do with this material, other that create beautiful deep-space compositions for the exterior shots.  Occasionally a small mysterious moment is created by duration and editing rhythm, but the characters are too thin to absorb the mystery.

Ginza Cosmetics (1951).  Not as original in concept as the best Naruse films,  but full of interesting texture.  Tanaka is excellent as the barmaid suspended between good-natured perseverence and bitter practicality, and Naruse lets both of these aspects coexist in her character without pushing either too hard.  The bar scenes in the first half are full of good detail and are often funny (there's an especially wonderful moment where Tanaka busies herself lighting and smoking a cigarette to keep herself from cracking up at an awful singer), and the dialogue is consistently smart. When the plot kicks in, though, it doesn't give Naruse much room to play storytelling games: the possibility of love rears its head and then departs without revealing anything interesting about Tanaka's character.  Despite its considerable appeal, the film ends up feeling a bit unsatisfying.

Repast (1951).  An affecting, contemplative film, unusually specific to its locations (Osaka vs. Tokyo).  Its theme is clearly stated and never modified: from the opening voiceover, we are focused on the drudgery of the married woman's life, and the work of the film is simply to make us aware that, for Hara, this drudgery is not a secondary consideration, that it outweighs all other factors in her happiness.  Naruse uses sleight-of-hand in the early scenes to make us think that Uehara's destructively flirtatious niece is having a bad effect on the marriage, but before long Hara's essential aversion to her role takes center stage again.  (The scenes with the niece don't work well for me: her cocktease is so blatant that I'd think she would have either been thrown out or regarded as a laughing stock.  Naruse doesn't really give us a glimpse at the inner person, who I would presume is sociopathically angry.)  The film really kicks in during the drifting Tokyo interlude, where the rhythm and mood convey Hara's sense of deliverance, even as her well-meaning family and friends tighten the noose of marriage around her neck.  Hara's final voiceover almost seems to be playing games with us, suggesting that "perhaps" the routine of marriage is the way for women to be happy: surely the last scene with the couple shows her returning to the same life that has already made her miserable.

Mother (1952). Even 60 minutes into the movie (around the time of that startling false "The End" title), I was having trouble finding anything distinguished in it: the levelled-out tone of sentimentality wasn't really overdone, but neither did it seem very original, or at all typical of Naruse.  (The use of music and voiceover to create a level, retrospective mood feels almost Fordian.)  But near the end the pattern of characters dropping away accelerated to the point of abstraction, and Naruse's empty angled interior shots started looking ghostly.  I thought of those war movies where the platoon dwindles to a man or two by the end. Or, given that every major character is eventually marked for an exit, including the mysteriously afflicted Tanaka, maybe a better comparison is to vacated-center films like Point Blank or These Are the Damned.  The theme of duty is hit hard in Mother, but Naruse characteristically (even subversively) lets a bleak psychological vision creep around the edges of the surface celebration.  I never cared for this film before, but now I think I kind of like it.

Lightning (1952). The most perfect and moving of Naruse's family dramas.  Takamine's rebellious daughter, a bus tour conductor whose perky descriptions of tourist sites are humorously presented as non-diegetic, is immersed in one of Naruse's most interestingly destructive families, shot through with masochistic self-abnegation as well as the usual reflexive predation. Relatively level-headed and with just enough anger to keep her emotionally distant from the family quagmire, Takamine reaches out, first tentatively and then decisively, toward anything that evokes the culture and tranquility that she has never known.  Naruse's most exciting climactic "kicker" is in fact a double kicker: after an outburst at her trapped mother that reveals only the depths of Takamine's despair, a quiet barrage of lightning heralds a new, inner narrative of optimism that Takamine gradually succeeds in imposing on the film at large.  The last line, an unexpected gift to our intrepid heroine, sends the audience out with a feeling of hope quite rare in Naruse's work.

Husband and Wife (1953).  It still doesn't quite come together for me, but it has its charms.  It starts off with a light comedy tone, a little like Wife (with Rentaro Mikuni adding broad humor in both films).  When the semi-humorous treatment of the husband's unjustified jealousy turns into serious marital conflict, it has more bite than expected, because blame-free wife Yoko Sugi has actually been subtly withholding affection from the more obviously difficult Ken Uehara.  Their reconcilation is topped by a third-act conflict over whether to abort a pregnancy - not a bad segment in itself, but seemingly imported from a different movie, as if the drama were happening to a couple who hadn't had the conflict we saw earlier.  Unlike Wife, Husband and Wife doesn't have an ending dark enough to stand as an antithesis to the comic conventions of the early scenes.  Probably not a major Naruse, all things considered.

Wife (1953).  Still thinking about it, and liking it more and more. It starts in a mode that's almost comic in its expressionist, subjective vision of marital hostility (the exaggerations of the wife's disgusting habits, complete with sound effects, reminded me of Sturges), but gradually amplifies the difficult aspects of the situation, the ones that don't allow the film to end like a comedy. And indeed it doesn't.... At first I thought the wife was too unsympathetic for the film's own good, but now I think that that's the most distinctive aspect of the project, and the one that pays the most dividends.

Older Brother, Younger Sister (1953).  A very good film - I consider it top-drawer Naruse, and typical of his virtues, despite the unusual rural setting.  The film may be Naruse's most visually striking, with lots of languorous long-shot deep-space interiors, charged with the threat of conflict and the unnerving erotic presence of Kyo, supine and disruptive in the summer heat.  Two action scenes interrupt the leisurely drama and spring the mechanism of Naruse's "hidden" story: Mori's fight with Kyo's suitor, revealing his passion for the sister he abuses; then the climactic, beautifully edited family brawl, in which Kyo's triumph is to express her despair for the only time, and Mori's defeat is that his love is hidden by violence and masculine pride.  Just outside the older brother/younger sister epicenter, all the other family members have their own crisis of degeneration to deal with: the film is quite full of emotional material.  There is perhaps a small lull at the midpoint, when Kyo's impregnator pays an extended visit.

Sound of the Mountain (1954).  Unusual material for Naruse, partly because of the hints of sexual perversity, but also because the story is essentially told from the point of view of an observer (Yamamura), which has the effect of hiding the details of the bad marriage and the husband's affairs, giving us instead a pile of second-hand information.  Naruse's response to this complex material is more overtly poetic than usual: he sometimes cuts directly to closeups where establishing shots are expected, and often ends scenes with close shots that emphasize mystery instead of giving information.  One of the consequences of pinning the story to Yamamura's perspective is that the film becomes a wide-ranging inquiry into the lives of women at a moment in Japanese culture: not only daughter-in-law Hara and daughter Nakakita (in whose hard luck Yamamura is implicated), but also the dark underworld of Uehara's abused lovers, with Yoko Sugi playing Heurtebise to Yamamura's Orpheus.  The film has a mirror-image narrative that is foreshadowed from the early scenes: that good-girl, childlike Hara, far from waiting patiently for her husband to return to her, is silently dedicated to a hatred that will unilaterally abort a pregnancy and terminate the marriage.  Though I liked the film much more than ever before, the climax still feels unsatisfying to me, perhaps because Hara's decisive actions occur off-camera and away from home.  Naruse seems to be trying to compensate for this absence by punching up Yamamura's encounter with Uehara's pregnant lover, concealing her face until the last moment and giving her an emotional turn that seems out of proportion to her dramatic importance.  But the evocative geometry of the last scene does a lot to make up for any structural problems.

Late Chrysanthemums (1954).  I like this film, sometimes a lot, but I've always felt that it goes too far in the direction of plotlessness.  A lot of what I value about Naruse is his way of modifying conventional dramatic structures so that they pay off differently than we expect, and here that's not as much of an option. My favorite story strand is the relationship between Chikako Hosokawa and her son: the boy clearly accepts and has learned to have fun with his role as a delinquent, and the mother can't see him as anything else - and yet he continually gives the mother money (not a common occurence in this film), takes a difficult job to support her, and always stares at her as if he's still seven years old and fascinated with her sexuality. Characteristically, Naruse never underlines this mirror-image reinterpretation of the mother-son relationship.  The characterizations in general have a lot of pleasing detail; I especially enjoyed Yuko Mochizuki as the most boisterous and comic of the ex-geisha.  The ending is suddenly emotional, partly because big music cues have mostly been withheld until this point: the penultimate shot of Sugimura anxiously searching for a ticket is quite startling, the only point in the film where Naruse crystalizes our pity for this extremely difficult (perhaps too difficult for my taste) person.

Floating Clouds (1955).  Just one of the most amazing of all films. I noticed this time how very good the script by Yoko Mizuki (from Hayashi's novel, of course) is: it takes a lot of planning to introduce so much melodrama and yet keep bringing the film back to the same ostinato figures and slightly comic repetitions. It took me a while to grasp that the melodrama wasn't going to advance the story, that all Takamine's bitter "last words" and Mori's retreats into the shadows are not to be taken at face value.  My take on the role of melodrama in these films is that Naruse uses it to give the stories a dramatic structure that he then hijacks for his own, non-melodramatic purposes.  I think he needs big drama the way that Hawks needs genre, as something that he uses to create a set of expectations, which he will fulfill in an unexpected way.  The development of these characters is incredibly daring, almost absurdist, without announcing itself as such. When you think about it, the lives of most couples fall into an existential pattern - you're in love, you fall out of love, and then what happens for the rest of your life? - that almost no other movies care to treat. Naruse clearly outdoes himself here, moving through time and locations with an ease that makes me think of The Searchers.

Sudden Rain (1956).  I found this film perplexing, and not entirely satisfying. The structure seems almost improvised, with the story moving from patch to patch instead of weaving the different strands together: I was especially perturbed when a long interlude about the husband's work life took over the film more than halfway through. The marital conflict in the film is quite interesting: I especially liked the way Setsuko Hara presents her familiar "ideal woman" persona to everyone but her husband, to whom she is a bit of a shrew. But I had the feeling that some of the big scenes and turning points weren't quite working, and that some aspects of the story were underdeveloped.

A Wife's Heart (1956).  Small, well-constructed, and really quite good.  We get a lot of subtext right off the bat, as the "happy" Takamine-Kobayashi marriage functions on such a purely practical level that its absences are conspicuous.  When she finds love outside the marriage, Takamine is so predisposed to snap that her husband's decisive demonstration of decency does nothing but create a bitter sense of obligation in her.  So the conventional "marriage tested and restored" plot, complete with the hope of financial success at the end, is actually a cover for a mirror-image "happiness promised and withdrawn" emotional dynamic that is as fully worked out as one could want.  Takamine is very good, throwing in a particularly nice impression of a stereotypical cheerful hostess in the restaurant scenes; many directors would present such flexibility of self-presention as insincerity, but Naruse always accepts it as natural and never underlines it.  The high-profile conflict over money with Kobayashi's family turns out to be just a warm-up test for the couple, but it is one of Naruse's scariest depictions of familial pressure.

Flowing (1956).  This is probably my second favorite Naruse after Floating Clouds (Editor's note: Lightning joined Floating Clouds at the top of my Naruse list after this writing), but it doesn't have the conceptual daring of the earlier film: it's more in the sneak-up-on-you category than the what-the-hell-am-I-watching category. But it really sneaks up: there are four separate characters (I would throw Sugimura in as a primary along with Tanaka, Yamada and Takamine) whose inner lives are set into vibration, and at the end they're all vibrating hard, so that every corner of the geisha house seems to be leaking mystery.  Takamine's character is especially unusual: hard to the point of criminality (she almost certainly was intentionally shortchanging the employees, causing much of the house's trouble), but ashamed of her hardness because she identifies with the geisha tradition she rejected, and therefore paralyzed in her life decisions.  The beautifully lit samizen jam at the end has great power: a new generation of geisha is in the wings, and the calm and authority of the demonstration reaffirms the traditions that give Yamada's life its meaning...but we know that things are falling apart.

Anzukko (1958).  A clearly told and compelling story, well within Naruse's range of interests, and yet it somehow seems a bit thin, less behaviorally dense than other "unhappy marriage" films.  Perhaps the material is not as congenial as it looks: unlike other dueling Naruse spouses, the embittered, alcoholic husband is pretty much beyond the pale, incapable of putting up a good social front for anyone; which means that Naruse loses the ability to conceal the man's feelings behind routine behavior.  The focus shifts almost immediately from "Can they get along?" to "How long can she take it?"  More typically, the essentially sympathetic wife comes off rather haughty and hurtful to her husband, seeming to relish striking at his weak points.  Not until the last scenes do we see the "zinger" that Naruse is hinging the film upon: the question is not when the wife will leave, but what hidden aspect of her nature keeps her in this marital hell.  But I wished that I was "zinged" earlier, because the marital scenes inevitably become somewhat repetitive.  Maybe a second viewing will look different, after the revelation of the ending.  In the important role of the wife's father (object of the husband's jealousy), So Yamamura is a little too amiable and full of poetic wisdom for my taste - I wish he were a little more implicated in the problem.  The father-daughter relationship, as warm as it is, seems to work in complex, possibly damaging ways in the daughter's mind - I feel as if this important side of the romantic triangle could have been shown with a more analytical eye.  A good film, but I don't feel greatness in it very often.

Summer Clouds (1958).  I enjoyed this film more the second time around - I can't believe I thought it was too diffuse when I first saw it, because this time it seemed if anything too well organized around its theme, which is the passing of a patriarchal, family-centered way of life and the onset of an individualistic ethos that dooms collective enterprises like the family farm.  I really enjoyed the early scenes with Nakamura, who was equal parts oppressor and amiable grownup kid; and I was really struck by the extreme but beautiful illuminated backgrounds in the romantic scenes between Iwashima and Isao Kimura.  About 75 minutes in, I started to feel that the scenes were becoming verbal recapitulations of established thematic points; and the ellipses in the last hour didn't keep me from feeling that the theme was driving the characters.  I was especially unconvinced by Nakamura's sale of his land - and, in general, I felt that some tension left the movie as that character's power ebbed.  Once again, Naruse saves his "kicker" for the final scene: Iwashima, whom we originally took for a force of individualistic change, is actually old school, one of the dwindling few who can be counted upon to sacrifice her happiness for the survival of her (hated) community.  As in Anzukko, it would take a subtle eye to anticipate this kicker - I think Naruse wants these developments to be partly foreshadowed and partly surprising.  I think of the film fondly, though not as an unqualified success.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960).  I do like this film, but as hard as I try, I can't turn it into a major Naruse work in my mind. The script doesn't seem to me quite as good as others Naruse has worked with, with lots of explicit statements and restatements of things that maybe should have been subtext. And something about the melodramatic structure just seems too everyday, and too foregrounded by Naruse's decoupage, which relies on cross-cutting between closeups, many of which are curiously held for an extra beat. Still, Takamine is really quite good, very indirect, very moving - she maintains her admirable composure while revealing fragments of anger, and even whining need, at unannounced times.

Daughters, Wives, and a Mother (1960).  This one got a lot of love from some of the other Naruse regulars, but I was rather disappointed in it. The script wasn't exactly bad, but it leaned on its themes a little hard, especially the family's financial exploitation of Setsuko Hara. The romantic interlude between Hara and Tatsuya Nakadai was one of the most generic things I've seen in a Naruse film; Haruko Sugimura's devouring mom does everything but get in a catfight with her daughter-in-law (though Naruse does give her an interesting last scene); and Hideko Takamine waits in the wings for a Lightning-like moment of truth that never really arrives. The structure doesn't feel quite right to me: the money theme dominates three-fourths of the film, then gives way near the end to a Make Way for Tomorrow-type dilemma; and the surprise character revelation that Naruse uses so often is saved for the last two shots of the film, and was inscrutable to me.

The Approach of Autumn (1960).  I have a feeling I might like this film a lot more if I ever get to see it again. It's mostly about the lives of two young children, who are maybe not quite interesting enough to carry the film, and one of whom (the girl) isn't a very good actor. But the film has a simple, pure structure that Naruse makes work for him: I especially liked the stereotypical long-suffering hard-working mom who is surreptitiously revealed as a delinquent. The Scope photography is really good-looking, and the sad ending sneaks up on you. Perhaps this is a major film disguised as a throwaway project.

A Wanderer's Notebook (Her Lonely Lane) (1962).  I can't find a way into this movie.  It manages to create a character for Hayashi, but not much of a storytelling context: the focus remains on her stoicism in the face of relentless poverty, and on the poetry of her voiceover commentary on her struggles.  Takamine's performance, though livened with comic moments, mostly seems actorish to me, too devoted to impersonation.  Characteristically, Naruse gives only partial information about important character points: Did Hayashi really sabotage her literary rival?   Was her bad record with relationships a character trait?  But here the ambiguity doesn't suggest alternative narratives.  The film winds up mythologizing Hayashi just by putting her so up front and center, and I'm not sure that mythologizing suits Naruse.

Yearning (1964).  I still think this is a good film, but I'm trying to work out problems with it that I didn't perceive when I saw it 20 years ago.  The first half functions mostly as a setup, establishing Takamine as the face of heroic, long-suffering Japanese womanhood, and Kayama as a dissipate due to frustrated love, a familiar fictional archetype. (Matsuyama's script repeats these formulations, and others, a few times too often - I felt myself working a little too hard to overlook script flaws.)  After Kayama declares his love, Takamine's surface starts to crack, and her behavior becomes erratic.  The nasty family conflict, and all the business about the death of small grocery stores, serve not only as a background for the erosion of the fictional archetypes, but also as a slingshot to throw the would-be lovers out onto that very nice train ride, where Takamine struggles coyly to modify her faithful-wife persona to allow the possibility of yielding to the persistent Kayama.  But she has difficulty getting her persona switched over to a new track.  The ending isn't resolving well in my mind: Takamine's freak-out at the kiss, and her subsequent regrets, work for me in terms of psychology, but not as a turning point for the story.  Why does the steadfast Kayama take this glitch as a cue to give up and return to dissipation, even with Takamine sending him encouraging signals over the phone?  It would make perfect sense, psychologically and structurally, for the film to gradually show Kayama's dissipation as character-based rather than as a response to romantic deprivation, but I feel that the film doesn't devote as much effort to exposing Kayama's hidden character traits as it does Takamine's.  On balance, though, still a strong movie.

Scattered Clouds (1967).  One of my favorite Naruse films. Like Floating Clouds, it's a love story, and it's parsed in the same way into a reiteration of meetings and partings, set in different locations and shaped with ellipses to emphasize cycles instead of forward motion. The hero and heroine are perhaps too well matched: a good little boy and girl, both strengthened and hemmed in by a sense of guilt and duty. The story's irresolvable dilemma is tailored just for them: one senses that many of the supporting characters would be able to cope adequately with this kind of obstacle to love. As Tsukasa and Kayama ricochet through their damaged lives, they sing and dance occasionallly, drink a lot, play pachinko, bear up under morally compromising jobs, and have fun sometimes, though their next unexpected meeting always wipes the smiles off their faces. Much of the film's force comes from the spectacle of strong people maintaining their dignity through an unending trial. Maybe Floating Clouds is a love story in the guise of a story about endurance, and Scattered Clouds is the other way around.  My one problem with this film is that the ending seems to hit too hard, with too many reasons for the lovers to part: maybe Naruse could have gotten away with just that terrible, violent train passing the lovers' cab, with its implicit sense of catastrophe.