As a Wife, As a Woman

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Dan Sallitt

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Oct 22, 2008, 3:04:56 PM10/22/08
to NaruseRetro, meke...@kerpan.com
As some of you might know, the French cable network Ciné Cinéma
Classic recently screened a number of previously rare Naruse films,
with French subtitles newly created for the occasion. (Apparently
they negotiated directly with the Japanese studios – there’s a short
article about the series in this month’s Cahiers du Cinema. Talking
about the possibilities of video release, Bruno Deloye of CCC says,
“What’s complicated with the Japanese is that they have no obligation
to sell, and Toho doesn’t really see anything in it for them.”) I can
read French a little, so I’m taking a shot at these films.

On the whole, I think I enjoyed AS A WOMAN, AS A WIFE (1961, also
knows as THE OTHER WOMAN) less this time than when I saw it in the
1985 travelling Naruse retrospective. It’s very assured, and it
starts out beautifully, with the husband/wife/mistress relationships
among Mori, Awashima, and Takamine introduced with understatement and
indirection. Takamine’s habit of singing traditional songs aloud
(which turns out to be an early clue to the big plot surprise in the
second half) is a fecund ambivalent sign, connoting both happiness and
sadness, and Naruse manages this ambivalence beautifully by lingering
on and isolating her singing scenes, varying the tightness of the
frame to bring out different emotional overtones.

The script is a little too much “on theme” (a quality I associate with
Zenzo Matsuyama, one of the screenwriters), which isn’t a great thing
for Naruse, who benefits from leaving things unsaid. But the big
problem, I think, is that the film is too full-blown a drama, tending
to abstract its characters into larger-than-life, mythical figures of
suffering. This is not a problem in itself, of course; but the film’s
plot is constructed by much more expedient motivations: the competing
pulls of love and money, the influence of immediate family and social
groups on the behavior of individuals. Naruse is quite comfortable
with these mundane motivations, but it proves difficult to express
such concerns in the tragic mode that the film is pegged to. In place
of the usual Naruse climax, which brings to the fore a previously
subterranean theme, we have here a grand three-way confrontation, in
which each of the characters states his or her case at length in a
theatrical, portentous style. It sort of works for what it is, but
it’s not all that complex by Naruse’s standards.

Luckily, the indirection that usually marks Naruse’s climaxes is left
over for the lovely coda, in which the drama-induced stature of the
characters is effectively deflated. The wonderful final scene, in
which the couple’s teenage children shake off their status as victims
and open up a new and more optimistic movie over the dead body of the
defunct melodrama, leaves us with a distinctly Naruse-like mix of
emotions.

Michael discussed the film in a much earlier post:

http://groups.google.com/group/NaruseRetro/msg/a1bdb0cd90bdfa88?hl=en

Michael Kerpan

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Nov 14, 2008, 10:53:04 PM11/14/08
to NaruseRetro
I finally got to see the new "French version" of this film also.

Unlike you, my esteem (and enjoyment) of this film has increased since
my first viewing. Maybe it is a tiny bit more talky than I would
prefer -- but I think the characters and their dilemmas are all
handled extremely well (for the most part). I don't see the
characters as "abstract" at all.

The grand finale is a bit "theatrical" -- but sometimes so is real
life. There is just so much to love about this film. Naruse's
attempt to make color film work with some semblance of the lighting
virtuosity of his black and white films. The brilliant use of sound
-- especially the singing (starting with the boy singing what sounds
like a Bollywood ballad in the bath tub) , the use of diegetic sound
(and the impossibity of determining the status of some of the music we
hear),

I hope more rarities surface on French TV. (The French subs cleared up
a number of points that were hitherto unclear -- when watching this
without subtitles of any sort).

Dan Sallitt

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Nov 17, 2008, 5:08:24 PM11/17/08
to NaruseRetro
> I don't see the characters as "abstract" at all.
>
> The grand finale is a bit "theatrical" -- but sometimes so is real life.

I don't mind theatricality in itself. I don't know...if you look at the
plot structure, it's a lot about characters being moved by social forces.
Takamine, especially, is a force in the plot only to the extent that her
friends and family urge her to demand money or parental rights, against
her long-standing policy and her initial impulses. And the crucial event
of Awashita denying Takamine her claim to the bar is, if I recall
correctly, a petty affair, more a matter of bookkeeping and pique than the
stuff of high drama. With a story that attributes mundane, non-heroic
motives to everyone, it seems odd to elevate the film to such an Olympian
level by isolating the characters at the climax and giving their speeches
so much weight and grandeur. The coda, on the other hand, strikes just
the right anti-heroic tone for me. - Dan

Michael Kerpan

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Nov 17, 2008, 10:34:07 PM11/17/08
to NaruseRetro


On Nov 17, 5:08 pm, Dan Sallitt <sall...@panix.com> wrote:

> With a story that attributes mundane, non-heroic
> motives to everyone, it seems odd to elevate the film to such an Olympian
> level by isolating the characters at the climax and giving their speeches
> so much weight and grandeur.  The coda, on the other hand, strikes just
> the right anti-heroic tone for me. - Dan

I don't think the presentations are Olympian. Rather, at this stage,
they are all rather sad. They all realize they've mucked things up --
probably irretrievably. And they each get to reflect a bit on this --
before things do actually collapse. Perhaps the handling at this point
is a bit more like Yoshimura than "ordinary Naruse", but Yoshimura's
not too shabby either -- and I really like so much else about the
film that I feel pretty generous and forgiving (even if one assumes
there is a flaw of some sort).
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