The Road I Travel With You

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Dan Sallitt

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Jan 10, 2010, 4:48:20 PM1/10/10
to NaruseRetro, meke...@kerpan.com
Overall, a worthwhile movie, and a few steps up from the other 1936
Naruse film I've seen, TOCHUKEN KUMOEMON. The material is certainly
dark enough for Naruse: the otherwise promising young man Asaji
(Heihachirô Ôkawa) and his younger brother Yuji (Hideo Saeki) face
blighted lives because of society's disapproval of their illegitmacy
and déclassé family. A distinctively Naruse-like opening shows the
brothers paying as little attention as possible to their dotty, vulgar
mother (Tamae Kiyokawa, giving a good performance as one of Naruse's
less caricatured representatives of family evil) and their profligate
grandfather (Kamatari Fujiwara). But a subsequent conversation
between the brothers, in which all the plot problems are laid out in
dialogue, made me wonder what undercurrents could possibly be left for
Naruse to uncover.

(SPOILERS in the next paragraph.)

And, in fact, there aren't any: the film's state is static; all doors
will remain closed, and all pressures have been applied before the
story begins. Naruse's usual indirection in revealing his true
subject doesn't pertain here: his only task is to show the workings of
the trap, and the characters' reactions to it. Despite this
limitation, and the sometimes excessively explicit writing, the film
is often moving. The forbidden love between Asaji and his neighbor
Kasumi (Naoyo Yamagata, an intriguingly open, childlike actress) is
depicted with a strange resignation, as if Asaji could no longer
manage more than nostalgia for happiness. Naruse satisfies his
instincts for dramatic structure by saving a little quiver of overt
emotion for the climactic scene in which Kasumi's family sends an
emissary to demand the return of her love letters. After this, the
film trickles into an interesting aftermath that frustrates our desire
for resolution, as even tragedy fails to take the wind out of the
sails of the banal, malevolent forces that surround the survivors.

(No more SPOILERS.)

The IMDb says the movie is adapted by Naruse from Yukiko Miyake's
novel, but Audie Bock says the source material is a play, and it sure
feels that way, with lots of major incident happening off-camera.
Naruse makes at least one attempt to open up the material, but doesn't
follow through: maybe he would have done better to accept the
project's theatrical constraints. A few of the performers seem to me
either inadequate (Saeki) or miscast (Fujiwara); apparently Naruse was
unhappy at being forced to use PCL's contract stars during this
period. All in all, the film feels a little too broken to be called
an outright success, but contains too much of Naruse's personality to
be dismissed.

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