The Girl in the Rumor

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Dan Sallitt

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Oct 27, 2009, 2:52:13 PM10/27/09
to NaruseRetro, meke...@kerpan.com
The previous thread on this film is now closed:

http://groups.google.com/group/naruseretro/browse_thread/thread/adf296cf4c894062

Wow – this film is almost too complicated, too full of exciting
things. Right away you can tell that Naruse is fully engaged. The
extreme fragmentation of the visual plan isn't entirely specific to
Naruse: the 30s films of other Japanese directors also feature
dissonant cuts between unmatched shots, breaking all the continuity
rules of American filmmaking of the time. But Naruse layers on top of
that cutting style a disorienting play with narrative threads, so that
disparate stories seem briefly sutured together by movement cuts or
composition matches, before story gaps break the connections. During
my first viewing, I was already anticipating how much more I'd get
from my second viewing.

(Spoilers in next paragraph only.)

The kaleidoscopic visual style is wedded to a dense weave of plot
threads, all centering on the family-run sake store that is teetering
on the edge of extinction. The three major story lines – the
complicated marriage negotiations; the attempt to bring the father's
long-time mistress into the family; the father's experiments with the
store's sake – all bear a fair portion of the film's emotional
weight. All the story lines advance in fits and starts by means of
the painstaking efforts of the film's more responsible characters; and
two of the three story lines seem as if they might conclude to the
advantage of the family. But, even in the more optimistic scenes, a
terrible foreboding hangs over the proceedings: Naruse cuts to the
mysterious, stricken expressions of the diligent eldest daughter
(Sachiko Chiba) or the long-suffering mistress (Tomoko Ito) at
unexpected moments, as if they can see, as we cannot, that dark forces
are working toward their defeat. Naruse even pulls an unexpected
character revelation at mid-film, as the seemingly irresponsible
grandfather (Yo Shiomi) turns out to be an accurate and philosophical
observer, and his sober son (Ko Mihashi) is revealed as an unexpected
agent of destabilization. When the amazing climax manages to resolve
all three stories at the same time, it is with a horrifying chain
reaction that ensures the worst possible outcomes across the board.
It sounds facile to call any film Naruse's darkest, given the range of
candidates; but there's something really unsettling at work here, as
if life is corroded from within. The external, annihilating viewpoint
imposed by the opening and closing scenes in the barbershop across the
street is the last nail in the coffin.

By the way, the subtitling of obscure Naruse films on everyone's
favorite secret download site continues unabated. So far, THE GIRL IN
THE RUMOR is the pick of the litter – I have a feeling it's going to
settle in as one of my favorite Naruse works.
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