Hideko the Bus Conductress

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Dan Sallitt

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Apr 9, 2010, 10:28:52 AM4/9/10
to NaruseRetro, meke...@kerpan.com
On my first viewing, I thought this 1941 film pleasant but slight.
But this time around it looked like a continuation of the low-key
structuralist absurdism of 1940's TRAVELLING ACTORS. On the surface,
HIDEKO is a relaxed, plot-deprived vehicle for the 17-year-old Hideko
Takamine, playing a ticket-taker for a failing rural bus line who
devises the idea of boosting business by giving bus riders a guided
tour of notable sites. (The first clue to the film's absurdist agenda
is that there are no notable sites in the area.) Supported by her bus
driver (Kamatari Fujiwara) and a friendly writer (Daijiro Natsukawa)
who composes a script for the tour, Hideko good-naturedly surmounts a
number of very small obstacles and realizes her plan. Much of the
film's 54-minute running time is devoted to sunlit, neorealist
depictions of the bus's route, accompanied by cheerful soundtrack
music. But one begins to note Naruse's tendency (he wrote the script,
based on a novel by Masuji Ibuse - who, amazingly, also provided
source material for Imamura's BLACK RAIN) to end scenes on oddly off-
balance notes: an uncompleted pursuit of a runaway chicken; or a
mysteriously unsavory character loitering outside the shop of Hideko's
landlady. Micro-incidents like the writer's reaction to his paltry
compensation are drawn out exhaustively; a scene of the shady owners
of the bus company contemplating killing a fly is cut like a suspense
sequence. However much you tune in to Naruse's wry undercutting of
the let's-put-on-a show story, you are unlikely to be prepared for the
narrative sabotage that he saves for the penultimate scene. But then
he finishes the film with nice landscapes and happy music, as if
nothing had happened.... It's a sign of Naruse's artistic stature
that, confronted with inhospitable wartime filmmaking conditions, he
was able to rechannel his creativity into such bizarre but rewarding
forms.

There are a few brief mentions of the film in this earlier thread:

http://groups.google.com/group/naruseretro/browse_thread/thread/8f04fc1c396009a5/3c86f0b3b7cfde0a

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