A Woman's Sorrows

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Dan Sallitt

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Mar 3, 2010, 8:45:37 PM3/3/10
to NaruseRetro, meke...@kerpan.com
It's odd to see an early Naruse film (1937) that contains so much of
his personality, and yet gives me so little pleasure. Naruse co-
wrote, with Chikao Tanaka, a script about a young woman named Hiroko
(Takako Irie, best known from early Mizoguchi films) whose
determination to get married leads to her becoming little more than a
maid for her thoughtless in-laws. Naruse devotes a lot of energy to
the trap Hiroko is caught in, and his depiction of the unpleasant
family has interesting detail and a bit of plausible ambiguity. But
there's something unsatisfying about both the setup and the resolution
of this situation. Though the film's catch line describes Hiroko as
"conservative and indecisive," there's little about her on-screen
behavior to suggest that her plight is the result of a passive or
denial-prone personality. In fact, she comes across as rather self-
aware and ironic. A secondary focus on Hiroko's meetings with a
cousin (Hideo Saeki) who does not return her love lends the film a
structure vaguely like that of Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS, but has the
effect of making Hiroko seem even further above the trap.

And her way out of the bad marriage is simply to say that she's had
enough: Naruse doesn't do much to suggest either a change in or a new
dimension to the character. Without a strong link between drama and
character, Naruse's knack for capturing base human behavior seems a
dubious gift.

The visuals are sometimes quite attractive, in the experimental style
that Naruse toyed with during his early career: shadowy cityscapes,
foreground obstructions, pans across spaces that open up into the
background, circling low-angle dolly shots. More exciting to me,
Naruse sometimes hints at his characteristic fusion of drama and form,
building up to Hiroko's moments of crisis with accelerated cutting and
visual connections among the activities in the family house. We also
get one of the director's droll, disorienting transitions, as Hiroko's
marriage is thrust upon us via the image of the new couple upside-down
in the wedding photographer's lens.

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