The Way of Drama

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Dan Sallitt

Mar 26, 2010, 12:27:10 AM3/26/10
to NaruseRetro,
A very bad project, combining patriotic wartime preachiness and
senseless melodrama; I'd be surprised to hear that Naruse had any
input into the script at all. (The IMDb says it was based on a novel
by Koen Hasegawa, who was known as a radio dramatist; Toshio Yasumi,
who wrote several of Naruse's less known films, adapted.) Set in the
Osaka theater world, the story is dominated by a self-righteous troupe
leader (Roppa Furukawa) who bravely risks his popularity by selecting
only plays that support the Japanese military cause, and who decides
to break up the love affair between his star actor (Kazuo Hasegawa)
and a shamisen player (Isuzu Yamada) in order to purify the actor's
commitment to his craft. On top of this contrivance, a host of
supporting players repeat every plot point and character development
until the writer feels sure that we can't miss it. You couldn't blame
Naruse for throwing up his hands, but, as was his wont during the war,
he works hard to create ambiance, with particularly evocative
renderings of musical and dramatic performances. In general, the
film's visuals look pretty great, albeit more shadowy and low-key than
usual for the director, with crowded, Sternbergian exterior sets and
attractive squared-off long shots down hallways and through doorways.
But the good-looking images feel like decoration here: the drama is
too banal to give them any purchase.
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