Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Daughters, Wifes and a Mother / A Woman's Place, Mikio Naruse, 1960/62

Naruse's first reflex when dealing with the widescreen format seems to be: to cram in ever more siblings. "Daughters, Wives and a Mother", a sprawling family tale from 1960, had five, "A Woman's Place", a sprawling family tale from 1962, has seven (at least). But despite that, the latter film doesn't feel like an intensification, but like an relaxation. "Daughters...", almost completely set indoors, and composed in often extremley flat tableus, is an extremely dense film. The constraints of cinemascope function as a pressure cooker. The excess of lateral space doesn't result in breathing room, but transforms itself in an airless enclosure embracing all characters. Naruse's cinema heating up to boiling point... The result isn't an explosion, though, but a prolonged, gruesome third act of intensified negotiations that finally completely verbalice the power relations implicit in almost all Naruse films. Silent glances of passive defeat isn't an option any more, everything must be acted out. Of course, this actually doesn't help anyone.

In "A Woman's Place" the spell is broken, the family system in a state of decay - and the scope framing suddenly feels much more organic (at times even elegant - I especially liked a couple of scenes structured around a serving hatch). Especially the younger siblings don't really care any more, they're taking off to Brazil and Europe, a son in law even talks about travelling to the moon. Chishu Ryu as the nominal patriarch is a bumbling fool, Haruko Sugimura tries to hold things together, but this time she's lost control over the frame, is constricted to terrorize an extremely passive Hideko Takamine - who imo manages to articulate the very unnaturalness of her position much more poignant than Setsuko Hara in "Daughters,...". The ironies of her by now largely self-imposed servitude are at times truly maddening - especially in a bitter, layered confrontation with another daughter who accuses her of stealing her would-be lover. (She didn't do it, but clearly wishes she had.) And in the final scene, the small but still irresolvable distance between Sugimura and Takamine is nothing but heartbreaking.

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