Thursday, June 09, 2016

Arakure / Untamed Woman, Mikio Naruse, 1957

I haven't seen enough Japanese films of the late 1950s to make substantial claims, but this and some Kinoshita films of the period alone suggest that the excitement over the Japanese New Wave covered up some extremely interesting and in some respects at least equally modernist films made by the old guard (just like New Hollywood buried a lot of great Old Hollywood stuff of the 1960s). Untamed woman is in many ways a completely free-wheeling film, a film of unmitigated ellipses and harsh mood swings. New men, new cities, new vocations, new burdens. Only Hideko Takamine's inexhaustible (yet more often than not also self-destructive) energy holds things together. It's as if the slate's almost completely cleaned between scenes. Naruse's 180° cuts are especially effective, as they seem to announce that nothing is out of limits this time.

Hideko Takamine's Oshima is always on the verge of eruption, and if she does boil over, she's positively unstoppable. The plot might feel a bit stuffed or needlessly episodic at first, but after a while, when attuned to the strange energy of Takamine's performance, this doesn't matter at all. Because each scene is just another instant of Oshima being tired of doing double duty, during the day and at nighttime. Because classical cinema can't actually show much of the latter, her tiresome sex life must be somehow implicated in the daytime scenes. And indeed, even her strained, almost metallic voice speaks of a fedupness that encompasses all parts of her existence. Even marrying the ugliest guy around doesn't help.


While allegedly more "modern" directors like Shindo or Imamura entertain the idea that (especially) the (female) body will save us all, Untamed Woman remains, for all its celebration of Takamine's vitality and corporeality, much more sceptical. The body is basically just there, and sometimes it even is in the way (as when Oshima has to tie up her breasts in order to be able to perform hard labour). That being said, Takamine kicking the shit out of basically every scumbag she encounters, male or female, is just about the greatest thing ever.

Also, unlike in some Imamura films, in Naruse there's no escaping the city, modernity, the strains of capitalism. Oshima's longing for the mountains (and her weak, soft, almost child-like lover living there) doesn't lead anywhere, is nothing but an imaginary solution.


Some of the smaller, along the way scenes like Takamine learning to ride the bicylce are beyond beautiful.

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