Chapter Four of Catherine Russell's book, The Cinema of Naruse Mikio (2008), is called "The Occupation Years: Cinema, Democracy, And Japanese Kitsch, 1945-1952." This period is known to be his weakest partly because he did not work with the best actresses or writers until 1951. Then he directed Kinuyo Tanaka in Ginza Cosmetics, Mieko Takamine in Dancing Girl and Setsuko Hara in Repast. In 1951 and 1952 he adapted works by Yasuanri Kawabata, Junichiro Tanizaki, and Fumiko Hayashi. The films of this era were: A Descendant of Taro Urashima (1946), Both You And I (1946), Spring Awakens (1947), Even Parting Is Enjoyable (1947), Professor Ishinaka (1949), The Angry Street (1949), White Beast (1949), The Battle of Roses (1949), Ginza Cosmetics (1951), Dancing Girl (1951), Repast (1951), and Okuni and Gohei (1952). These thirteen films made during the American occupation included an eclectic array of styles and genres from "Democracy pictures" to literary adaptations, gave insight into occupation culture, and he frequently worked against genre conventions. Many critics who felt that Naruse had a slump through the 40s saw the female prison film, White Beast, to be the lowest point. It is interesting to note that the last film of this period was a historical film, that Rusell suspects may have been inspired by Kurosawa's success at the Venice Film Festival in 1951 with Rashomon. And it was also interesting that Russell drew a comparison between Naruse and Italian director Roberto Rosellini (of which I have seen a few films) as both the directors had a focus on female protagonists and developed some strong women characters in the postwar era. Despite the critical consensus that this period was a slump, Russell points out that Naruse was working through fundamental issues of visual representation that any cultural renewal demands. Of the thirteen films made during this period, I was only able to view two: Dancing Girl and Repast.
Dancing Girl (1951) is an adaptation of a Kawabata short story that Naruse deploys some of the melodramatic devices he used during the 30s and as Russell points out, it can be seen as a transitional film. His adaptation of Kawabata's A Sound From The Mountain would be widely celebrated as a more effective adaptation. It is set in Kamakura from a script by screenwriter/director Kaneto Shindo and suffers from multiple characters and story lines and the main plot line of a disintegrating marriage gets buried. Russell cites this film as an example of kitsch through the decadence of the fashion and architecture in the film, which was one of themes of this chapter. There was an emphasis on the curse of freedom, which can be seen in the adultery taking place among other references throughout the film. Repast / Meishi (1951) was Naruse's first adaptation of a Fumiko Hayashi novel (of which he would go onto to adapt several more of her works), which features a strong female protagonist played by Setsuko Hara as the housewife Michiyo. The film version was made the same year that Hayashi died and was based on a serialized story that she left incomplete. Russell's reading of the film differs slightly from my own, she sees Michiyo's return to the humdrum life as a housewife motivated only by a lack of options available. Apparently the original screenwriter thought the film should end with a divorce, but it seems that the studio vetoed this decision and had her return to her marriage. My own perspective of the film saw Ken Uehara, as a clueless but not evil person-he tries to get her join him and the niece on excursions-they have no kids, so the over abundance of housework for two people seems overdone. Perhaps, I missed references to his philandering, but I don't remember any of these. My impression was that of two people having a misunderstanding or different expectations of what married life should entail. I wasn't particularly sympathetic to the heroine of A Woman Ascends the Stairs though, either. There were some interesting critical notes on the film, one of which discusses the differences between this film and Ozu's Early Summer (1951). It is suggested that Ozu's world is closed, while Naruse's world is open. That is Naruse is concerned with contemporary life, whereas Ozu is preoccupied with the feelings of the older generation. Russell points out that the final reconciliation is similar to that of Rosselini's deus ex machina from Voyage to Italy, where the lead couple, on the verge of a divorce, are swept together into a Saint's Day parade and reunite. There is a similar scene with the couple in Repast, where they are swamped by a crowd of street musicians, but their reconciliation is less miraculous and more rooted in the realities of postwar Japan.