Chapter Five of Catherine Russell's book, The Cinema of Naruse Mikio (2008), is called "The Japanese Woman's Films of the 1950s , 1952-1958." During this period of time, Naruse directed fourteen films (Mother, Lightning, Husband and Wife, Wife, Older Brother, Younger Sister, Sound of the Mountain, Late Chrysanthemums, Floating Clouds, Sudden Rain, A Wife's Heart, Flowing, Untamed, and Anzukko) of which half of them placed in the Kinema Junpo top-ten lists and it is this period in which he became one of the greatest film makers in the world. Russell has chosen this period, because Mother (1952) was the first film after the end of the occupation and Anzukko (1958) is essentially the last he made in academy aspect ratio. Most of these films were based on literary sources published within twenty years of the films which helped Naruse develop his cinema style: subtle patterns of editing, lighting, performance style, and set design. Russell points out that Naruse's inserts of still shots differ from Ozus in that shots of objects are almost always linked to the diegesis of the film and are essentially establishing shots rather than "pillow shots." Some elements of his style included quick editing, low camera angles for use with tatami mats, use of 360-degree space, and conventional "movie music" to emphasize melodramatic emotion. At this stage he was allowed to assemble his own staff of cinematographers, writers, and cast members which was associated with the star systems and allowed him to work with some of the top performers of the era such as: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, Ken Uehara, Hideko Takamine, So Yamamura, and Haruko Sugimura. One aspect Russell analyzes in the films is in terms of how architecture functions as a framing device. Of the fourteen films in this period I have seen eight: Lightning, Wife, Older Brother, Younger Sister, Sound of the Mountain, Late Chrysanthemums, Floating Clouds, and Flowing.
Lightning (1952) is Naruse's second adaptation of a Fumiko Hayashi novel starring Hideko Takamine as the good child Kiyoko. Takamine is one child of four from different fathers struggling to survive in postwar Tokyo. All of the other siblings have major shortcomings that make life difficult at home for Kiyoko. The films concludes with a powerful scene between mother and daughter that reflects Naruse's modernism in the ambivalence of the ending. Because of the success with this adaptation (it won second place in Kinema Junpo polls) and the earlier one of Meshi, Naruse would make seven films from her stories for Toho. Wife (1953) is third in of Naruse's cycle of marriage films and is based on a story by Hayashi about a troubled childless couple Mineko (Mieko Takamine) and Junichi (Ken Uehara). They are both dissatisfied with the marriage and the husband drifts flirting with a single mother. Despite, Mieko's dissatisfaction with her husband, she is not going to allow him to cheat on her and he does not have the will to leave her outright, so they will struggle on in their unhappiness. Older Brother, Younger Sister (1953) is probably one of Naruse's more melodramatic films, but was effective to me. I think much of this has to do with Machiko Kyo's earthy performance as the wayward daughter and younger sister, Mon, but the standard Naruse protagonist is the good sister San, Yoshiko Kuga. The films also stars Masayuki Mori as the older brother Ino who has a suspect attraction to Mon. (These actors starred in Ugetsu in 1953 as well as earlier in Rashomon in 1950) The film was based on a short story by Saisei Muro, but reflects the melodramatic spirit of American films from the 50s. In the end Naruse bridges the gulf between good girl and bad girl by bringing them together at the close. Sound Of A Mountain (1954) is Naruse's third adaptation of a Kawabata novel, a personal favorite proposed by the director-also one of my favorite films. The protagonist of the film is Shingo (So Yamamura) who has a close relationship with his daughter-in-law Kikuko (Setsuko Hara), who is being neglected by his son (Ken Uehara) for his mistress. It seems somewhat shocking to me that this mainstream film could depict an abortion by the wife when the husband was having an affair. The final scene is a remarkable commentary in cinematic space in that it takes place in Shinjuku Gyoen and is different from the novel where the family is reunited in the end, here it seems that Kikuko will make a clean break from the family. Late Chrysanthemums (1954) is the story, based on three Hayashi stories, of four middle-aged women who were previously geisha together before the war trying to survive in the complex social and economic landscape of postwar Tokyo. Haruko Sugimura (known for her role as Shige in Tokyo Story) stars as a moneylender who visits three of her old geisha colleagues (Nobu, Sadako Sawamura, Tomi, Yuko Mochizuki, and Tamae, Chikako Hosokawa) in the course of a couple of days. All of the woman have their struggles in life with children, getting by, or old flames, but persist in the Naruse fashion. There is a hopeful ending where Tomi imitates a woman walking like Marilyn Monroe adn does her imitation for Tamae who laughs and then there is Kin seen going to look at a property. Floating Clouds (1955) is generally known as his masterpiece. It is yet another film based on a Hayashi story about a couple who have enjoyed an idyllic love affair in Indochina during the war and struggle to maintain the relationship in the harsh postwar environment of Japan. Hideko Takamine plays Yukiko, the woman who tries to maintain the relationship with Tomioka (Masayuki Mori), who is married and is a philanderer as well. There are several flashbacks to the idyll time in Dalat, Vietnam, which is unusual for postwar films. Tomioka resists Yukiko's advances until the end when she becomes ill and finally dies. It is rare for a film to deal so squarely with a nation's defeat. Sudden Rain (1956) shows Naruse in his prime in his fourth "marriage film" (the others: Meshi, Husband and Wife, and Wife) and perhaps the best of the bunch. The couple's marital difficulties are a product of the alienating city, their claustrophobic neighborhood, tempting neighbor couple, and their own personalities. Ryotaro (Shuji Sano) and Fumiko (Setsuko Hara) are another childless couple at odds with one another. It is based on a story by Kunio Kishida with all sorts of insights into the life of the postwar middle class. It has another famous ambiguous ending where after fighting and essentially deciding to separate they bat a ball around the yard in front of children who have knocked the ball into their yard in a gesture of absolution. Another standout film is Flowing (1956). It is based on a novel by Aya Koda and contains several subplots associated with a geisha house facing extinction. The house is run by the madam, Tsuyako (Isuzu Yamada) who lives there with her daughter (Hideko Takamine). She owes money to her elder sister (Natsuko Kahara) and has taken in her niece Yoneko (Chieko Nakakita) and her daughter Fujiko (Natsuko Matsuyama). Comedic relief is supplied by Someko (Haruko Sugimura) and Nanko (Mariko Okada). Mizoguchi regular Kinuyo Tanaka fills out the all-star cast as Oharu the maid. The title can suggest the film's narrative structure or the "flow" of money that circulates among the characters.