Catherine Russell in her book, The Cinema of Mikio Naruse: Modernity and Women (2008), looks at the thirteen films Naruse made between 1938 and 1945 at the height of the China and Pacific wars in which the government held strict control of all film production in Chapter Three, "Not a Monumental Cinema: Wartime Venacular, 1938-1945." Thus there was an agreement within the film industry to "elevate" Japanese film culture above decadent foreign tendencies imported from foreign films. Of the thirteen, eleven are extant. The two missing films are Shanghai Moon (1941) and Until Victory Day (1945) sound like the most overt examples of kokusaku eiga (national policy films). In the last two years when he produced two films, the total national output was only 26. There were period films such as Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro (1938), The Song Lantern (1943), The Way of Drama (1944), and A Tale of Archers at the Sanjusangendo (1945) as well as contemporary films like The Whole Family Works (1939), Sincerity (1939), Traveling Actors (1940), A Face From the Past (1941), This Happy Life (1941), Hideko the Bus Conductor (1941), and Mother Never Dies (1942). Of these eleven I was able to find and watch seven of them.
Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro (1938) was adapted from a novel that was based on a 1934 Paramount film called Bolero starring George Raft and Carole Lombard. This story is about a couple (Isuzu Yamada and Kazuo Hasegawa) who perform ballads in variety show formats. They can't get along and complications arise and ends with the woman being left out of the performing life. The Whole Family Works (1939) (available with English subtitles on You Tube) is a story about a father of nine children cannot find a job. Despite their aspirations, the children are encouraged by both parents to hold down menial jobs and contribute to the family expenses. Eventually one rebels, with the support and sympathy of the other children. This film focuses on the importance of familial piety despite the individualistic impulses of the rebelling son. Traveling Actors (1940) is a kind of parody or the geido films (available with English subtitles on You Tube)and despite Naruse's claims of it being heavily edited by censors-one of his favorite films. it is the story of two actors who play a horse who are replaced by an actual horse. It has lots of scenes dedicated to the politics of these traveling troupes as well as several comedic gags throughout. Except for a single reference to a passing soldier, the setting is outside of time. A Face From The Past (1941) is a short film (available on You Tube with English subtitles) that deals directly with the culture of the war. It is set in in a village outside of Kameoka near Kyoto where the missing son/husband has been seen on the newsreel and the family goes to see it and deals with feelings of pride and loss when they see it. Hideko The Bus Conductor (1941) is another short film (under an hour-available with English subtitles on You Tube) that serves as Hideko Takamine's adult coming out film. It reminds one of Hirsohi Shimizu's Mr. Thankyou in the scenery of the rural parts of Japan seen from the bus. The two employees Takamine and the driver triumph over the corrupt boss to save the bus company with the help of a vacationing Tokyo writer. The Song Lantern (1943) (available on You Tube without English subtitles) stars Shotaro Hanayagi, who had recently starred in Mizoguchi's poignant Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939). It is based on a novel by Kyoka Izumi and involves the confluence of three dramatic forms: noh, shinpa, and film. It shows how "the back to Japan" helped directors like Naruse think through formal and aesthetic issues involved in adapting traditional arts for the screen. A Tale Of Archery At The Sanjusangendo (1945) is another period film, set in the Tokugawa era, about a competition between two archers who compete in kydo. This is just one of two samurai films Naruse would make in his career. Daichiro (Sensho Ichikawa) is teh son of a former champion who wants ot avenge his father's loss to the honorable Hoshino (Kazuo Hasegawa), whoi has sought out the young champion to teach him the true meaning of game: "not to compete with the number of arrows, but to dedicate one's life and to show what oen can do." As Russell points out: Kyudo is about discipline and dedication, principals familiar to the geido films, bushido, and kokutai policy. The film was shot on location in Kyoto, and used the Sanjusangendo temple well throughout. Kinuyo Tanaka (known for her work with Mizoguchi) plays the guardian, Okinu, of Daichiro.