Wife! Be Like a Rose! (1935)

24 02 2008

Mikio Naruse’s most famous pre-war picture is a preview for the themes that would dominate his much more famous post-war period. Again, we see Naruse specifying his focus on underprivileged women, this time a mother and daughter that have been abandoned by the family’s patriarch. While it is covered in lots of fancy camera work and other stylistic devices that Naruse would later eliminate, it feels quite comfortable along with his personal and accomplished work.

Kimiko is ready for marriage, but she’s more focused on reuniting her own parents. Her father left years ago, and they’ve heard nothing from him since, except for money orders. Her mother has become somewhat of a recluse since then, passing the time by writing poems inspired by the loss of her love. Kimiko goes to visit her father living in the mountains, but finds that he has established another family. He has another lover and two children. Contrary to Kimiko’s (and the audience’s) expectations, her father’s new spouse feels very sorry about the situation Kimiko and her mother are in. The importance of the new family as well as their kindness, convince Kimiko that she doesn’t need to force her father back home.

As shocking as the film’s anti-dramatic climax is, it’s the mother reaction to the father’s return that makes this one. Certainly, it’s a great film without her poetry over lover, but I think such a stance represents a theme not apparent in Naruse’s later works. Perhaps I am approaching iton the surface as a mixing of priorities where as it’s simply as decision ofn the mother’s part to not bother rekindling an old flame. In that case, it eludes to memories, something Naruse will explore with a bit more depth in Floating Clouds. I am almost positive that I am reading a lot of this wrong as I didn’t connect to it immediately as much of Naruse’s post-war work. I will definitely need to make a priority of rewatching this, but until then I can say it’s a great (early) step in the right direction by one of cinema’s greatest figures.

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One response

24 02 2008
Michael Kerpan

A wonderful film — with a lot of complexity (and pain) underneath its humor. I love the two greatest silents even more, however. ;~}

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