Hideko the Bus Conductress (1941)

10 06 2008

Naruse’s first on-screen collaboration with the great Hideko Takamine comes during his so called “slump” period of the 1940s. In general, Japanese filmmakers seemed to struggle during this decade. Ozu managed to produce only five films. Mizoguchi’s output is greater but critically, is seen as less than stellar. It is surprising then that this Naruse film that came at the very start of the decade not only represents one of Japan’s best films from the 1940s, but also a stylistic transition for Naruse. It is here that we begin to see signs of the very accomplished technique that would define his most successful cinematic period – the 1950s.

A young female bus conductor by the name of Hideko, attempts to solve the bus company’s problems by providing on-going commentary to the patrons. She teams up with a co-worker, Mr. Sonoda, to help pitch the idea to the boss. He shows mild interest, but nothing noteworthy. Meanwhile, Hideko and Sonoda enlist the aid of a professional writer, Mr. Igawa. During a first-time “run-through” of the commentary, Sonoda comes dangerously close to hitting a little boy. As the gang surveys the scene, the bus begins to slip, which results in a minor injury for Hideko. It seems that the idea to help the company’s finances is doing the exact opposite, which will eventually lead to a not-so-happy resolution.

While this does show many signs of Naruse’s much more famous post-war aesthetic, it is also a bit more idiosyncratic than any of those films. Perhaps the presence of the bus is to blame, but this does evoke the same type of mood as Shimizu’s Arigato-san. Unfortunately, this does lack the hint of poetic tragedy that makes that film so fascinating but such depth might be a little too much to expect from a light comedy with a fifty minute running time. Besides, it is not as though this film ends on a particularly positive note, quite the opposite in fact. Still, there is very much an inconsequential feeling one gets while watching this film which may or may not play to Naruse’s advantage. This obviously can’t live up to the standards of later Naruse films, but I actually like it just as much as the much more critically approved 1930s period. It should go without saying that this, along with dozens of other Naruse films, should be given a proper DVD treatment. Outlook is not so good, though.

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6 responses

10 06 2008
Daniel

Jake, how are you seeing some of these Naruse? I didn’t think this was available subtitled in English…

10 06 2008
Jake Savage

An e-buddy Glynford Hatfield sent me some old TV broadcasts and VHS copies. He also sent me the (currently unreleased) Shimizu films. His email is glynfordh@gmail.com

10 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

The subtitled version of Hideko is pretty painful to watch. I keep hoping for a better-looking version, even if it may be unsubbed. ;~}
I clearly prize the 30s films more than you do. Indeed, I consider Apart From You and Every Night Dreams two of Naruse’s greatest films — ever. And other 30s films (both silents and talkies) are almost as impressive. By 1933 (at least), Naruse had already demonstrated full cinematic mastery.

That said, Naruse clearly experienced no slump in the 40s (except in terms of winning prizes).

Not only is Hideko wonderful, so are the remarkable Traveling Actors and Song Lantern and (best of all, perhaps) Spring Awakens. And there are a number of other fascinating (if less “perfect”) films from that decade.

I think the light tone of the early part of the film was essential to Naruse’s pan to sandbag everyone at the end. Sort of like Abe’s setting up of characters (and audience) in the first few episodes of Haibane Renmei.

10 06 2008
Jake Savage

I still have yet to get around to Every Night Dreams. I watched half while half asleep a couple months back and I thought it was amazing. Unfortunately, I don’t have Apart From You. I suppose my appreciation of 30s Naruse is weakened by Wife! Be Like a Rose which is certainly a good movie but not as special, at least in my mind, as many other people make it out to be.

Is it possible that you could send me those other Naruse films from the 1940s? I’d give a lot to see them, even in the very fractured state that they are most likely in.

10 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

Most of the Toho films are in good shape — and were broadcast on Japanese TV during the centennial year. So — they look pretty good but have no subtitles. Alas, I never have tracked down some of the key films I saw (or missed) at the traveling retrospective.

10 06 2008
Stephen Russell

You’re a trooper for watching copies of this quality! I’d love to see this film, but it would be just too bad for me to handle, by the looks of it. I’d rather watch and enjoy the cinematography of a Naruse film that I’ve already seen than disrupt the first viewing of one I haven’t with a bootleg like this. I’ll hold out hope that at some point, we’ll have a nice looking copy. 🙂

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