A Stranger Within a Woman (1966)

3 07 2008

About as shrill and dramatic as Naruse would ever get during the postwar part of his career. Essentially, this is his “noir” film, I suppose, which explains why he would quite randomly abandon the usual attention and care with which he handles his characters. On the plus side, this is one of his most visually stunning films, which may strike some as odd as it the only time he worked with the academy ratio during the 60s. There’s something much different about the framing here than that of his academy ratio films from the 50s. It definitely feels like some sort of post-modern tribute or homage that has become popular in modern American cinema. Of course, this is leagues above a Tarantino film, but its somewhat frustrating that Naruse would spend his time making this.

A father with a steady home life that includes a wife and two children, is shocked to find that his friend’s wife has been killed. It becomes apparent that the father was busy having an affair with his friend’s wife right up until her death. This, obviously, complicates things a great deal. While everyone is initially stumped to who the killer could be, it is slowly revealed that the aforementioned affair included “kinky” sex which may have led to the woman’s death.

For a good hour or so, Naruse plays things with his usual subtle nondramatic touch. While the audience is informed of the murder almost immediately, the mystery aspect doesn’t really come into the picture till the second half, where it then proceeds in becoming quite predictable and dull. The first half, though, is a perfect example of Naruse’s mastery. Even though he’s not working with his usual family drama material, he still has the same ability to downplay the action. There’s very little dramatic music and a lot more “everyday” type of dialogue. The cinematography, simply started, is absolutely gorgeous.

Things begin to get much more problematic once the father confesses his affair to his wife. It is not that the film gets technically melodramatic. Naruse still manages to keep his trademark subtleness and the visuals are still great, but the narrative just begins to take a nosedive. The whole thing is rather predictable and over-the-top. It’s entertaining in a rather mindless way, but that makes the experience almost subversive considering how deep and truthful Naruse usually is. For all its melodrama, it does have a very nice and poetic ending but considering the context, even that seems superfluous. Overall, this is a good movie, but also a far cry from showcasing Naruse’s greatness.

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2 responses

3 07 2008
Stephen Russell

My least favorite Naruse. I didn’t even find it very visually appealing. Its look and feel was more akin to the Teshigahara / Shinoda / Matsumoto type of cold, strained, emotionally drained academy ratio black-and-white stuff that was coming out around the same time. Not that that’s necessarily BAD, but it seemed like Naruse was trying too hard to do something his heart wasn’t really in. It never opened-up for me.

29 07 2011
liberativecinema

I would echo with most of the points, however I think there is an exceptional usage of atmospheric noise at many crucial junctures of the film. The revelations which happen are differernt junctures are downplayed at several instances ( the one between the father and the deceased’s husband) while magnified intensely at several instances ( the ones between the protagonist and the wife ). I think it is Naruse’s brilliance manifested in the scene in the tunnel, where although the wife’s reaction is downplayed in the usual Naruse sense, the backdrop of the tunnel shows that the protagonist has chosen a path of no return.

Another crucial Naruse characteristic springs up in this movie. The occurrence of surrounding events haunting the protagonist by unleashing past demons such as the scene of a man being ostensibly pushed from the bridge. This feature however is most beautifully demonstrated in Naruse’s final film.

This is definitely an experiment that Naruse undertook , but i wouldn’t consider it to have fallen short of his usual standard at least not by much.

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