Summer Clouds (1958)

14 07 2008

After viewing a trio of rather atypical Naruse films in Stranger Within a Woman (difference in the noir-ness), Untamed (more slapsticky than usual for Naruse), and Apart from You (silent, completely different aesthetics), it was quite nice to watch Summer Clouds, which puts Naruse back in the territory (thematic and aesthetic) that his fans know and love. Perhaps it can be argue that this film is so “Narusian” that it begins to lapse into self-parody but one needs only to look at Stranger Within a Woman to see how uncomfortable Naruse was outside of his usual stories.

Despite having Naruse’s personality written all over it, the film tells a story that is perhaps a bit more akin to Ozu’s of the same time period. I mean this in the sense that Summer Clouds is a sprawling, multi-character melodrama and without some proper exposition (which Naruse thankfully skips) it can be quite a headache. The principle character here is Yae, a mother and a war widow who is looking to remarry. She has a (seemingly) much older brother, Watsuke, who has three sons, one of whom, Hatsu, is about to be married. Unfortunately, his wife to be, Michiko, is a stepdaughter from one of Watsuke’s previous marriages.

All of this is quite hard to keep up but in all honesty, it is not entirely necessary. The film begins to branch off to other characters, which branch off to even more characters, and so on. Somehow, the narrative always finds its base in Yae, fully realized by Chikage Awashima, one of Japan’s most stable performers in the 1950s. She’s not as amazing as Hideko Takamine, but then again, who is? The rest of the cast plays out like a “who’s who” in the roster of Toho performers in the 1950s. While the presence of certain actors and actresses (Ganjiro Nakamura and Haruko Sugimura immediately pop up in my mind) is initially charming, it does end up feeling slightly gimmicky in this case. It’s merely a theory but perhaps Toho agreed to grant Naruse color film stock under the obligation that he would show off the company’s greatest stars.

Speaking of which, this is the first case (at least in my knowledge) of Naruse using color and the results aren’t completely flawless. It may not be visible in the screenshots I’ve taken, but there is an unavoidable blue/green-ish tint present for almost the entire running time. This is admirable on Naruse’s part, if one assumes it was his intention, because it can be seen somewhat of a forerunner to the blue-saturation so popular in modern cinema. Even so, it is far from being pulled off successfully as an odd glow seems to be emitted by every character. On the other hand, this could just be a bad transfer from Wild Side. Anyway, this is standard, but great, Naruse fare.

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