I didn’t realize until afterwards, but I had actually seen this Naruse before. Not only that, but I had written a fair amount about it, which I also don’t remember. My first response to the film seems a little misguided in retrospect since I felt like it was far too upsetting depiction of female obedience, but after watching it again, it seem a bit more complicated than that. If anything, the more dramatic and perhaps sentimental turn from the rest of Naruse’s career is an interesting development for him. The year before he had the extremely feminist and powerful Untamed and he also made Floating Clouds, perhaps his most poetic and romantic film, in 1958 as well.
The titular character is played by Kyoko Kagawa, best known for her collaborations with Kurosawa (Mifune’s wife in High and Low) and Mizoguchi (Anju in Sansho the Bailiff) but her relationship with Naruse is just as impressive. Seeing as how this film is a starting point in a “refresher” course for me, I don’t feel comfortable saying this is her biggest role in a Naruse film, but it definitely ranks up there. She plays the daughter of a famous writer, who ends up marrying Ryokichi, an inspiring writer who (at first) secretly loathes her father. Ryokichi is played by Isao Kimura, who is also best known for her collaborations with Kurosawa. As his character becomes more and more unsavory, his performance shifts towards exaggeration. At the film’s end, no one can question that Ryokichi is indeed, a very pathetic character.
In my initial review, I never really got over the fact that such a couple would stay together. As Ryokichi shifts from one temporary job to another, his alcoholism worsens and his hatred for his father-in-law, Heishiro, deepens. Before, I mostly focused on the relationship between the struggling couple but on this particular viewing, it seems less and less important. Although the film is named after her, Anzukko’s actions tends to be just that of a middle man between her husband and her father. There’s something tragic in the fact that a housewife provides all the income for a family and ultimately gets no say in how it is used, but it seemed less of a “deal” this time around.
Perhaps it’s best to not view this movie with Naruse-tinted glasses because if one does, the film is just another relentlessly upsetting story about a woman staying with a man she’s better than. The best drama comes from Ryokichi and Heishiro, though, as the former weighs his own pride over charity, even when he is doing absolutely nothing to help his family from a financial standpoint. Ryokichi might be the least likable character to ever get this type of screen time in a Naruse film. He’s self-destructive, cruel, and unreasonable. His logic of a rivalry between him and his father-in-law stems exclusively during intense sessions of alcoholism. In a way, Naruse has made one of the earliest examples of an “addiction film” and the result is every bit as bleak and unsettling as any modern or “edgy” depiction. Sure, it’s just alcohol but the self-destructive nature of Ryokichi rivals any character involved with hard drugs.
There is still something to be studied about the character of Anzukko. During this viewing, her commitment to her family doesn’t seem as much of a disgusting display of family politics as much as it seems like a complexity. She doesn’t want to lean on the help of her father. He does buy her groceries, but they’re a necessity. One can hardly blame her when she makes all the money and does so without having an actual career. Never is there any love felt between Ryokichi and Anzukko, not even a sense of friendship of respect. It was a marriage of convenience, it seems, but the irony is that it has become a total hassle for Anzukko. The film ends with quiet acceptance, hardly a surprise considering that Naruse seldom went for dramatic shifts in a narrative. It is anything but satisfactory for a character that has put up with so much but receives so little. Where it was frustrating to me on initial viewing, it is now fascinating. Relationships are difficult is nothing new, but the layers of odditity in this particular case make it a subject well worth studying and revisiting.