Joyû to shijin (1935)

29 10 2012

It’s hard to overstate Naruse’s productivity. For example, this was the second film he made in 1935 and it came out in March of that year. He would go on to make three more films that year,  including his most famous pre-war work, Wife! Be Like a Rose!  Both this and Wife! were adaptations from Minoru Nakano plays. This is definitely the lesser of the two films, never really shooting for anything beyond a domestic comedy. It gives Naruse a chance to spend time with some interesting enough characters, who could be seen as building blocks to some of his more powerful domestic portraits.

The title translates into English as The Actress and the Poet and the two are a couple. The actress is Chieko, played by Sachiko Chiba (who Naruse would marry two years later) is the main source of income. Her husband, the titular poet, feels emasculated by this situation. He spends his time gossiping with the neighbors when he’s not doing the house chores. The gossip leads to some amusing subplots, including one in which the poet, Geppu, gets intoxicated with a neighbor and his wife. It’s during this drunken back and forth that he the point of “a man should be the lord of his house” is introduced to him and it helps reinforce his dissatisfaction with the command of power in his own household.

The film’s final message does seem a little backwards, especially for Naruse. I guess, to his credit, he didn’t have much to do with the script itself but does seem kind of bizarre, at least as a first impression, but there could be something more impressive at work here. He still isn’t endorsing that every house needs a patriarchal figure as much as he is comically depicting how these male figures become so insecure in their positions as anything else but leader of the household, that they act out like spoiled children. The film’s finale has some implied physical violence against Geppu, and this comic portrait of female on male violence reoccurs much later in 1957’s Arakure.

The fight, although more of an argument is seen as something of a release. When Geppu and Chieko’s fight finally ends, she thanks the individual that sparked the argument, as it helped her understand how to be angry for a performance. There’s a lot of playing with fiction and reality throughout the film, and the involvement Naruse had with the film’s real actress, Sachiko Chiba only deepens this relationship. There’s a early sequence in which the couple seem to having a very violent altercation, but they turn to the camera and ask “how was that?” as the camera reveals another couple observing their rehearsal. It’s clever stuff permeating throughout the film, which mixed with Naruse’s trademark eye for domestic situations, is quite enjoyable.

One final thing worth noting would be that this is easily the most relaxed from Naruse at this point. It’s actually much more in line with his work from the 1950s, a closer representation of what many have attempted as characterizing as the “Naruse aesthetic.” Of course, much of the academic work around Naruse realizes that this is something of a fruitless discussion because he himself didn’t place as much emphasis on form as Ozu, with whom he is almost always unfairly compared. It’s pretty interesting though that just a year later, we’d see one of his most formally hyperactive works in Morning’s Tree-Lined Street. It seems he already knew how to accomplish the style that would be something of his trademark, but he still managed to play around formally.

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