Uwasa no musume (1935)

5 11 2012

I’ve stressed before just how impressive 1935 was for Naruse, even without a knowledge of the film themselves, one has to admire the impressive feat of five films in one year. More impressive, especially to me, is the fact that all of these films (I’ve seen three so far) have almost no similarities. I recently looked at The Actress and the Poet and found a nice, low-key domestic drama that hints at something more impressive, a sign of things to come from Naruse. Wife! Be Like a Rose! is closer to the domestic dramatic masterpieces that The Actress and the Poets shows glimpses of, but it’s frankly been far too long since I’ve last seen it. A re-watch is definitely in order. Neither of those two films have much in common with this one.

The story here seems pretty typical of Naruse and it’s worth noting that unlike the two other films from 1935 mentioned above, he is alone on the screenwriting credit. Two sisters, Kimiko and Kunie battle over Sato, an arranged match for the latter. Kunie is the more conservative of the two, a point which is represented by the way she dresses, her quiet demeanor, and the insistence from her sister that she’s too old-fashioned. Kimiko almost comes off as a parody of the type of “modern woman” (moga) that frequently appeared in Naruse’s work. She’s outspoken, (literally) loud, and frequently told by her uncle that she’s not “marriageable.” Her moga status is driven home by sequences like the one in which her record interrupts her grandfather practicing on a samisen. It feels a little too on the nose at times. 

The Girl in the Rumor seems, superficially, to be cut from the same cloth as the aforementioned pictures, but even then, it shows sings of Naruse’s ability to be more experimental. It’s not his most outrageous work stylistically, but there’s a lot of interesting formalist stuff going on here that it considered rare for Naruse – the director whose lack of popularity in the West could be identified from lacking an easily identifiable style. There’s some interesting editing choices, some bordering on montage style that in light of the film’s finale feel like a hammer to the forehead of the audience. To his credit, though, these “powerful hints” so to speak managed to fly over my head and I was immediately blindsided by the film’s conclusion.

My interpretation of Kimiko sounds somewhat negative but it seems that Naruse made her (and most of the other characters) intentionally flat. She seems set up to be a moga straw woman. She progressive and modern, but she cannot accept the reality that her real mother is actually her father’s mistress. In an early sequence, tells her sister that mistresses are the lowest form of woman, ones who have fallen for the belief that they must always be serving men. It’s a particularly profound moment, suggesting a character almost entirely familiar with the vocabulary of modern feminism (most of Naruse’s woman aren’t) but it weirdly points to what looks like her downfall. She cannot accept an already marginalized member of society as her family member, even as the more conservative members have accepted her.

This is what the film builds towards for 55 minutes, but it immediately flips this resolution on its head. As the father lectures her on being accepting of her mother and requesting she apologizes to her sister for spending time with Sato, the police arrive. Throughout the film, we get some comic relief from the grandfather, who seems nothing more than a silly (possibly senile?) old man who drinks too much sake. He suggests a few times that something about the sake has changed and he’s right. He’s informed the police that his son (the father of the two sisters if you’ve lost track) has been purposely diluting the sake served in the family’s bar. He’s quickly rushed off by the police before he can have his fatherly moment of lecture his moga daughter. This diluting is what was hinted at in the scenes with the virtuoso editing. At 55 minutes, The Girl in the Rumor seems complete. A tight and economic thriller that parades itself as anything but for 54 minutes. A truly remarkable movie.

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