Ikari no machi / The Angry Street (1950)

28 12 2012

It’s generally accepted that Naruse’s golden era started in 1950. Even if one does love this film and the others that came out in 1950, this isn’t exactly true. This film has very little in common with the films that would make Naruse celebrated throughout the 1950s to the end of his career in 1967. Instead, this is something close to Naruse’s attempting a genre picture. It’s not a complete failure but it’s not a runaway success, either. Ultimately, Naruse’s interest in “human drama” pushes the direction of the content into an area between a film noir and a domestic drama, which makes the plot itself seem somewhat melodramatic.

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Sudo and Mori are two college pals trying to make some quick money while attending the University of Tokyo. The two have formulated something of a plan, in which they seduce women, which leads to these women giving them enormous amounts of money. Mori begins to develop some guilt about his means of income, especially when he is confronted by Sudo’s sister, Masako who is completely unaware of how the two of them make their money. He tries to change Sudo himself, but it turns out Sudo is more concerned with balancing the three women he’s receiving funds from, but things take a turn for the worst when he finds himself involved with an older woman who has mob ties.

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There’s a lot of interesting peripheral stuff going on here, away from the fact that this is essentially Naruse doing noir. He would return to the genre well later with Hit and Run and Stranger Within a Woman, which were both released in 1966. There’s some hint at economic stuff, as the two leads laugh off the claims of their comrades that they’re privileged. In reality, Sudo and Mori are that exactly, but the two see their complicated system of manipulating women into romance as actually being “hard work.” Sudo’s neglect of his own family leads to his elderly mother taking up a job, something she tries to keep from the rest of the family.

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In a way, the most unique thing about this entry from Naruse is not that it is so male-driven but rather that it is so mean-spirited. Well, not mean-spirited from his own perspective but rather that of one of the central protagonists. It’s good that Mori eventually sees the fault of his ways, but it seems a little ridiculous that he acquires such a calm and wise tone, with the exception of his emotional breakdown in the film’s climax. This is far too quick of a character development, and his attitude shift seems to come from his romantic feelings towards Sudo’s sister, Masako. Maybe he really loves her, but with what we’re given about him, do we really trust him? His flip in morality is wonderful, but one can’t help but feel more concerned for Masako.

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On the flip side, the sequences with Sudo are dull, not for any technical fault on Naruse’s part. This is a logical link between his earlier more energetic work and his “calmer” stuff of the 50s and 60s. Unfortunately, Sudo himself is just a dud. He’s stubborn and stupid, yet manages to fascinate at least three different women. When he finally gets what’s coming to him, the payoff feels justified and nice, but punishing such a simplistically “bad” and hateful character is such an easy move, and one that is usually found outside of Naruse’s work. Still, the film manages to be an enjoyable piece of genre, one which makes one wonder how Naruse might have fared had he devoted his career to such films. As it is, I like the route he choose much more, but this deviation from his usual material is both welcome and entertaining.

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