THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Late Chrysanthemums (***)

Bangiku (Late Chrysanthemums)
Japan, 1954, 101 minutes, b&w
Directed by Mikio Naruse
Cast: Haruko Sugimura, Sadako Sawamura, Chikako Hosokawa, Yûko Mochizuki, Ken Uehara, Hiroshi Koizumi, Ineko Arima, Bontarô Miyake, Sonosuke Sawamura, Daisuke Katô

Though his quiet films are often compared to Ozu, Mikio Naruse is really the Japanese George Cukor - crossed with the existential concerns of Ingmar Bergman. He loves strong women's stories, especially those of aging or retired geishas and working class moms. Men are seen as good for nothing womanizing drunks and leeches that women are better off not having in their lives. Feminist cinema, Far Eastern style. This film is bleak - the women find their beauty has faded and their children and lovers are disappointing - but it has an uplifting finale that showcases the indominatable spirit of these resolute women - all retired geishas who have seen better days but keep on keeping on, despite the passage of their generation for a new post-war society that they are trying to understand. Naruse shows their lives, warts and all: in one amazing sequence we actually see a character nonchalantly pluck her nose hair! And I loved the scene where the two friends Tomi and Tamae watch a "modern" young woman wiggle down the road and Tomi remarks, "Look at her walking like that American woman Monroe! I can do that too!" before comically imitating the young girl. As former geishas, these woman had also looked ridiculous trying to attract and please men, but in this instant they recognize their former folly and laugh at it.

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