Mikio Naruse

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Mikio Naruse

#476 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Oct 01, 2013 12:05 pm

I think Mother was one of the earliest VHS releases by Sony in the US, it came in a fancy box, with all sorts of background information.

Let me know if you ever find a trove of "slump era" Naruse films -- and I can tell you the ones I loved most. ;-}
Last edited by Michael Kerpan on Tue Oct 01, 2013 12:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Mikio Naruse

#477 Post by knives » Tue Oct 01, 2013 12:22 pm

I've seen a few from the supposed slump and have enjoyed them a great deal.

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Re: Mikio Naruse

#478 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Oct 01, 2013 12:33 pm

knives wrote:I've seen a few from the supposed slump and have enjoyed them a great deal.
Which?

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Re: Mikio Naruse

#479 Post by knives » Tue Oct 01, 2013 12:40 pm

It seems to only be Hideko, The Bus Conductor actually.

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Re: Mikio Naruse

#480 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Oct 01, 2013 12:49 pm

Well, Hideko is definitely one of the (hither-to) unsung treasures of that era.

Some of the other films of the era I am particularly fond of:

Morning's Tree-Lined Streets (1936)
Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro (1938)
Traveling Actors (1940)
A Fondly Remembered Face (1941)
The Song Lantern (1943)
Spring Awakens (1947)
Mr. Ishinaka's Report on (Rural) Conduct (1950) (esp. part 3)
Maihime (Dancing Princess) (1951)

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Re: Mikio Naruse

#481 Post by knives » Tue Oct 01, 2013 12:53 pm

I didn't know you were including Morning's Tree-Lined Streets in that. It is honestly probably one of my favorites of the fifteen or so Naruse I've seen.

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Re: Mikio Naruse

#482 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Oct 01, 2013 1:01 pm

I think the "slump" is generally reckoned as the period during which Naruse's films won no major prizes -- as if this were the criterion for whether films are valuable or not.

I love the fact that Naruse was doing naturalistic, quasi-surrealism long before Bunuel was. Unfortunately, one can not fairly discuss MTLS except with people who have already seen it. It is one of the few films for which even I believe thee first viewing can be "spoiled" by premature revelation of certain plot points.

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Re: Mikio Naruse

#483 Post by YnEoS » Tue Oct 01, 2013 2:34 pm

What's the overall consensus on A Wanderer's Notebook? Somewhere I picked up the impression that it wasn't as highly regarded as some of his other films. But, I was really taken with it when I saw it last year (along with Yearning) especially Hideko Takamine's ability to magically transform herself with her posture. I remember walking out of the theater overhearing the comment "...at least Ozu is funny".

Anyways with all this Naruse talk, looks like I'll have to track down Morning Tree-Lined Streets and Lightning ASAP.

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Re: Mikio Naruse

#484 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Oct 01, 2013 5:05 pm

Very mixed reactions to Wanderer's Notebook -- but I've always liked it quite a bit.

There is lots of humor in most Naruse films, but it is usually more ambivalent (and darker) than the humor in Ozu's films.

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Re: Mikio Naruse

#485 Post by Quot » Sat Oct 05, 2013 3:44 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:Well, Hideko is definitely one of the (hither-to) unsung treasures of that era.

Some of the other films of the era I am particularly fond of:

Morning's Tree-Lined Streets (1936)
Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro (1938)
Traveling Actors (1940)
A Fondly Remembered Face (1941)
The Song Lantern (1943)
Spring Awakens (1947)
Mr. Ishinaka's Report on (Rural) Conduct (1950) (esp. part 3)
Maihime (Dancing Princess) (1951)
From this group I especially like Traveling Actors, probably the most comedic of all of Naruse's films, which I enjoyed much more than I was expecting, and Spring Awakens (a film I checked out thanks to Michael's praise), which I love, especially the sequences toward the end that show the children on their own, without parental supervision.

While I'm not as big on The Song Lantern, it does feature one of Naruse's most visually impressive sequences: a young, arrogant Noh performer, who is banished after being found responsible for an elder’s suicide, trains the man’s daughter in the art of Noh dance deep in the forest. It’s a beautiful and haunting sequence that ranks with Naruse’s finest.

And it brings to mind a latter-day Naruse film which, like Spring Awakens, is centered around the lives of children: Autumn Has Already Started, which also contains one of the finest visual interludes that Naruse ever composed (I'd place it with the scene from The Song Lantern and the coda of Yearning): it features two kids conniving a family chauffeur to take them to the beach. This extended sequence when they first reach the ocean's shore, represented by an industrialized landscape, until their journey on foot leads them to an unspoiled stretch of beach is a masterful piece of filmmaking by Naruse and ranks (visually) with the sequences from Song Lantern and Yearning as my three favorite.

Of the others mentioned, I also quite liked Mr. Ishinaka (Mifune is especially good in his short) and Dancing Princess, though honestly I'd need to give that one a rewatch as it just didn't stick with me the way most Naruse films do.

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Re: Mikio Naruse

#486 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Oct 05, 2013 10:48 pm

The beach scene in Autumn Approaches (I think this was the consensus translation of the Japanese film scholars on the KineJapan Mailing list) is absolutely wonderful. Some other parts aren't quite as strong -- but the film definitely deserves far wider recognition.

I think that Traveling Actors and Spring Awakens are the two "slump" films I have shown off to the most people. Traveling Actors and Story of Floating Weeds would make a great double bill.

Addendum: "Tachinu" is apparently an old fashioned way of saying "NOT started" -- so "Aki tachinu" would be more like "autumn is not yet started" -- thus, less literally but more reasonably sounding "autumn approaches" or maybe better yet "autumn is coming". One finds the same usage of "-nu" in Shinozki's "Wasurerarenu hitobito", whose English name is "Not Forgotten" (but more literally "unforgettable people").

Additional addendum -- one of my Japanese students thinks this _does_ mean "autumn has started", but does agree this is a very old-fashioned word.

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#487 Post by Cinepal » Thu Jun 05, 2014 1:15 am

I'm constantly wondering when or if Criterion will ever release more films of Mikio Naruse. Did "When a Woman Ascends the Stairs" not sell well enough to warrant them? At least given the reputation of "Floating Clouds" among Japanese critics, they could release that. I honestly would love to see Criterion push out an Eclipse set of Naruse's later films like "Yearning", "Repast", etc. Those films deserve standalone releases, but I think it would be easy just to put them in an Eclipse set.

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#488 Post by Drucker » Thu Jun 05, 2014 6:59 am

There doesn't seem to be any indication that any Naruse release by MoC, BFI, or Criterion has sold particularly well. So I wouldn't expect much more, as nice as it would be.

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#489 Post by nickoberg » Thu Jun 05, 2014 2:32 pm

Cinepal wrote:I'm constantly wondering when or if Criterion will ever release more films of Mikio Naruse. Did "When a Woman Ascends the Stairs" not sell well enough to warrant them? At least given the reputation of "Floating Clouds" among Japanese critics, they could release that. I honestly would love to see Criterion push out an Eclipse set of Naruse's later films like "Yearning", "Repast", etc. Those films deserve standalone releases, but I think it would be easy just to put them in an Eclipse set.
i've been opening for a Yearning release for a while now, thought it was expected on this board a year or so ago. i really became a big fan of naruse, i felt like his stories were very strong!

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#490 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jun 05, 2014 5:40 pm

Criterion supposedly indicated (once upon a time) that it would release a box set (with nice supplements) covering the same films as BFI. Then the Moc and BFI sets came out -- and film fans stood in line not to buy them. So Criterion released only "When a Woman Scends the Stairs..." as a stand-alone. One can only assume that the sales did not convince Criterion that the US market was impatiently awaiting a chance to buy a full price Naruse box set.

It breaks my heart. But as much as I love Naruse, I don't see any reason for Criterion to release something that it knows is unlikely to sell. Why do English language fans not take to Naruse? I'd love to know.

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#491 Post by Cinephrenic » Thu Jun 05, 2014 6:35 pm

Remember Eclipse?

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#492 Post by Black Hat » Thu Jun 05, 2014 6:43 pm

Michael, I have yet to watch any Naruse but have enjoyed reading your writing about him as well as of course, Mizoguchi. Therefore I think it's best to ask you, why Naruse has sold poorly?

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#493 Post by jindianajonz » Thu Jun 05, 2014 7:13 pm

Cinephrenic wrote:Remember Eclipse?
I think the bigger question is "Does Criterion remember Eclipse?"

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#494 Post by Tommaso » Thu Jun 05, 2014 7:16 pm

Indeed, Michael would be the best person to explain the neglect of Naruse. My own thoughts as someone who didn't get Naruse at the beginning: there's at first sight none of the dynamism of Kurosawa, nor of the aestheticism of Mizoguchi, nor of the meditative teapot-style of Ozu. Instead his films and stories assemble somewhat 'indirectly' through a myriad of details to which you have to pay close attention in order to understand that the result is simply much more than those details.

I actually think that the films in the MoC set, which was the first to be released in the west, aren't the most ideal starting-point, even though they may be among his most perfect at a second or third viewing. I really only got into Naruse with the BFI set and more easily accessible films like " When a woman ascends the stairs" and especially "Floating clouds", but at that point it might have already been too late for many who perhaps couldn't see the greatness of the films in the MoC set at once. And I was one of them, for sure, only that I didn't give up so easily ;). Criterion's Eclipse release of some of his silent films was a complete and most welcome surprise, but these films weren't characteristic - or great enough - to win him a fan base, either. In this respect, I really wonder why nobody cared to release his 1935 "Wife, be like a rose" so far. That's one of his 'easiest' and most beloved films, and certainly the best introduction to the director.

With regard to further releases by any label in the west: I wonder whether some sort of crowd-funding/subscription scheme would be feasible. It seems to work fine in the musical world, so if there are really as many devoted Naruse admirers as seem to be here on this forum, perhaps some label would dare to take the risk if initial costs were covered this way?

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#495 Post by artfilmfan » Thu Jun 05, 2014 7:24 pm

Cinepal wrote:I'm constantly wondering when or if Criterion will ever release more films of Mikio Naruse. Did "When a Woman Ascends the Stairs" not sell well enough to warrant them? At least given the reputation of "Floating Clouds" among Japanese critics, they could release that...
I've been hoping that something special (such as film restoration) will be done next year to celebrate Naruse's 110th birthyear and that special something will include a Blu-ray release of a restored Floating Clouds (and next year will be the film's 60th anniversary).

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#496 Post by Gregory » Thu Jun 05, 2014 7:27 pm

Black Hat wrote:Michael, I have yet to watch any Naruse but have enjoyed reading your writing about him as well as of course, Mizoguchi. Therefore I think it's best to ask you, why Naruse has sold poorly?
What are you waiting for?

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#497 Post by Black Hat » Thu Jun 05, 2014 7:42 pm

Gregory: I laughed. My kevyip is home video quicksand, whenever I try to get into it, at the end I'm back stuck where I started. Hulu, fortunately, has fifteen of his films available.

Tomasso: In layman's terms I interpreted what you wrote as: a Naruse film to most is at worst boring, at best something you have to be in the mood for.

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#498 Post by Tommaso » Thu Jun 05, 2014 8:27 pm

No, a Naruse film is something that might defy your expectations, and you must simply look at it more closely. And your expectations are your problem, not Naruse's. He's not an 'obscure' or 'difficult' filmmaker.

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#499 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jun 05, 2014 8:30 pm

Cinephrenic wrote:Remember Eclipse?
Which is why I said "a full price box set".
I suspect that Criterion got the rights to these (wonderful) early Shochiku films for a song (compared to Toho's hefty charges for the later films) -- and it did nothing special (hiring some other MK to do the minimalist notes). I suspect had there been a surge of orders for this (VERY welcome) budget release, Criterion might have had reason to think that a few additional main line releases might be in order. However, I suspect that this lovely set sold just as poorly as every other English-language-world Naruse release.

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Re: Forthcoming Lists Discussion and Random Speculation Vol.

#500 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jun 05, 2014 8:44 pm

I suspect one problem with Naruse is the one that delayed my own real appreciation of his work for a couple of years after my first encounter. He is just enough like Ozu, to cause one to not really understand what his own unique attributes are. My initial reaction was -- Ozu makes better Ozu films than Naruse. Now, this is undeniably true -- but utterly beside the point. Naruse makes extraordinary Naruse films. As for me, it was Sound of the Mountain and Repast that made me a Naruse "believer". When a Woman, Floating Clouds, Mother, Late Chrysanthemums -- these had interested me, but not made me fall in love.

Another problem is Naruse's wicked, but utterly straight-faced sense of humor (sometimes rather bleak, but not always). Most Westerners seem to miss most of Ozu's comparatively blatant humor -- so Naruse's more covert humor completely misses detection.

I've seen around 69 Naruse films (I lose count) -- and would only rate a handful as arguably uninteresting. Then there are some interesting, partial failures. But there are easily 40 films that range from very good to outright masterpieces (and even some of those early silents fall in this category).

What does Naruse do very well? Non-verbal communication between characters, extremely atmospheric and interesting lighting, great scenes of people walking together. superb editing (fitting tiny pieces into fantastic mosaics). On a thematic level, showing people (usually women), who just don't give up.

His work, even more than Ozu, requires attention and concentration -- maybe almost as much as Hou or Kiarostami. And films that require a high level of attention generally just don't so all that well in the US market (unless they can generate a cult following).

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