Naruse in 1933
August 20, 1905|
|Died||July 2, 1969
|Occupation||Film director, writer
Mikio Naruse (成瀬 巳喜男 Naruse Mikio?, August 20, 1905 – July 2, 1969) was a Japanese filmmaker, screenwriter, and producer who directed some 89 films spanning the period 1930 (towards the end of the silent period in Japan) to 1967.
Naruse is known for imbuing his films with a bleak and pessimistic outlook. He made primarily shomin-geki (working-class drama) films with female protagonists, portrayed by actresses such as Hideko Takamine, Kinuyo Tanaka, and Setsuko Hara. Because of his focus on family drama and the intersection of traditional and modern Japanese culture, his films are frequently compared with the works of Yasujirō Ozu. His reputation is just behind Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Ozu in Japan and internationally; his work remains less well known outside Japan than theirs.
Mikio Naruse was born in Tokyo in 1905. For a number of years he worked at the Shochiku film company under Shiro Kido as a property manager and later as an assistant director. He was not permitted to direct a film at Shochiku until 1930, when he made his debut film, Mr. and Mrs. Swordplay (Chanbara fūfū).
Naruse's earliest extant work is Flunky, Work Hard (Koshiben gambare, also known as Little Man Do Your Best) from 1931, where he combined melodrama with slapstick, trying to meet the demands set by Shochiku's Kamata studio, who wanted a mix of laughter and tears. In 1933, he quit Shochiku, and began working for Photo-Chemical Laboratories (later known as Toho).
His first major film was Wife! Be Like a Rose! (1935) (Tsuma yo Bara no Yo ni). It won the Kinema Junpo, and was the first Japanese film to receive theatrical release in the United States (where it was not well received). The film concerns a young woman whose father deserted his family many years before for a geisha. As so often in Naruse's films, the portrait of the "other woman" is nuanced and sympathetic: It turns out, when the daughter visits her father in a remote mountain village, that the second wife is far more suitable for him than the first. The daughter brings her father back with her in order to smooth the way for her own marriage, but the reunion with the first wife – a melancholy poetess – is disastrous: They have nothing in common, and the father returns to wife number two.
In the war years, Naruse went through a slow breakup with his wife Sachiko Chiba (who had starred in Wife! Be Like a Rose!). Naruse himself claimed to have entered a period of severe depression as a result of this. In the postwar period he collaborated with others more often, less frequently writing his own scripts. Notable successes included Mother (1952) (Okasan), a realistic look at family life in the postwar period, which received theatrical distribution in France, and 1955's Floating Clouds (Ukigumo), a doomed love story based (like many of Naruse's films) on a novel by Fumiko Hayashi.
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) (Onna ga kaidan o agaru) tells the story of an aging bar hostess trying to adapt to modern times. Scattered Clouds (1967) (Miidaregumo) (a.k.a. Two in the Shadow) was his last film, and is regarded as one of his greatest works. A tale of impossible love between a widow and the driver who accidentally killed her husband, it was made two years before his death.
Naruse is known as particularly exemplifying the Japanese concept of mono no aware, the awareness of the transience of things, and a gentle sadness at their passing. Naruse was shy and few of his closest collaborators knew him well. Hideko Takamine, who starred in a dozen of his films remembered "[e]ven during the shooting of a picture, he would never say if anything was good, or bad, interesting or trite. He was a completely unresponsive director. I appeared in about 20 of his films, and yet there was never an instance in which he gave me any acting instructions."
Naruse's films contain simple screenplays, with minimal dialogue, unobtrusive camera work, and low-key production design. Earlier films employ a more experimental, expressionist style, but he is best known for the style of his later work: deliberately slow and leisurely, designed to magnify the everyday drama of ordinary Japanese people’s trials and tribulations, and leaving maximum scope for his actors to portray psychological nuances in every glance, gesture, and movement.
His protagonists were usually women and his studies of female experience spanned a wide range of social milieux, professions and situations. A number of such films were adaptations of a single novelist, Fumiko Hayashi, whose pessimistic outlook seemed to match his own. From her work he made films about unrequited passion (Floating Clouds 1955), unhappy families and stale marriages (Repast 1951, Wife 1953, Lightning 1952) and one about the struggle against material hardship and social oppression (Late Chrysanthemums 1945). 
Naruse filmed economically, using money- and time-saving techniques that other directors shunned, such as shooting each actor delivering his or her lines of dialogue separately, and then splicing them together into chronological order in post-production (this reduced the amount of film wasted with each retake, and allowed a dialogue scene to be filmed with a single camera). Perhaps unsurprisingly, money is itself a major theme in these films, possibly reflecting Naruse's own childhood experience of poverty: Naruse is an especially mordant observer of the financial struggles within the family (as in Ginza Cosmetics, 1951, where the female protagonist ends up supporting all her relatives by working in a bar, or A Wife's Heart, 1956, where a couple is swindled out of a bank loan by the in-laws).
|Filmography of Mikio Naruse|
|Year||Japanese Title||Rōmaji Title||English Title||Notes|
|Silent Films in the 1930s|
|1930||チャンバラ夫婦||Chambara fufu||Mr. and Mrs. Swordplay||Naruse's first film; Lost. Also entitled Intimate Love|
|不景気時代||Fukeiki jidai||Hard Times||Lost|
|愛は力だ||Ai ha chikara da||Love Is Strength||Lost|
|押切新婚記||Oshikiri shinkonki||A Record of Shamless Newlyweds||Lost|
|1931||ねえ興奮しちゃいやよ||Nee kofun shicha iya yo||Now Don't Get Excited||Lost|
|二階の悲鳴||Nikai no himei||Screams from the Second Floor||Lost|
|腰弁頑張れ||Koshiben gambare||Flunky, Work Hard!||Short film; Naruse's earliest surviving work|
|浮気は汽車に乗って||Uwaki wa kisha ni notte||Fickleness Gets on the Train||Lost|
|髭の力||Hige no chikara||The Strength of a Moustache||Lost|
|隣の屋根の下||Tonare no yani no shita||Under the Neighbours' Roof||Lost|
|1932||女は袂を御用心||Onna wa tamoto o goyojin||Ladies, Be Careful of Your Sleeves||Lost|
|青空に泣く||Aozora ni naku||Crying to the Blue Sky||Lost|
|偉くなれ||Eraku nare||Be Great!||Lost|
|チョコレートガール||Chokoreito garu||Chocolate Girl||Lost|
|生さぬ仲||Nasanu naka||No Blood Relation|
|菓子のある東京風景||Kashi no aru Tokyo no fûkei||The Scenery of Tokyo with Cake||Short advertisement film; Lost|
|蝕める春||Mushibameru haru||Moth-eaten Spring||Lost|
|1933||君と別れて||Kimi to wakarete||Apart From You|
|夜ごとの夢||Yogoto no yume||Every-Night Dreams|
|僕の丸髷||Boku no marumage||A Married Woman's Hairstyle||Lost|
|謹賀新年||Kingashinnen||Happy New Year!||Lost|
|1934||限りなき舗道||Kagirinaki hodo||Street Without End||Naruse's final silent film|
|Sound films in the 1930s|
|1935||乙女ごころ三人姉妹||Otome-gokoro - Sannin-shimai||Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts|
|女優と詩人||Joyu to shijin||The Actress and the Poet|
|妻よ薔薇のやうに||Tsuma yo bara no yo ni||Wife! Be Like a Rose!||Also entitled Kimiko|
|サーカス五人組||Saakasu goningumi||Five Men in the Circus|
|噂の娘||Uwase no musume||The Girl in the Rumor|
|1936||桃中軒雲右衛門||Tochuken Kumoemon||Man of the House||Biopic of Tochuken Kumoemon|
|君と行く路||Kimi to yuku michi||The Road I Travel with You|
|朝の並木路||Asa no namikimichi||Morning's Tree-Lined Street|
|1937||女人哀愁||Nyonin aishu||A Woman's Sorrows|
|禍福 前篇||Kafuku zempen||Learn from Experience, Part I|
|禍福 後篇||Kafuku kôhen||Learn from Experience, Part II|
|1938||鶴八鶴次郎||Tsuruhachi Tsurujiro||Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro|
|1939||はたらく一家||Hatarakku ikka||The Whole Family Works|
|Films in the 1940s|
|1940||旅役者||Tabi yakusha||Travelling Actors|
|1941||なつかしの顔||Natsukashi no kao||A Face from the Past|
|上海の月||Shanhai no tsuki||Shanghai Moon||Incomplete footage survives|
|秀子の車掌さん||Hideki no Shasho-San||Hideko the Bus Conductor|
|1942||母は死なず||Haha wa shinazu||Mother Never Dies|
|1943||歌行燈||Uta andon||The Song Lantern|
|1944||楽しき哉人生||Tanoshiki kana jinsei||This Happy Life|
|芝居道||Shibaido||The Way of Drama|
|1945||勝利の日まで||Shori no hi made||Until Victory Day||Lost|
|三十三間堂通し矢物語||Sanjusangendo toshiya monogatari||A Tale of Archery at the Sanjusangendo|
|1946||浦島太郎の後裔||Urashima Taro no koei||The Descendents of Taro Urashima|
|俺もお前も||Ore mo omae mo||Both You and I|
|1947||別れも愉し||Wakare mo tanoshi||Even Parting is Enjoyable||Part of anthology film, Yottsu no kai no monogatari (四つの恋の物語, Four Love Stories)|
|春のめざめ||Haru no mezame||Spring Awakens|
|1949||不良少女||Furyo shojo||The Delinquent Girl||Lost|
|Films in the 1950s|
|1950||石中先生行状記||Ishinaka Sensei gyojoki||Conduct Report on Professor Ishinaka|
|怒りの街||Ikari no machi||Angry Street|
|白い野獣||Shiroi yaju||White Beast|
|薔薇合戦||Bara kassen||Battle of Roses|
|1951||銀座化粧||Ginza gesho||Ginza Cosmetics|
|1952||お国と五平||Okuni to Gohei||Okuni and Gohei|
|1953||夫婦||Fufu||Husband and Wife|
|あにいもうと||Ani Imoto||Older Brother, Younger Sister|
|1954||山の音||Yama no oto||Sound of the Mountain||Also entitled The Thunder of the Mountain|
|くちづけ||Kuchizuke||The Kiss||Part of anthology film, Onna Doshi (Women's Ways)|
|妻の心||Tsuma no kokoro||A Wife's Heart|
|鰯雲||Iwashigumo||Herringbone Clouds||Color film|
|1959||コタンの口笛||Kotan no kuchibue||Whistling in Kotan||Color film; also entitled Whistle in My Heart|
|Films in the 1960s|
|1960||女が階段を上る時||Onna ga kaidan o agaru toki||When a Woman Ascends the Stairs|
|娘・妻・母||Musume tsuma haha||A Daughter, a Wife, and a Mother||Color film|
|夜の流れ||Yoru no nagare||Evening Stream||Color film; co-directed with Yuzo Kawashima.|
|秋立ちぬ||Aki tachinu||Approach of Autumn||Also entitled Autumn Has Already Started|
|1961||妻として女として||Tsuma toshite onna toshite||As a Wife, As a Woman||Color film|
|1962||女の座||Onna no za||A Woman's Place||Also entitled The Wiser Age|
|放浪記||Horoki||A Wanderer's Notebook||Also entitled Her Lonely Lane|
|1963||女の歴史||Onna no rekishi||A Woman's Life|
|1966||女の中にいる他人||Onna no naka ni iru tanin||The Stranger Within a Woman||Also entitled The Thin Line|
|ひき逃げ||Hikinige||Hit and Run||Also entitled Moment of Terror|
|1967||乱れ雲||Midaregumo||Scattered Clouds||Color film; also entitled Two in the Shadow. Naruse's final film.|
DVD releases (English subtitled)
- Flunky, Work Hard (Koshiben ganbare, 1931) (The Criterion Collection, region 1 NTSC)
- No Blood Relation (Nasanu naka, 1932) (The Criterion Collection, region 1 NTSC)
- Apart From You (Kimi to Wakarete, 1933) (The Criterion Collection, region 1 NTSC)
- Every-Night Dreams (Yogoto no yume, 1933) (The Criterion Collection, region 1 NTSC)
- Street Without End (Kagirinaki hodo, 1934) (The Criterion Collection, region 1 NTSC)
- Repast (Meshi, 1951) (Eureka! Masters of Cinema, region 2 NTSC)
- Sound of the Mountain (Yama no oto, 1954) (Eureka! Masters of Cinema, region 2 NTSC)
- Late Chrysanthemums (Bangiku, 1954) (BFI, region 2 PAL)
- Floating Clouds (Ukigumo, 1955) (BFI, region 2 PAL)
- Flowing (Nagareru, 1956) (Eureka! Masters of Cinema, region 2 NTSC)
- When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga kaidan o agaru toki, 1960) (BFI, region 2 PAL; The Criterion Collection, region 1 NTSC)
- Catherine Russell The Cinema of Naruse Mikio, 2008, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, p1
- Film Notes (Pacific Film Archive, University of California, Berkeley). January/February 2006.
- "' A dose of reality'". The Independent. 29 June 2007.
- Toh Hai Leong. "Rediscovering an Asian master". FilmsAsia.
- Jacoby, Alexander (2008). A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press. pp. 268–273. ISBN 978-1-933330-53-252295 Check
- The Cinema of Naruse Mikio: Women and Japanese Modernity By Catherine Russell, page 236
- Bock, Audie. Japanese Film Directors. Kodansha America, 1985 (reprint). ISBN 0-87011-714-9.
- Bock, Audie. Naruse: A Master of the Japanese Cinema (monograph). Japan Society Gallery, December 1985. ISBN 0-86559-067-2.
- Russell, Catherine (2005). "Naruse Mikio's Silent Films: Gender and the Discourse of Everyday Life in Interwar Japan". Camera Obscura 60: New Women of the Silent Screen: China, Japan, Hollywood. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. pp. 57–90. ISBN 0-8223-6624-X.
- Mikio Naruse at the Internet Movie Database
- Senses of Cinema: Great Directors Critical Database
- The materialist ethic of Mikio Naruse
- Strictly Film School reviews
- Slant Magazine: Feature on Mikio Naruse by Keith Uhlich
- "The great Japanese director you’ve never heard of" By N.P. Thompson for Northwest Asian Weekly.
- Mikio Naruse at the Japanese Movie Database (Japanese)
- Flowing: The Films of Mikio Naruse at Not Coming to a Theater Near You
- Notebook Roundtable: Talking Silent Naruse
- Criterion Collection Essay