Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Late Chrysanthemums

Mikio Naruse's examination of the lives of three idling, constantly complaining, single ex-geishas in post-war Japan is a marvellous character piece. What is the life of a Geisha like once her beauty has faded and she has retired? Okin has saved her money, and has become a wealthy money-lender, spending her days cold-heartedly collecting debts. Even her best friends, Tomi  and Tamae, who were her fellow Geisha, are now indebted to her. For all of them, the glamor of their young lives has passed; Tomi and Tamae have children, but their children have disappointed them. Okin has two former lovers who still pursue her; one she wants to see, and the other she doesn't. But even the one she remembers fondly, when he shows up, proves to be a disappointment. 

LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS from 1954 is rather slow-moving and not much actually happens but Naruse creates this mood where we identify with each of his characters and the Japanese life of the time - all those sliding doors! - is nicely depicted. I have not seen any other films by Naruse or much Japanese cinema apart from the Kurosawa and Ozu classics. I love TOKYO STORY of course and Ozu's fellow classics like LATE SPRING and EARLY SUMMER (featuring the great Setsuko Hara as Noriko) and his earlier THERE WAS A FATHER and THE ONLY SON and his final, AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON. Naruse was equally prolific with 91 titles, the best known seem to be FLOATING CLOUDS and WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS - so, more Naruse to explore, then there is Mizoguchi ...

 As in Ozu's TOKYO STORY, sadness and nostalgia permeate LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS particularly when Tomi and Tamae are getting drunk and reflecting on their children busy with their own lives, while Okin comforts herself with her home and deaf-mute maid. Everyone it seems wants to borrow money from her ... Haruko Sugimura (also in TOKYO STORY as the thankless daughter) is marvellous as Okin. All the characters accept the stoic acceptance of life and their circumstances. Okin has her money and the others have their memories and companionship to keep them going. The men meanwhile, particularly, Okin's two previous lovers are desperate for money ... 

The Monroe Walk ! 
One fascinating moment has the two ex-geishas walking along when a modern Japanese girl strolls by swaying her hips.Tamae asks "Is that the Monroe walk?" as Tomi imitates it. It made me realise that here in 1954 Monroe was already a worldwide sensation since 1953 and her tour to Korea. 

My friend Martin sums it up pefectly:
Unlike those of his contemporaries, Mizoguchi, Ozu and Kurosawa, the films of Mikio Naruse are mostly unknown in the West and yet they are just as relevant and just as powerful. The "Late Chrysantehmums" of this extraordinary film are four ageing former geisha's with money problems and this is one of the most insightful of films dealing with the role of women in post-war Japanese society and not just the women at the centre who once sold their bodies but who now have nothing to barter but also the daughter of one of them who is prepared to marry an older man for financial security. Money is at the basis of everything that happens in the film and it taints the lives of all the characters. It is superbly played, particularly by those great Japanese actresses Haruko Sugimura as the moneylender Okin and Chikako Hosokawa as the drunken Otamae. Like Naruse, these two actresses never really 'crossed over' to the West and yet their work in Japanese cinema is as fine as any to have graced international cinema while this is a film on a subject that, in hindsight, would never have been tackled in Western cinema at this time. Of course that, in itself, does not make it a masterpiece but a masterpiece it is, nevertheless. It is one of the greatest of all films on the disappointments that life throws at us. A bit like THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE (below) then ....

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