(director: Mikio Naruse; screenwriters: from the novel by Yasunari Kawabata/Yôko Mizuki; cinematographer: Masao Tamai; editor: Eiji Ooi; music: Ichir Sait; cast: Setsuko Hara (Kikuko), S Yamamura (Ogata Shingo), Ken Uehara (Shuichi), Hisao Toake (Shingo no yuujin), Nagaoika Taruko (Yasuko), Chieko Nakakita (Fusako), Yko Sugi (Miss Tanizaki), Rieko Sumi (Kinuko), Teruko Nagaoka (Yasuko), Yatsuko Tan’ami (Ikeda, Kinuko’s roommate); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sanezumi Fujimoto; Criterion Collection; 1954-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)-in b/w

“Makes some keen observations about the changing role of the Japanese women in the post-war society, as seen through the eyes of a sympathetic male.”

Reviewed  by Dennis Schwartz

The noted Japanese director Mikio Naruse’s (“ Late Chrysanthemums”/”Floating Clouds”) personal favorite. Naruse compares well as a filmmaker with the austere Ozu, arguably Japan’s greatest filmmaker. The sobering script is taken from the novel (winner of the 1968 Nobel Prize for Literature) by Yasunari Kawabata, and is superbly written by the female Yôko Mizuki. It tells the story of the lives of ordinary folks during contemporary times, and of those who face such a daunting problem as a loveless marriage. It particularly makes some keen observations about the changing role of the Japanese women in the post-war society, as seen through the eyes of a sympathetic male.

The wealthy elderly businessman Ogata (S Yamamura) is forced to watch with pity the failed marriage between his abusive, unfaithful and alcoholic son Shuichi (Ken Uehara) and his tender wife Kikuko (Setsuko Hara), someone he has made so sad. The couple live in the same house with the husband’s unaware, obese and selfish mother (Teruko Nagaoka) and observant father. The warm relationship between Kikuko and her father-in-law gives the frustrated wife some hope to live, but not enough that she doesn’t realize her indifferent hubby, someone she long ago rejected, has a dressmaker mistress (Rieko Sumi), and that she despises him so much she aborts their expected child. Ironically the mistress also breaks up with him refuses to abort her pregnancy. In the end, Kikuko files for a divorce and learns from a walk in the park that the father-in-law will move from Tokyo to his hometown of Shinshu to live there the rest of his life and she will face an unknown future with uncertainty while alone. What she learned from her walk in the park is about vistas and that there’s an openness in life (like in the park) that gives one hope even to those who are downcast.

Kikuko’s father-in-law also must contend with the troubled marriage of his insecure and whiny daughter Fusako (Chieko Nakakita) and that her bad marriage affects her two toddlers. The plain-looking Fusako frets that dad cares more for the pretty Kikuko than she does for her.

The father-in-law and Kikuko periodically take long walks around the neighborhood’s tree-lined streets and in their light banter feed off the strong feelings they both have for the other, which is about as far as their potential love relation seems to go.

REVIEWED ON 4/24/2017       GRADE: A-