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Scattered Clouds: The Films of Nikio Naruse (January 12 — February 18, 2006)
A 31-film retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive Theater
Pacific Film Archive is proud to present a 31-film retrospective of films by Mikio Naruse (1905-1969). Described by J. Hoberman in the Village Voice as "Ozu and Mizoguchi's brilliant peer," Naruse is far less known in this country than those two of his contemporaries. But the wonderful films in this series—some of which have been favorites at Pacific Film Archive, others that have never been shown here—will allow viewers a splendid opportunity to savor the talents of this superb director. Film historian Audie Bock, who has championed Naruse for decades, wrote recently in Artforum that Naruse's "films celebrate, without extravagance, the lives of ordinary people struggling for something better than the hand fate has dealt them. Performed with quiet certainty by superb actors, shot and edited with a sure and relentless hand, they raise the ordinary and even the sordid to a quality near sublime."
"Scattered Clouds: The Films of Mikio Naruse" is a touring series organized by James Quandt of Cinematheque Ontario. It includes 22 new 35mm prints struck by The Japan Foundation, and is presented at PFA with support from Owsley Brown III and the Packard Humanities Institute. Screenings will be held at the PFA Theater, located at 2575 Bancroft Way near Bowditch Street, on the southern edge of the UC Berkeley campus. General admission is $8 for one film, and $12 for double bills. Tickets are available evenings at the PFA Box Office after January 12; 11 am to 5 pm at the Berkeley Art Museum admissions desk, 2626 Bancroft Way after January 11; or by telephoning (510) 642-5249. For additional program or ticket information, please phone (510) 642-1412.
Naruse was born to impoverished parents, both of whom died when he was young. He began his film career in 1920 as a props assistant at Shochiku and, through the intercession of director Heinosuke Gosho, began directing films in 1930, creating 22 silent films over the next four years. In 1934, he moved to the new PCL studio (which three years later became Toho), and won commercial and critical success as a master of shomin-geki, or films about lower middle-class life. His eminence within this genre lay, according to author and critic Donald Richie, in his ability to create "richly detailed, meticulously honest home dramas" that reflect "a profound respect for life and a transparent honesty in picturing it." In 37 years of directing, he made an astonishing 87 films, often centered on characters constrained by finances, families, failing marriages, impossible or ill-timed romances, and aging.
Naruse was known for his sympathetic portrayals of women's sacrifices and struggles. He based six of his films (Repast, Lightning, Wife, Late Chrysanthemums, Floating Clouds, and Her Lonely Lane) on works by author Fumiko Hayashi. The brilliant Japanese stars Hideko Takamine, Kinoyu Tanaka, and Setsuko Hara deliver moving performances that validate Naruse's reputation as a great director of actresses. Takamine stars in nine films in this retrospective, beginning with Hideko the Bus Conductress, from 1941, and continuing through such classics as Wife; Flowing; Floating Clouds; A Wife's Heart; Her Lonely Lane; Yearning; Daughters, Wives, and a Mother; and the magnificent When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. Tanaka, who starred in a number of films directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, can be seen in Ginza Cosmetics, A Tale of Archers at the Sanjusangendo, Mother, Flowing, and Her Lonely Lane; and Hara, known to many for her roles in Yasujiro Ozu films, appears in Repast, Sound of the Mountain, Sudden Rain, and Daughters, Wives, and a Mother.
Chris Fujiwara, writing in the Boston Phoenix, points to the revelations and rediscoveries to be found in this series: "Seen today," Naruse's films are "as fresh and modern as if they had just been made. . . . Naruse is not a contemporary, he's still ahead."
A series schedule with short film descriptions follows. For complete program notes, see http://bampfa.berkeley.edu .
Schedule of screenings at PFA Theater
Thursday, January 12
7:00 pm: Nightly Dreams (1933)
Bruce Loeb on Piano. Naruse's early melodrama of a woman abandoned is a virtuoso display of camerawork and startling montage. With Flunky, Work Hard! (1931), a lower-middle-class comedy that veers abruptly into tragedy.
9:00 pm: Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro (1938)
Naruse brings emotion and wit to the story of the relationship between a samisen player and a ballad singer during the Meiji era. "A musical treat."—NFT, London
Saturday, January 14
7:00 pm: Street Without End (1934)
Judith Rosenberg on Piano. With its sharp class awareness, feminist concerns, and richness of melodramatic incident, this silent saga about the loves of a waitress is classic Naruse.
9:15 pm: The Whole Family Works (1939)
Naruse's quiet drama of a family's struggle to make ends meet during the Depression and the war with China, whose social costs are never mentioned but keenly felt.
Sunday, January 15
5:30 pm: Not Blood Relations (1932)
Judith Rosenberg on Piano. With a script by Kogo Noda, writer of many Ozu films, this is a compassionate and psychologically acute portrait of a woman trying to win back the daughter she gave up for adoption long ago.
7:25 pm: Traveling Actors (1940)
This atypically comic outing for Naruse follows an itinerant kabuki troupe, focusing on a pair of actors who play the two halves of a horse—until a real animal is hired for the part.
Thursday, January 19
7:00 pm: Hideko the Bus Conductress (1941)
Hideko Takamine stars as the teenage ticket-taker for a bus line that has seen better days in this charming comedy, the first of her 17 films with Naruse.
8:15 pm: Ginza Cosmetics (1951)
"Not to be missed. Kinuyo Tanaka, best known for her roles in the films of Mizoguchi, is sensational in this portrait of a Ginza bar hostess."—Cinematheque Ontario
Saturday, January 21
7:00 The Song Lantern (1943)
A harsh tale set in the world of Noh theater, this film has chiaroscuro cinematography that would make von Sternberg envious.
8:55 pm: A Tale of Archers at the Sanjusangendo (1945)
Filmed during the final months of WWII, this Edo-period drama departs from Naruse's usual contemporary themes to portray the son of a great archer determined to become a champion bowman.
Sunday, January 22
5:30 pm: Repast (1951)
Naruse's first adaptation of a Fumiko Hayashi novel eloquently portrays a crumbling marriage. Setsuko Hara stars.
7:25 pm: Mother (1952)
Naruse takes a complex, astringent approach to sentimental material for this story of a widow (Kinuyo Tanaka) struggling to maintain the family business.
Thursday, January 26
7:30 pm: Lightning (1952)
Adapted from a Fumiko Hayashi novel, and starring Naruse's favorite actress, Hideko Takamine, as a pawn in her relatives' various schemes, this major work illuminates one of the director's key themes: entrapment within the family system. "A superbly wistful rendering of Hayashi's lowlife characters to the screen."—Audie Bock
Saturday, January 28
7:00 pm: Husband and Wife (1953)
This sequel to Repast centers on the domestic troubles of a young couple forced to share a flat with an eccentric friend. As always, Naruse depicts lower-middle-class life with impressive frankness and psychological insight.
8:45 pm: Wife (1953)
Another affecting look at the everyday irritations of marriage, but with an atypical twist for Naruse—this time, the husband is the more sympathetic character.
Sunday, January 29
4:30 pm: Older Brother, Younger Sister (1953)
Extraordinary performances by Machiko Kyo and Masayuki Mori in a "tense study of suppressed emotions and rivalries . . . Abandoning his characteristic restraint, Naruse creates a melodrama of harrowing intensity."—Film Center, Chicago
6:15 pm: Late Chrysanthemums (1954)
A compelling character study of four aging geishas contemplating their troubles with men and money. "A gem. . . . With delicate, unobtrusive strokes, Naruse evokes both the humor and bitterness in his characters' dilemmas."—S.F. Chronicle
Thursday, February 2
7:30 Sound of the Mountain (1954)
Mistreated wife Setsuko Hara forges a close and complex relationship with father-in-law So Yamamura in Naruse's adaptation of the famous Kawabata novel. "Exquisite."—Boston Phoenix
Saturday, February 4
7:00 pm: Flowing (1956)
It's hard to find a more impressive trio of actresses than Hideko Takamine, Kinuyo Tanaka, and Isuzu Yamada. Naruse's tale of geishas in decline is "a tangle of subtle relationships. . . . Quietly brilliant filmmaking."—Village Voice
9:15 pm: Floating Clouds (1955)
This epic story of wartime lovers separated by a wretched peace is a richly evocative portrait of postwar Tokyo and an endlessly fascinating character study. Revered in Japan as the ultimate masterpiece of the director's career, and a high point for star Hideko Takamine.
Sunday, February 5
4:30 pm: Sudden Rain (1956)
Everyday life of a marriage: "A masterpiece in miniature. . . . Naruse's complex touches are brilliant."—IFC News
6:20 pm: A Wife's Heart (1956)
Money and family are persistent Naruse themes, here revolving around Hideko Takamine as a young wife.
Thursday, February 9
7:30 pm: Summer Clouds (1958)
The country makes an unusual setting for Naruse, known for his city films, and the lyrical, open-air feeling of this color, 'Scope film almost hides the defeat that permeates the story of a woman trying to be independent of her traditional farming family. Chikage Awashima, better known for her Ozu roles, stars.
Saturday, February 11
7:00 pm: Anzukko (1958)
So Yamamura shines as the kindly father of a young woman trapped in a disastrous marriage.
9:10 pm: When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)
Essential Naruse. "An elegant essay in black-and-white CinemaScope and tinkling cocktail jazz, this tale of a bar hostess's attempt to escape her lot could give heartbreak lessons to Fassbinder and Sirk."—Village Voice
Sunday, February 12
4:30 pm: The Approach of Autumn (1960)
A young widow and her shy sixth-grader relocate to Tokyo. "A rare and masterful focus on children for Naruse."—Film Forum
6:10 pm: Daughters, Wives, and a Mother (1960)
A stellar cast in a saga of a comfortable suburban family's unraveling after the family home is mortgaged.
Thursday, February 16
7:30 Her Lonely Lane (1962)
A revealing biopic, based on the journals of Fumiko Hayashi, the writer Naruse most frequently adapted, and starring his favorite actress Hideko Takamine, who gives an "amazingly detailed, unglamorized portrait of the writer . . . imbued with a strong passion for life and writing."—NFT, London
Saturday, February 18
7:00 pm: Yearning (1964)
A war widow keeps the family store and her heart in check long after she should have remarried. "Whatever else it is—a critique of the economics of the family, among other things—Yearning is also a poem on the beauty of Hideko Takamine, in the next-to-last of the 17 films she did with Naruse."—Boston Phoenix
9:00 pm: Scattered Clouds (1967)
In Naruse's last film, made when he already knew he was dying, "a woman recently widowed finds herself forced from all sides to embark on a new relationship before she's emotionally ready—a fateful mishap of timing . . ."—Boston Phoenix