Withering devotion

Roger Macy macyroger
Mon Aug 6 14:04:50 EDT 2007

This posting will only interest Naruse devotees.

It's just to put on the record my letter to the Independent (a London newspaper) 
, published today, and a previous reader's review of Naruse's 'Late Chrysanthemums' which would not otherwise get on the internet.
Sir: I'm pleased that your contributor, Paul Crichton (Reader Review, 25 July), enjoyed Naruse's Late Chrysanthemums at the BFI, where this month's Naruse season has been regularly selling out to a devoted audience. But the still photo shown could not be from this film. The backstage kabuki scene places the picture in Mizoguchi's Story of Late Chrysanthemums (1939).



The letter got the heading :-
Withering response
Withering?  When I wrote this a fortnight ago, it felt like a shameless excuse for a plug.  But this came out of the stable that produced the caption to the Mizoguchi still: 'Fragrant: 'Late Chrysanthemums'.  If they want withering, I can do ....   Ah, that would be it.   It's been passing on the same route as a previous letter about the 'wrong palace' photo, when I wrote 
'After the vivid account by David NcNeill of the treatment afforded him ... when standing on the wrong part of the carpet at Tokyo imperial palace, your sub-editor might have taken more care  to publish a picture of the right palace.  .., consideration of the six visible flags of the People's Republic and the portrait of chairman Mao might have prevented this tragically necessary disembowelling.'
The published letter likened it to crediting a home Celtic victory in Ibrox Park, as I recall, but that would need its own cultural explanation.

Anyway, if Paul Crichton is on this forum, my respect - I wouldn't dream of withering your review, and am happy to give it a life, below.  (The format is limited to 500 words, but manages to glance at Alex's 'Mekake' question, yesterday.  The writer is required to give a star rating out of five.)



BFI Southbank


Late Chrysanthemums (1954) is part of a current season of films at the BFI by the Japanese director Mikio Naruse (1905-1969), who charts meticulously, and movingly, the details of everyday life and the emotional eddies and undertows beneath its formal surface. His principal tools are psychological intelligence and a passion for telling the truth.

The film shows how three former geishas try to face up to ageing and loss. Tamae and Tomi are left alone when their grown up children move out. A daughter leaves to get married. A son starts a relationship with an older woman, who pays him generously for his attentions (he be comes, interestingly, a sort of male geisha). He then leaves her, and his mother, to take up a job as a miner on the northern island of Hokkaido. Tamae and Tomi, the abandonded mothers, console each other in a lengthy drinking session with a considerable amount of sake and expressed emotion.

The third geisha, the glacial Kin, does not do sympathy and affection, except when an old lover, Tabe, turns up. He gets very drunk and eventually admits that he has come only to try to borrow money from her, before then keeling over on her tatami mat. This experience seems to destroy any residual positive feelings Kin may have had for her fellow human beings. She pursues her money-lending business even more relentlessly and pitilessly than before.

Like a slow thunderstorm, the film becomes increasingly charged with intensity and power, especially in its final scenes. Kin burns the photo she has kept for many years of her lover as a young man in uniform. When the son is saying farewell to his mother at the railway station, she makes implausible demands of him. "Write to me, but don't expect me to write back" and "If you hear that there's something wrong with me, stay away". When she says she might die without him, he parries by pointing out how tough she is. The two mothers watch his train pull out of the station from a railway bridge. When a fashionable young woman promenades past them, one of the mothers makes fun of her by doing her own version of Marilyn Monroe's bottom-swinging gait. The last scene shows Kin and her business partner descending a staircase and setting off to look at some land they might buy.

There is a determination to confront the facts, however much anguish this might involve, and there is resilience, humour and pride, as well as disappointment in these women, who find ways of surviving in a male-dominated world.

Paul Crichton



The Independent Reader Review  25 July 07

[Ends]  This reminds me I have my own Naruse question, which I'll post separately.
Roger Macy
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