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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superb and thought-provoking, 29 Dec 2010
By 
WSH (NSW Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mikio Naruse Collection [1955] [DVD] (DVD)
This set contains three films of the first order, by any standards. The settings are early post-war Japan, but the themes are universal. A truly great actress, Takamine Hideko, appears in two of the films, "When A Woman Ascends The Stairs" (about a bar madam trying to chart a life for herself as she gets older) and "Floating Clouds", an adaptation of the Hayashi Fumiko novel of the same name (about the relationship between a man and a woman, begun in occupied Indo-China during the war and carried on into occupied Japan). "Floating Clouds" is possibly the best of this great trio from Naruse's creative peak in the mid-1950s.

The DVDs include, as extras, a useful interview with a former assistant to Naruse, as well as a couple of Western critics giving their takes on the films. You may agree or disagree with what they have to say, but their comments can be useful for stimulating a discussion. (Unfortunately, they sometimes show a poor understanding of who is who and what is what; for example, when the male lead in "Floating Clouds" is mistakenly described as having been a wartime military officer - in fact, he was a government bureaucrat.) The quality of the reproductions is good, on the whole, although the prints from which the transfers were made have not been restored and show some wear and tear. This, however, is not a major detraction.

These are films about relationships. The dynamics that attract and repel the various characters are subtly and authentically held in control by the director; the viewer is intrigued, sometimes puzzled, but never trifled with or bamboozled. There are clues laid carefully to enable an understanding, without ever forcing one. The directorial presence is completely unobtrusive. The cinematography and editing are also superb.

Immerse yourself and be provoked. There are not many better DVD sets out there.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent BFI Naruse Box Set, 12 Oct 2009
By 
HJ (London UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Mikio Naruse Collection [1955] [DVD] (DVD)
WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS (1960) a Ginza bar hostess has to decide whether to open her own club, get a rich patron, become a mistress/prostitute or get married.
FLOATING CLOUDS (1955) a couple enjoy a romantic affair in indo-china during the war but return to defeated Japan & struggle to maintain their lives & love amid the economic & psychological devastation.
LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS (1954) a group of ex-Geisha argue about children, men, memories and, most of all, money.
This BFI box set follows the Masters of Cinema Naruse box set - it has an almost identical format: 3 films on 3 discs with booklet, filmed introductions, commentaries etc. Although the prints are not always in the best condition they are all watchable & generally the BFI have done an excellent job here.
Naruse is a baffling director - he is basically working in the genre of over the top histrionic melodrama yet his films also contain extraordinary subtlety and unflinching realism. These apparent contradictions are somehow made to work together beautifully in "When a Woman Ascends the Stairs" - probably the best Naruse film to begin with because of its very sophisticated direction & acting plus appealing modernist scope cinematography (& jazzy soundtrack). "Floating Clouds" is a moving melodrama but also has a brilliantly achieved complex narrative structure and radical psychological insights. "Late Chrysanthemums" might be Naruse's purest effort in that he manages to empty the film of almost all melodrama & plot, leaving just the cynical (but often very funny) interactions between a group of middle-aged women.
Watching these films you start to notice how Naruse creates a flowing "transparent" style out of short scenes & acute editing and how he choreographs his incredible actresses - for example how he can arrange the glances and gazes of several characters in a scene at any given moment. You also get a sense that his main theme is the ageing process & that he is not actually judging any of the characters - everyone is emotionally damaged & everyone has their "secret" reasons for behaving the way they do. He captures the everyday surface of life yet reveals the extreme depths that lie beneath.
Naruse may initially be an acquired taste, but it's worth it - at his best he makes almost all other directors seem affected, slow-witted & light-weight.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NARUSE, Mikio MASTER CINEMA DIRECTOR, 31 Jan 2013
By 
William Britton (San Gabriel, Ca. USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Mikio Naruse Collection [1955] [DVD] (DVD)
Mikio Naruse Collection [1955] [DVD]
From my American point of view Naruse is definitely what is called a "one-of-a-kind" film maker.
You can distinguish his films in a moment from any other Japanese film maker. He has a pessimistic understanding of life, but portrays it in an incisive "close to the bone" manner.

I live in California, near several large Universities -- and so was able to see a "retrospective" of Naruse's most important films -- but that was almost 30 years ago. The poster for the series showing Takamine going up those stairs in When A Woman Ascends the Stairs is framed and mounted on my wall.

BUT until this set was discovered by me -- I only had my memory to go on. Now I can watch When a Women, or Floating Clouds or Late Chrysanthemums whenever I want! Isn't "modern" life wonderful!

You do not need to be particularly interested in Japanese film to appreciate the wonders of these masterpieces. We will never be seeing ANY films with the so-so tenderness of his trapped people.
And they do seem to be people, not actors in a film. They have a life of their own given to them by the master, NARUSE, Mikio.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most probably the best Japanese director ever,,,, 14 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Mikio Naruse Collection [1955] [DVD] (DVD)
Naruse is lesser known in the West than Mizoguchi, Kurosawa & Ozu however his style is so unique that when you fall in love with this style you cannot get enough of his movies. Next to the OOP Naruse MoC 3DVD box and the sheer beautiful book The Cinema of Naruse Mikio: Women and Japanese Modernity true killer must haves for every Japanophile. Highest possible recommendation.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Understated, But Hard-hitting, 8 May 2014
By 
Keith M - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Mikio Naruse Collection [1955] [DVD] (DVD)
This is a review of Late Chrysanthemums only.

This 1954 film by enigmatic Japanese film-maker Mikio Naruse is a perceptive (and culturally enlightening) study of four ex-Geishas in post WW2 Japan and is based on three short stories by female author Fumiko Hayashi (a regular source of material for Naruse). Shot in simple, minimalist style by cinematographer Masao Tamai, and reminiscent of the films of Ozu, Late Chrysanthemums is an intimate study of ageing, parenthood and (perhaps surprisingly) capitalism and, despite being quite narrative-light (taking the form of a series of relatively low-key encounters between the four protagonists) is deceptively hard-hitting. Indeed, I did wonder, given the film's (predominant) focus on issues such as loneliness, amorality, deception and all things mercenary, whether (had it been a `Hollywood production') it would have made it past the more puritanical `western' censors of the period.

Certainly, Naruse can have been in no doubt that his central 'anti-heroine' (Ozu-regular), Haruko Sugimura's moneylender and cynic (when it comes to all things 'romantic'), Kin, would not exactly endear herself to audiences, and even her (now resentful and less financially astute) ex-Geisha 'colleagues', Yuuko Mochizuki's flighty Tomi and Chikako Hosokawa's more reserved Tamae, have their own shortcomings (parental failings, gambling, drunkenness, etc). Indeed, the film's focus on materialism ('Money is everything') and cynicism lends it something of the feel of Dickens or Zola. Another major theme here is that of the generation gap and, more generally, social reinvention (following the war years) as Tomi's daughter and Tamae's son (notably dressed in 'modern attire', unlike their parents) declare their intentions to quit the family nest - although, again, these are 'single mother' families, fathers being notably absent. Men are talked about here predominantly as ex-Geisha clients and 'patrons' that might support (predominantly financially) Naruse's ageing women ('It's too late for a child').

Naruse, despite having a reputation as being 'actor-unfriendly', coaxes some fine performances from his cast. Sugimura is particularly good as the cold-hearted capitalist, who (apparently) has no time for nostalgia, particularly involving previous lovers, whether it be an ex-beau with whom she had a failed suicide pact or a more-favoured ex-patron. Similarly, Mochizuki is excellent as the boisterous (the closest anyone gets to 'exuberant' here, certainly) Tomi, who intriguingly places Naruse's film in its period as, on seeing a 'western style' glamorous local woman stride past, quips 'Look, that's the Monroe walk, isn't it?'.

Although I don't think Late Chrysanthemums has quite the dramatic power as Ozu and Kurosawa's best, most intimate works, it still provides much perceptive insight into its cultural milieu and is a film that is well worth seeing.
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