33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Excellent BFI Naruse Box Set,
This review is from: Mikio Naruse Collection  [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.