TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 May 2014
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.