Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cheaper Eggs

It's not hard to see sometimes why Mikio Naruse movies are so rarely released in the West. I can't imagine many in the U.S. would understand what drives the primary conflict in 1964's Midareru (乱れる, a verb; becoming chaotic. Western title Yearning), which concerns a young man falling in love with the wife of his brother, who has been dead for many years. The movie's not one of Naruse's best, but the first half in particular shows his skill at portraying the destructiveness of capitalism and socially endorsed selfishness.

Naruse regular Hideko Takamine plays the widow, Reiko, who has managed and brought success to the small grocery owned by her late husband's family in the years following his death in World War II. Koji, played by Yuuzou Kayama, is the younger brother and seen as rightful heir to the grocery, but he leads an unfocused, self-destructive lifestyle of alcohol and gambling. We eventually learn that he's fallen in love with Reiko and it's his inability to deal with this fact that has led to various attempts to tranquilise himself.

A supermarket has opened in the town as the movie begins, marking the transition in Japan from an industry dominated by small businesses like Reiko's. Koji's sisters conspire to tear down the grocery and replace it with their own supermarket with Koji as manager along with the husband of one of the sisters, offering Reiko only a small position.

My favourite scene of the movie involves the two sisters explaining to their mother and Koji how sensible their plan is, in part because they're essentially pushing Reiko out of the family. A scene before this had shown Koji's mother and sister delicately trying to explain to Reiko how inconvenient her place was in the family. The sister asks her to think how awkward it would be when Koji marries and she became a nuisance to the real woman of the household.

It was a big part of Naruse's talent that he was able to create scenes of people being thoroughly cruel but sounding merely sensible, constructing scenarios based on tradition to their own benefit requiring the pain and sacrifice of someone with better character, like Reiko.

The tormented love story takes over the second half of the film. It's all right, but has none of the impressive, nuanced cruelty of the first half.

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