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January 01, 2011

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The Siren

Thanks so much for the link love, Glenn. I love her so much; I had to write something for her, though I have seen only about seven of her films (and she made 20 for Naruse alone).

Michael Dempsey

Sorry to see just one comment here on the death of the incomparable Hideko Takamine -- although this comment from The Siren beautifully supplements those on her blog (by her and others).

I'd like to add another by calling attention to one of Hideko Takamine's more obscure films, Mikio Naruse's 1952 "Lightning" ("Inazuma"), which will hopefully become better known outside Japan the way several of the director's other films have gained well-deserved attention recently.

Here the great actress plays bus tour guide Kiyoko, a 22-year-old living with two brothers, a sister, and her mother in a struggling household immediately after World War II.

What makes "Lightning" differ from other downbeat postwar Naruse family portraits is its distant kinship (city location aside) with none other than "Tobacco Road" and the latter's bursts of rowdy humor and rambunctiousness that periodically burst from what is otherwise a nest of impacted dreariness.

Takemine is especially affecting when Kiyoko, struggling to move to a place of her own, firmly rejects her mother's wails of incomprehension while briefly returning home to retrieve a few possessions and some bedding.

Takamine offers a lyrical portrait of young, dreaming idealism and its limitations as a means of survival in a Naruse-style milieu that resolutely strives to snuff out even the most modest attempts at independence.

As Naruse surely knew full well, the grace notes that Takamine provides are instrumental in preventing the film from becoming simply a plunge into unmitigated despondency.

Hideko Takamine was one of a kind, unlikely to be encountered in film again except in her screen legacy, which needs to become much more widely available.

djw

Thanks for the great links.

When I had access to a significant Naruse retrospective in Seattle several years ago, Lightning was one of the only films I missed, to me enduring frustration.

Blake Lucas

Michael, I appreciate your comments on LIGHTNING as with those on HER LONELY LANE at davekehr.com. As always they are eloquent.

But "unmitigated despondency" does not quite describe LIGHTNING. For me, this is a rare Naruse with a hopeful grace note at the end in the way the final daughter/mother scene concludes and final image of them. It isn't a note that betrays his vision, but I think Kiyoko is one Naruse heroine so strong in moving to make her life better than possibly she may actually do so.

LIGHTNING may be my second favorite Naruse after FLOATING CLOUDS, even if there are plenty to choose from among the top ones. Still, LIGHTNING has became special for me and, lucky enough to have a nice copy of it, I've seen it several times in the last few years. I will say after finally catching up with WIFE this past year that all of Naruse's adaptations of Hayashi are great. There is indeed a rare and wonderful affinity there.

I especially wanted to compliment Glenn on the beautiful still he has provided--I've found myself coming back here a number of times the last few days just to look at it. It may be a cliche to say "A picture is worth a thousand words." Sometimes it's true.

Michael Dempsey

Thank you, Blake, for your kind words. When "Lightning" (which I've been able to see only once) re-surfaces (as "Floating Clouds", "When A Woman Ascends The Stairs, and "Flowing" have done via British DVDs for all these Naruse-Takamine titles and Criterion for "When A Woman Ascends The Stairs") I'll look forward to revisiting it in the light of your own statement.

Another major but absent-from-DVD Naruse-Takamine collaboration is the radiant 1964 "Yearning" ("Midereru"), which focuses on a war widow and her much younger brother-in-law who become enmeshed in a "forbidden" love relationship that dovetails with family treachery over a business deal.

This thumbnail sketch doesn't come within light years of indicating the film's multi-level complexity and beauty. For now, suffice it to say that one viewing of "Yearning" was more than enough to place it at the top of both artists' careers.

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