Kinuyo Tanaka knocks herself out to support her child by working as a Ginza bar hostess, but then has little time for the kid himself. Never a mistress for money, she may be finding a way out in the most curious of coincidences, but… A final sequence “explains the film’s peculiar title, and delivers a quiet blow to the heart” (James Quandt). —Film Forum
Mikio Naruse is one of the least known of Japan’s early master directors, both in the West and in Japan, yet he created some of the most moving, darkly beautiful works in Japanese cinema. Like Kenji Mizoguchi, Naruse showed an uncanny understanding for the psychology of women. Like Yasujiro Ozu, he preferred subtle shifts of character over broad strokes of plot. Unlike either of these early greats, however, Naruse’s vision of humanity was much darker and more clinical. He stripped all vestiges of hope or acceptance from his films, what remains is only a willful struggle to endure. His relentlessly negative view of human existence has resulted in Naruse’s often being labeled a nihilist.
Born in Tokyo, in 1905, Naruse was the youngest of three sons of a desperately poor embroiderer. Although he excelled in elementary school, his family could not afford to further his education. He was instead enrolled in a two-year technical school. There, he spent virtually all of his free time… read more
Though derived from a story by Inoue Tomoichirô, this nuanced psychological portrait of a woman, largely rendered in a humble, slice-of-life mode, a Naruse specialty, could easily be mistaken for a Hayashi Fumiko adaptation, the author whose temperament suited Naruse the most (and whose work is responsible for some of his greatest films). Which wouldn't exactly be wrong. Naruse once admitted that also took cues from a Hayashi story that he had in mind while at Shochiku, which, along with his and the screenwriter's personal experiences of the Ginza, helped form the basis of the story. If in outline—a bar hostess raising a kid on her own—the film looks back to the director's 1933 Every-Night Dreams, arguably his first masterpiece, then with its dignified yet weary protagonist, movingly played by Tanaka Kinuyo, who is best known for her work with Mizoguchi but she is equally good in the films she did with Naruse, it anticipates Takamine's character in the 1960 When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, another genteel, guarded woman who is in far less control than she thinks she is. In Ginza Cosmetics, Naruse often places Tanaka in a narrow alley or captures her in long shots through an open shoji screen to metaphorically portray her inescapable fate. While Repast is often regarded as Naruse's first major accomplishment of the '50s (and his return to form after a long slump—a falsity), this film is no less worthy of the honor.