Hideko the Bus Conductress, Mikio Naruse’s deceptively lighthearted comic confection, is the writer-director’s first collaboration (of a total 17) with the great Japanese actress Hideko Takamine. As the teenage bus conductress O-Koma, Takamine might best be described as beatification personified, and it is her continuously cheerful demeanor that effectively masks the film’s underlying current of satirical bitterness. In an effort to bolster the profits of the struggling Kohoku bus company, O-Koma and her co-worker Sonoda (Kamatari Fujiwara) propose offering tour guide commentary to the many sights along their rural route. After receiving approval from their hilariously disaffected boss (played by Yotaro Katsumi as a subtly frightening embodiment of the bottom line-minded bean-counter run amok), the duo enlists Gonji Igawa (Daijirô Natsukawa), a Tokyo novelist, to write the script for their venture. What follows plays as a comically cloaked metaphor for an artist’s creative process, as well as a harsh appraisal of the military/big business synergism that was no doubt ubiquitous in wartime Japan, though I question how many viewers will see beyond the film’s jovial surface to the rather ruthless critique at its core. It’s quite possible that the central points of Hideko the Bus Conductress are lost in a morass of allusion and implication as necessitated by the censorious authorities of the time, but it is equally probable that Naruse has rather brilliantly misdirected his audience’s expectations and hidden a scathing indictment of the powers-that-be within the confines of a crowd-pleasing star vehicle that aims, via our collective smiles and laughter, to expose a virulent and destructive societal canker. — Keith Uhlich, Slant Magazine
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
it was almost a year i watched this and still can't forget their looks and smiles at the end of the film, like they are doing something very important. beautiful.
A teenaged Hideko Takamine started her legendary 17 film collaboration with Naruse in ths slight but pleasing tale with a bitter undertone. She plays the titular conductress of a country bus charmingly partnered with Kamatari Fujiwara, that regular and reliable supporting performer in so many Kurosawa films. He plays the driver of the bus and between them they draw up a plan to attract more customers. Very likeable..
From Mikio Naruse’s Hideko, the Bus Conductress (1941).