The story begins in 1929 with Sugai ((Sugai Ichiro) losing his job in the stock- market crash. He works his way up, over the course of the narrative, from mirror-cleaner in a barber shop, to cleaning product salesman, to mechanic (he studies at night), to inventor, to company president. At this second-to-last stage, when his boss offers him money for his patent, he declines, saying that he did it for the good of the country and for his wife’s memory. He receives enough money for her gravestone but eventually is given a factory to run, and eventually a whole company.
In this world where everyone is kind and benevolent, the mother’s spirit casts a kind of spell over everyone. Her son Shugo graduates from college just as war breaks out with the China Incident of July 1937, which is illustrated by a montage of battle scenes. His father notes that “this might be the big one . . . it’s time you got serious. To put him on the right path, his father reads him his mother’s suicide note in which she begs her husband to make Shugo into a “fine Japanese man.” Although Shugo does not get conscripted, he does vow to “do his best” by abandoning his decadent and lazy habits and dedicating himself to learn how to be a good vice-president in his father’s company. —Catherine Russell
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