Atypically comic for Naruse, Traveling Actors follows an itinerant kabuki troupe, focusing on two actors who play a horse—the older and more experienced in charge of the front legs, the younger relegated to the rear—but whose jobs are threatened when a real animal is hired to play the part. Naruse called this one of his personal favorites, saying “the actor who plays the front legs of the horse . . . sees his role as a serious artform. However, the harder he tries to succeed, the funnier things get for the audience. That’s the kind of comedy I wanted to make." —UC Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive
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
A change of pace for the prolific Naruse, this is an out-and-out comedy and one of his personal favourites. Similar to Ozu's Floating Weeds in that it features a touring theatrical troupe, the story focuses on the bickering brothers who play the pantomime horse. An unfortunate accident in which the horse's head is crushed leads to them being replaced by a real horse. Fujiwara excels as the front legs of the horse....