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Images of the Day: A Smile in the Sun

A rare moment of unabashed of happiness in the 17 film collaboration between Japanese director Mikio Naruse and actress Hideko Takamine (with this being their first, when Takamine was 17, and Hit and Run (1966) being their last, when the actress was 42).


From Mikeo Naruse's Hideko, the Bus Conductress (1941); featuring Kamatari Fujiwara and Hideko Takamine; cinematography by Ken Azuma.

I just watched this film a month or so ago and found it immensely enjoyable. You’re right about happiness, unabashed or otherwise, coming rarely in Naruse’s cinema. There’s a quote attributed to him (I don’t know where) that happiness was “an invention of the twentieth century” and not to be believed. As for “Hideko,” I liked it not so much for the anamolous brightness but for the level-headed understanding of what it’s like to hold down a day job—something I seldom see in movies made anywhere today. The characters’ ambition to create the finest bus service in their home town isn’t exaggerated into something it’s not (e.g., a symbol of spiritual fulfilment, as it might be in a U.S. film), but the work is shown to have its fun side in spite of logical difficulties, unforeseen costs, etc. It’s a film that takes pleasure in the small deviations from a familiar (but not necessarily soul-sucking) routine. If I remember correctly, this feeling also abounds in “Traveling Actors,” about a pair of street performers who play a horse.

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