a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

In which Mikio Naruse bewitches me, body and soul...

If you travel in the circles that I do, perhaps you've heard of this guy Mikio Naruse. If so, then you know that he's an Acknowledged Cinematic Titan, and, because he was also from Japan, he is considered every bit the equal of Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi. (Take that, Imamura, Suzuki, Ichikawa, Teshigahara, Kobayashi, Miike, K. Kurosawa, et al.) This is corroborated by everyone who has seen anything from him, which, if this were September 2005, would be very few. But last month up in that movieopolis called Gotham, where the Cinemaniacs™ from Cinemania run free, the first sizeable Naruse retrospective in 25 years took root during a continent-sweeping run. (Boston! NY! Ontario! L.A.!) Thus, the number grew exponentially, since previously Naruse The Acknowledged Cinematic Titan had also been Naruse The Last Acknowledged Cineamtic Titan Almost Entirely Absent From American Video Shelves.

For reasons that have to do with a combination of near-poverty and a persnickety kneecap, I did not make it up to this Naruse retro. Not a once. Should the DVD revolution not kick in in this case, I'm sure I will be kicking myself for decades on. When I have started going grey, I will surely shed an aging tear that I did not catch Floating Clouds when I was in my mid-20s, 'cause I will know then that I could only have fully understood its fatalism when only four years into paying back my student loans.

Luckily...well, remember how I used the word "almost"? If not, go find it; it's there somewhere. Anyway, it happens there are currently two Naruses one can find on American video shelves: 1954's aging ex-geisha* pic Late Chrysanthemums and 1960's Ginza** bar hostess study When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. Both are on VHS. Neither are on DVD. The latter has its Tohoscope ratio preserved, hopefully accurately. The former was not shot in Tohoscope, though it's B&Ws are faded somewhat on the badly-subtitled transfer.

I say that because I just watched this Late Chrysanthemums movie and have decided to jump on the shark, which will (in all likelihood) not be jumped from. Essentially, this guy is fawesome. Basically, he is my kind of director. En totale, I am smitten, and will use terrible lines that screenwriters dreampt up for Jane Austen adaptations starring Keira Knightley to describe my crush. Later, I will hopefully gain the required distance to impart some insightful comments on his unforced naturalism, his way with actresses and their accompanying female characters, his unshowy way of turning the inconsequential into the consequential, his lack of sentimentality, and his general smoothness. And that day shall come. Till then, I shall be up on a high mountaintop, spinning round and round, reciting his name over and over and over still at the top of my lungs. Finding a new filmmaking crush? There's nothing like it.


Weekly shit goes thusly: reviews of After Innocence and Protocols of Zion, as well as...oh, do I tire of typing out those three letters that have long served as abbreviation.

* A "geisha" is a Japanese artist-entertainer, usually female though at one point male, and they are not prostitutes, as we will all discover when Rob Marhsall's Triumph of the Cinema du Film Memoirs of a Geisha lands in all its inexplicably English-speaking glory.
** "Ginza" is an upscale part of Tokyo (the name translates into "silver mint") and one of the city's best places for entertainment and shopping. Sadly, there is not a Rob Marshall movie set to arrive at Award Time to tell us this. But there's always Wikipedia.


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