SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away the film’s ending.
Hideko Takamine was Mikio Naruse’s great muse – as Setsuko Hara was Ozu’s and Kinuyo Tanaka was Mizoguchi’s – her peerlessly expressive face capable of registering the rawest of emotions. She gives an intensely moving performance in this melodrama about the repressed love between a widow (Takamine) and her brother-in-law (Kayama), one whose currents of emotion swell to a devastating, unforgettable climax.
The freeze-frame on the face of 14-year-old Jean-Pierre Léaud at the end of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows may be the most famous final-shot close-up in cinema history, but for shocking registering of personal loss and lingering emotional resonance, my own vote would go to the unforgettable image of the great Japanese actress Hideko Takamine that closes Mikio Naruse’s 1964 film Yearning. Like Truffaut’s close-up of Léaud’s Antoine Doinel, or shots of Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc, it’s an image that seems to capture the soul of her character Reiko in a frozen moment, conveying an inexhaustible amount about her experiences, feelings and fears.
The ending of Yearning is unforgettable also because it stands as a summation of Naruse’s abiding concern with the struggles faced by women. As the American critic Keith Uhlich notes in his insightful review of Yearning for Slant Magazine, it’s an image that reverberates back across Naruse’s entire oeuvre – not least because Reiko is played by Takamine. As Léaud was to Truffaut – or perhaps more aptly, as Setsuko Hara was to Ozu – Takamine, who started out as a child star and went on to become one of Japan’s best-loved actresses, was indelibly associated with Naruse.
The first film of the director’s she appeared in, at the age of 15, was Hideko the Bus Conductress (Hideko no shasho-san, 1941). Their golden period, however, ran from the early 1950s to the mid-60s, with a run of masterful films including Lightning (Inazuma, 1952), Floating Clouds (Ukigomo, 1955), Flowing (Nagareru, 1956) and When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga kaidan o agaru toki, 1960). Yearning was their penultimate collaboration, so Reiko is also something of a summation of all the characters the actress played for him.
Reiko is a war widow who has devoted the better years of her life to managing the small grocery store owned by her late husband’s family. The store, like Reiko, is caught in the past; a new supermarket has opened on the same street, and is slowly pushing them out of business. Alongside her mother-in-law and sister-in-law, Reiko also shares the house with her brooding brother-in-law Koji, who’s prone to fights and passing flings – and who one day declares his love for her.
Shocked, Reiko is initially resistant, but Takamine’s expressive face gradually registers flickers of excitement and pleasure at being desired again. Mindful of her dead husband, however, she sees no future in a relationship with Koji, and when the mother-in-law suggests that she leave the store, she decides it’s time to go. It’s at this point, with 20 minutes remaining, that this previously rather staid film hurtles towards its tragic finale with a soaring emotional intensity worthy of Douglas Sirk. On the train, Reiko sees that Koji has travelled with her, and simply by registering their exchange of glances – intercut with shots of the train speeding away from Tokyo, and the concerns that have held them back – Naruse suggests that a life together could be possible for them.
They disembark and head to an inn for the night, and Reiko tells Koji how happy it has made her to hear him declare his feelings. But later she tells him once again that she cannot be with him; Koji leaves, wearing a paper ring she has tied around his finger. Next morning Reiko is packing, ready to leave the inn, when she hears a commotion outside. A body is being carried along the towpath beside the river, and in a close-up we see from the paper ring on his finger that it is Koji.
Naruse’s films are usually remarkable for the way he captures conversations in adult and believable ways – he may be the best director of talking aside from Eric Rohmer. But here it’s the unspoken that’s most articulate, emotions coursing across Reiko’s face as she runs, desperate to catch up with Koji’s body.
At last she stops, gives up the chase and watches as he’s carried away. Her breathing becomes less frantic and the shocked expression on her face gives way to despair, then anger, then a numbed resignation to the fact that she is again alone, and can partly blame herself.
No less a figure than Edward Yang, writing on Naruse for a retrospective at the San Sebastian Film Festival in 1998, described the moment as one of the most memorable and moving in all cinema – and he should know.
James Bell, Sight & Sound, October 2012
Director: Mikio Naruse
Production Company: Toho Co. Ltd.
Producers: Sanezumi Fujimoto, Mikio Naruse
Assistant Director: Seijun Kawanishi
Screenplay: Zenzô Matsuyama
Story: Mikio Naruse
Director of Photography: Jun Yasumoto
Art Director: Satoshi Chûko
Music: Ichirô Saitô
Hideko Takamine (Reiko Morita)
Yûzô Kayama (Kôji Morita)
Mitsuko Kusabue (Hisako Morizono)
Yumi Shirakawa (Takako Morita)
Mie Hama (Ruriko)
Aiko Mimasu (Shizu Morita)
Yû Fujiki (Mr Nomizo)
Kazuo Kitamura (Mr Morizono)
100 YEARS OF JAPANESE CINEMA
Early Summer (Bakushû)
Mon 18 Oct 14:30; Tue 19 Oct 20:35; Wed 20 Oct 17:50; Thu 18 Nov 20:20 (+ intro by Professor Alastair Phillips, University of Warwick); Sun 21 Nov 11:30
The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice (Ochazuke no aji)
Mon 18 Oct 18:10; Wed 20 Oct 20:40; Thu 21 Oct 14:40; Mon 8 Nov 14:30; Tue 23 Nov 14:40
Tokyo Story (Tôkyô monogatari)
Mon 18 Oct 20:20; Thu 21 Oct 14:30; Sat 13 Nov 14:10; Tue 30 Nov 14:00
Throne of Blood (Kumonosu-jô)
Tue 19 Oct 18:10; Thu 21 Oct 20:35 (+ Inside Cinema: Akira Kurosawa); Wed 27 Oct 20:30; Tue 9 Nov 20:40; Fri 12 Nov 14:15 (+ Inside Cinema: Akira Kurosawa); Sat 27 Nov 20:50
Early Spring (Sôshun)
Tue 19 Oct 14:30; Wed 20 Oct 20:15; Thu 21 Oct 17:30; Sat 20 Nov 14:50; Tue 23 Nov 17:40
Tue 19 Oct 20:55; Thu 21 Oct 17:55; Fri 19 Nov 14:30 (+ Inside Cinema: Akira Kurosawa); Fri 26 Nov 18:10; Sun 28 Nov 12:00 15 (+ Inside Cinema: Akira Kurosawa)
An Actor’s Revenge (Yukinojô henge)
Wed 20 Oct 14:15; Mon 1 Nov 14:30; Thu 11 Nov 20:40 (+ intro by Jennifer Coates, The University of Sheffield); Sat 20 Nov 12:15
Souls on the Road (Rojô no reikion)
Fri 22 Oct 18:00; Sat 30 Oct 15:30
A Page of Madness (Kurutta ichipeiji)
Sat 23 Oct 13:00; Mon 15 Nov 20:50
Silent Cinema presents: I Was Born, But… (Otona no miru ehon – Umarete wa mita keredo)
Sat 23 Oct 15:00; Sun 28 Nov 14:45 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive curator)
Our Neighbour, Miss Yae (Tonari no Yae-chan)
Sun 24 Oct 12:40; Mon 1 Nov 18:15 (+ intro by season co-programmer Alexander Jacoby)
Humanity and Paper Balloons (Ninjô kami fûsen)
Sun 24 Oct 15:00; Tue 2 Nov 20:45
Talk: A Time of Change and How Japanese Film Bore Witness to It
Mon 25 Oct 18:20
Children of the Beehive (Hachi no su no kodomotachi)
Mon 25 Oct 20:45 (+ intro by season co-programmer Alexander Jacoby); Mon 8 Nov 18:20
The Life of Matsu the Untamed (aka The Rickshaw Man) (Muhomatsu no issho)
Tue 26 Oct 20:40; Sun 7 Nov 11:40
Fallen Blossoms (aka Flowers Have Fallen) (Hana chirinu)
Sun 31 Oct 13:00; Wed 3 Nov 18:20 (+ intro by Japanese film scholar Alejandra Armendáriz-Hernández)
My Love Has Been Burning (aka Flame of My Love) (Waga koi wa moenu)
Fri 5 Nov 18:30; Mon 15 Nov 17:40
Love Letter (Koibumi)
Sat 6 Nov 12:30; Sun 21 Nov 14:40 (+ intro by Irene González-López, co-editor of ‘Tanaka Kinuyo: Nation, Stardom and Female Subjectivity’)
An Inn at Osaka (Ôsaka no yado)
Sat 6 Nov 15:30; Sun 21 Nov 18:00 (+ pre-recorded intro by Professor Hiroshi Kitamura, College of William & Mary)
Sun 7 Nov 15:50; Tue 23 Nov 20:40
Marital Relations (Meoto zenzai)
Sun 7 Nov 18:20; Thu 25 Nov 18:00 (+ pre-recorded intro by Professor Hideaki Fujiki, Nagoya University)
Sansho the Bailiff (Sansho Dayu)
Mon 8 Nov 20:40; Sun 28 Nov 18:20
She Was Like a Wild Chrysanthemum (Nogiku no gotoki kimi nariki)
Tue 9 Nov 18:20; Tue 30 Nov 20:40
Wed 10 Nov 18:00; Tue 16 Nov 20:25
Night Drum (Yoru no tsuzumi)
Wed 10 Nov 20:50; Tue 16 Nov 18:15
Talk: Female Archetypes in Classical Japanese Cinema
Thu 11 Nov 18:10
Fri 12 Nov 18:20; Fri 26 Nov 21:00
Elegant Beast (aka The Graceful Brute) (Shitoyakana kedamono)
Wed 17 Nov 20:50; Sat 27 Nov 18:30 (+ pre-recorded intro by Professor Yuka Kanno, Doshisha University)
Talk: The Family and Home in the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema
Thu 18 Nov 18:00
Fri 19 Nov 20:50; Tue 30 Nov 17:50
Tokyo Olympiad (Tôkyô orinpikku)
Sat 20 Nov 16:40; Wed 24 Nov 18:40
In partnership wtih
With special thanks to
With the kind support of:
Janus Films/The Criterion Collection, Kadokawa Corporation, Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, Kokusai Hoei Co. Ltd, Nikkatsu Corporation, Toei Co. Ltd
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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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