Yearning / Midareru (1964)

vlcsnap-2019-11-18-17h05m02s908.jpgI feel as if I keep repeating myself, but in Yearning, Hideko Takamine gives another of her complex, almost silent performances in which she seems to reveal intense and complicated emotions through her eyes alone.

Generally seen as one of the high points of Naruse’s sixties movies, Yearning tells the story of Takamine and of a change going on in the Japanese culture. Takamine runs a mom-and-pop kind of store that is seriously threatened by the arrival of what was seen at the time as a supermarket, though by modern standards it is a long way from Safeway. But it is able to undercut the prices charged by other local businesses, here symbolized by the price of eggs.

While it is easy to focus on the arrival of “modern” business, the real issues are familial, cultural, and sexual. During the war, Takamine’s husband was killed and the family business was  destroyed in bombing raids. She rebuilt the business from the ruins, simply because she was the wife of the eldest son, even though he was dead.  It was always assumed that the second son, only six when the store was destroyed, would eventually take over the store, but he has grown up a wastrel, in part because Takamine’s work has supported him in that lifestyle, as well as the family’s mother and two sisters who also do not work in the store.

As finances become tighter, the family tries to squeeze out Takamine. The sisters are quite cruel to her, in a Cinderella step-sister sort of way, but they do not throw her out onto the street. Instead they try to arrange a new marriage for her, which she rejects in part because she feels she still owes something to her dead husband.  Complications arise when the surviving son, now 25, decides that he is in love with Takamine, now 38. He tries to reform his ways and work in the business to be near her, but when he declares his love, she panics and decides to go back to her parents in the countryside.

He follows her to a mountain spa and for a moment, in her desperation to be loved, she agrees to sleep with him. But she backs out at the last moment, he runs out and gets drunk, and “falls” off a cliff.

As so often in the Japanese josei-eiga,the most important  things go unsaid. This is pushed to something of an extreme here, where roughly half of the movie is silent. Naruse trusts Takamine’s eyes, and that trust is not betrayed. Takamine’s long run after the dead body being carried along the street that she first sees by accident from her window is one of the most emotionally complex moments in Japanese (or world) cinema. No matter how you feel about “women’s pictures,” it is almost impossible to be unmoved by the scene. vlcsnap-2019-11-18-16h57m46s473.jpgBut it is not tearful, or merely sad, but rather it is complicated, complex, and indefinable.  It is perhaps a great example of Eisenstein’s famous demonstration that we read into the face what we want to see, but nevertheless, there it is.

There are some difficulties, of course. As the wastrel son, Yuzo Kayama really does have the look of a thug, which makes his drunkenness and bar fights seem plausible but hampers the romantic hero aspect of the role.vlcsnap-2019-11-18-17h04m46s717 And as Takamine herself is reported to have commented when she first saw the complete film, “It’s Naruse, it’s too long, and too slow.” But then, she was also reportedly in tears at the time, which indicates what the movie can do to an audience willing to take its time with its movies.

Fairly unusually, the basic story is Naruse’s own idea. More usually, Naruse’s direction seems invisible.* Nothing takes attention away from the actors, nothing is a beautiful picture for its own sake, yet nothing seems to be by-the-book, repetitive, or unconsidered.

The Japanese title is one of those untranslatable terms, so Yearning is somehow deceptive. But all of the other definitions in various dictionaries are equally unsatisfying. Nevertheless, the movie itself is completely satisfying, as a study of a changing society and as a study of a woman slowly destroying her life for the best of motives.

* It is a fascination, to me at least, that three of the most energetic and flamboyant Japanese movie-makers of the fifties and sixties said they really learned how to make a movie by serving as Naruse’s assistant: Kurosawa, Teruo Ishii, and Toshio Masuda. No one’s movies could look more different from theirs than Naruse’s.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Yearning / Midareru (1964)

  1. Perhaps Masuda, Ishii and Kurosawa just externalized the action that was underneath Naruse’s characteristically introverted restraint?
    As Kurosawa once referred to Naruse’s editing “[It] flows like a deep river with a quiet surface disguising a fast-raging current underneath”.

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    • I just discovered that Okamoto also spent some time working with Naruse. However it came about, it is certainly interesting that the four most accomplished “masculine” directors of their era learned their craft in significant part from the director who almost exclusively made “women’s pictures.”

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  2. Pingback: A Woman’s Place / Onna no za (1962) | Japanonfilm

  3. Pingback: Home from the Sea / Hometown / Furusato (1972) | Japanonfilm

  4. “It’s Naruse, it’s too long, and too slow.”
    So I ran, of course, to look up the running time.
    98 minutes.

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    • One of the distinguishing characteristics of Japanese film-making, I have come to learn as I write this blog, has been the willingness to take one’s time telling the story. Some of this is practical — I once read someone who said you could cut ten minutes out of most Japanese movies if you just cut out the doors sliding open and shut — though that does not really apply to Yearning. Perhaps that’s why it’s only 98 rather than 105 minutes. Another thing I learned is that many of the shorter movies, such as the series samurai and yakuza movies, often feel much longer than they are because they just keep adding incident. Yearning is, as you say, one of Naruse’s shorter movies of his great era, but his reputation, as Takamine was commenting, was for taking his time. But that time is rarely boring, particularly when he has Takamine’s face to linger on.

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