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The Cinema of Naruse Mikio WOMEN AND JAPANESE MODERNITY
By CATHERINE RUSSELL
Duke University Press Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Silent Films WOMEN IN THE CITY, 1930-1934
As the global system reconfigures and the contradiction between the national and the transnational comes into greater relief, connections between Japanese film and the world will appear less as esoteric deviations than as the passkeys that allow entrance to a whole new series of productive questions and problems. -ERIC CAZDYN
Naruse's silent films were produced at the end of a period known as the modan years in which modern men and women, known as moba and moga (for "modern boys" and "modern girls"), commodity culture, and mass culture flourished on the streets of Japan's cities. The "flamboyant," rapidly paced style of these films is emblematic of the dynamic modernity of the times, capturing its spirit of excess, fragmentation, and mobility. Yet the narrative material remained embedded in the sentimental melodramatic mode of shinpa tragedy. The director's women-centered films are thus very much a hybrid of the new and the old, the foreign and the familiar, and they therefore embody the contradictions of Japanese modernity as it was constructed during these crucial years.
Shochiku was the only major studio operating in Tokyo from 1923 to 1934, a period in which the city underwent significant reconstruction and expansion following the 1923 earthquake. Modern transportation systems of streetcars, trains, roadways, and bridges were installed; department stores and hotels were erected; and old neighborhoods were completely transformed. At its Kamata studio, Shochiku specialized in gendai geki, or films with contemporary settings, leaving the Kyoto-based studios to concentrate on jidai geki or period films. The specific style associated with Shochiku-Kamata, sometimes abbreviated as SKS, tends to be identified with Ozu Yasujiro, who began directing there three years before Naruse. However, in addition to these two directors, the SKS style was developed within an industrial mode of production and included several other directors, including Shimizu Hiroshi, Gosho Heinosuke, Shimazu Yasujiro, and Ushihara Kiyohiko. Studio head Kido Shiro is also generally recognized as playing a major role in the development of SKS, as it developed into the dominant mode of gendai geki in Japanese cinema. Kido in fact scripted Naruse's first film, Mr. and Mrs. Swordplay (Chanbara Fufu, 1930), a twenty-one-minute domestic comedy that was shot in thirty-six hours straight. It concludes with the husband going out to see another Shochiku feature at a movie theater.
Filmgoing is a favorite occupation of the characters in the Shochiku-Kamata movies, reflexively situating the cinema among the many everyday rituals and customs depicted in the films. In her analysis of SKS, Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano argues that the studio's extensive output during the formative years of the late 1920s and early 1930s constitutes a cornerstone of modern Japanese mass culture. Not only did the studio exploit the locations of the burgeoning metropolis, it bridged the transition from silent to sound cinema and established the stylistic ingredients for a national cinema. It was responsible for providing the dominant imagery of metropolitan life for a nation that was still in fact largely rural and unevenly modernized. SKS combined the novelties of modern urban experience, heavily influenced by Western customs, iconography, and technologies, with a nostalgic portrayal of community. The dynamic configuration of everyday life in the city was counterbalanced by an image of the family, neighborhood, and "hometown" that was increasingly threatened by the fragmenting effects of urban life.
The audiences of these films were primarily the new urban middle class of salaried office workers and their families. Women were especially targeted as potential audiences, and it was an important venue for both wives and "office ladies," or unmarried women holding clerical jobs, to go out in public. Kido Shiro understood that women did not go to movies alone but would always be accompanied by friends or relatives and were therefore a doubly lucrative market. He also perceptively claimed that "the fact that the old moralistic ideas have a repressive stranglehold on women presents opportunities for us to create various theatrical stories for our films." The woman's film thus "solidified the studio's production system" and, as Wada-Marciano argues, "served both to configure a female identity as consuming subject and to provide material for her consumption."
Shochiku-Kamata style involved a hybridization of Hollywood-inspired film techniques with the aesthetics of shinpa theater. Conventional film histories suggest that in the 1920s the "pure cinema" movement dispensed with the accoutrements of Japanese theater in order to hone a more modern and "realist" aesthetic based on the Hollywood model. The realism of SKS was, however, largely indebted to shinpa aesthetics, which were an early and important feature of Japanese modernity. Wada-Marciano argues that shinpa "formed the narrative core of the SKS film," particularly in its emphasis on the woman's film. Although by the late 1920s the notion of shinpa had fossilized into an aesthetic that is considered to be highly static, formal, and antirealist, in the 1900s it corresponded to a variety of styles. Shinpa theater, or "new school drama," emerged as a theatrical movement after 1888 and originated as an oppositional form. Utilizing contemporary settings and costumes and addressing issues of modern life, shinpa represented an important antidote to the archaic language of kabuki and the formalism of no theater in Meiji Japan. As a theatrical movement, it reached its height during the Russo-Japanese War, when current sociopolitical issues of the day were staged. As early as the 1890s, shinpa theater used actresses rather than oyama and developed stories from serialized novels with female protagonists. Above all, the plays addressed contemporary issues of morality and ethics emerging in a changing society-precisely the melodramatic material that Kido recognized as being of interest to women.
Although the construction of realism in modern Japanese theater, cinema, and literature is subject to some debate, it is somewhat simplistic to attribute all realist discourse to Western influence, especially given the forty years of Japanese cultural production preceding Naruse's first films. In Wada-Marciano's analysis of the role of shinpa in SKS, she points out that as the I-novel became the dominant mode of realism in the construction of Japanese cultural history, the romanticism of shinpa, along with its realist aesthetics, was undervalued. The shinpa elements of SKS were also played down in Shochiku's own promotional discourse, which emphasized the modern cinematic qualities of the style. However, Wada-Marciano convincingly argues that it is only in its hybridization of shinpa and Hollywood technique that SKS was able to forge an aesthetic that would come to construct a "modern national Japanese identity." She points out that Shochiku's 1920s shinpa films were a calculated departure from Nikkatsu's version, so they dropped the terminology. However, they maintained a division devoted to shinpa-style film alongside their "new Kamata style film," and there continued to be a great deal of interaction between the two groups within the studio.
Naruse's SKS films exemplify the fusion of traditional shinpa narrative elements with up-to-date filmic technique in a style that was known at the time as "Kamata modernism." Ironically, it is the former that provides the films' realist elements, while the latter is used for expressive and disjunctive effects of space and time. The exuberant, dynamic, and "flamboyant" method of these films is anchored in the melodramatic milieu of everyday life in the city. Two of Naruse's early films, Not Blood Relations (Nasanu naka, 1932; aka The Stepchild) and Wife! Be Like a Rose! were adapted from shinpa plays, and in both instances, critics were impressed at how he enhanced them with cinematic technique. Naruse would continue to rely on shinpa-style narratives throughout the 1930s and during the war, gradually reducing the flamboyant effects and working more with performance elements to achieve emotional effects. Naruse was not alone in his revision of the typical shinpa melodrama. Kido Shiro's conception of the woman's film was one in which the old-fashioned, conventional morality of shinpa melodrama would be replaced by women with more modern attitudes.
Naruse's distinctive style in his silent films corresponds to two of the tendencies that David Bordwell identifies in Japanese silent film. On one hand, he uses the "piecemeal style" that Bordwell associates primarily with the Shochiku-Kamata studio, and with Ozu, who eventually recast it into a more idiosyncratic poetics. This style "dissects each scene into neat static shots ... having an average shot length of three to five seconds." Bordwell attributes the origins of this style to the "one-bit-of-information-per-shot approach of Fairbanks, Lloyd, Lubitsch and William de Mille" and adds, "there is also a certain playfulness about the style, as unexpected cuts and sudden screen entrances disturb the limpid flow of information." While this certainly serves as a good description of Naruse's basic approach, the director also clearly combined the piecemeal style with what Bordwell calls the "calligraphic style," which was ostensibly used mainly for chanbara, or swordplay films. Bordwell describes the calligraphic style as a "flamboyant, frantic style, bristling with energetic figure movement ... rapid and discontinuous editing, tight telephoto framings, and above all bravura camera movements (whip pans, fast dollies, bumpy handheld shots)." Although he admits that these two styles, along with a third-the pictorialist-are often found in combination, Bordwell describes them as various "decorative" devices, used to "embroider" or "elaborate" the narrative point. Insofar as they are add-ons to the Hollywood model of narrative realism, in his opinion they constitute the "Japaneseness" of this period of Japanese cinema.
A close analysis of Naruse's surviving work from this period challenges Bordwell's account on a number of levels. In the first place, the flamboyant effects were perceived at the time as add-ons to shinpa-style narrative, rather than to Hollywood style. Whereas Bordwell suggests that "the norms of the West provided a framework within which more distinctively 'Japanese' elements could be situated," in fact the reverse is more to the point-that the techniques of Western modernity were added to a framework derived from traditional Japanese theater, to construct a mode of "vernacular modernism." The dynamic use of camera movements, figure movement, and disjunctive editing in Naruse's silent films is emblematic of the "modern techniques" of cinematic representation. Given the urban settings of the films, they are frequently associated with the fragmentation of urban space and disjunctive temporalities of trains and automobiles. Second, the "flamboyant" techniques, including camera movements as well as montage effects, are always related to extreme emotional states. Naruse uses these techniques to explore the resources of cinematic language for their expressive potential, linking that expressivity to character psychology. There is no reason to attribute any particular Japaneseness to the special effects of his flamboyant style, and to dismiss them as merely decorative is to overlook their crucial role in the construction of subjective effects. Instead, I would link them to the discourse of modernity being developed during this period. The flamboyant style represents an intention on the part of the filmmaker to directly represent experience.
In each of Naruse's surviving silent films, he employed a particular distinctive variation on the flamboyant style: a rapid track-in to a character's face at a moment of great emotion. He uses this technique most spectacularly in scenes of heightened dramatic intensity in his most well-regarded films of this period, the three singled out by the critics in a 1934 Kinema Junpo roundtable discussion with Naruse: Apart from You (Kimi to wakarete, 1933), Every Night Dreams (Yogoto no yume, 1933), and Street without End (Kagiri naki hodo, 1934). (It may not be sheer coincidence that these three films endorsed by the critics have been preserved while so many others have been lost.) All three films are about women working as geisha or café waitresses. Although the dramatic camera movements are used to convey the expressions of both male and female characters, one can see in these films, along with the fourth surviving feature, Not Blood Relations, how Naruse begins to articulate a discourse of female subjectivity in a melodramatic modality.
The stylistic excesses of Naruse's silent films carried over into his early sound films at P.C.L., and it really wasn't until the late 1930s that they were finally excised. In this respect we should also recognize the influences of "Taisho democracy" and the avant-garde movements of the late 1920s on his early style. Even though he was working within the context of mass industrial culture, the influences of Western modernity included both the modernist avant-garde alongside the productions of American mass culture. For example, many of his early films show the influence of the new "modern" culture of Asakusa urban entertainments and cultural practices. Many films feature women associated with the rebuilt district and its dance halls and geisha houses. Asakusa was the hot spot during this period for movie theaters, alongside dance halls and musical revues. His first sound film, Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts, was adapted from one of Kawabata Yasunari's many Asakusa stories, and two of its principal actresses, Tsutsumi Masako and Umezono Ryuko, were scouted by P.C.L. from dance reviews and dance teams. Naruse's treatment of urban space is similar to Kawabata's, and the domestic melodramas are frequently interwoven with gangster narratives, a popular genre of the time that dominates Kawabata's stories of Asakusa.
Like Kawabata's serialized newspaper stories, Naruse's silent cinema represents an unusual confluence of popular entertainment and techniques that are associated in the West with the avant-garde. As Donald Richie notes of Kawabata, "This was possible because in Japan, then as now, the avant-garde is at once incorporated into the taste of the masses, so strong is the lure of the new." Kawabata himself was strongly influenced by the movies, and the interaction and interpenetration of literature, newsreels, newspapers, and film was extensive during this period. While the Western modernism of Eisenstein and Brecht was itself heavily influenced by Asian styles of representation, in the late 1920s we see this modernism returning as the sign of the new. However, it is equally important to recognize that for Kawabata, as with Naruse, the new was always combined with more "local" aesthetics and traditional forms, to the extent that distinctions between "high" and "low" culture that are pervasive in Western modernism simply did not apply. Class distinctions are, however, embedded in the visual culture of the era, as many of the accoutrements of Western material culture were available only to the very wealthy.
Excerpted from The Cinema of Naruse Mikio by CATHERINE RUSSELL Copyright © 2008 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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