Apart from You (1933)

24 06 2008

Not only Naruse’s best silent film, but also one of the very best silent Japanese films overall, perhaps only surpassed by Ozu’s amazing An Inn in Tokyo. While the film is a bit on the over-stylized side (as most of the early Naruse films I’ve seen are) it still provides plenty of very tender and delicate moments of truth, all captured with the utmost amount of beauty by the always brilliant Suketaro Inokai. In addition, there’s also a wonderful performance by Sumiko Mizukubo, who unfortunately disappeared from the world of cinema after a quick run with some of Japan’s A-list directors. Her presence combined with a poignant tale of disaffected youth results in Naruse at his best form.

Kikue, reluctantly works as a geisha to support not herself but her teenager son, Yoshio, who has begun to show many signs of teenage angst. He is ashamed of his mother’s profession and protests by skipping school and hanging out with the “tough” gang. Things at work also take a turn for the worst when Kikue’s most reliable patron begins to seek a much more younger partner. He specifically notices Terugiku, who is around Yoshio’s age, and maintains a friendly relationship with Kikue. Terugiku also acts somewhat of a sister for Yoshio, though indications of a deeper love are implied, they are never acted upon. Terugiku invites Yoshio to her house. Surprisingly, her household is far more dysfunctional. Yoshio decides to make a greater effort to help his mother back home, but things don’t quite turn out as planned.

In addition to painting a portrait of alienated youth that is vivid even 75 years after the fact, Naruse also blends in his trademark comedic stylings. There’s a joke early on, in which Kikue plucks out a gray hair, that bears an uncanny resemblance to a similar situation in Flowing. Even in the least likely of places, Naruse manages to interject the sadness found in the element of an aging geisha, a “motif” (if one would call it that) that he would re-use in almost all of his films from the 1950s. In contrast to those films, this is a much more stylistic effort, which is pretty much the only particularly noticeable problem I have with the film. Considering just how beautiful Suketaro Inokai’s cinematography can be, something a bit more formalistic would have been preferred. Otherwise, a perfect film and (possibly) Naruse’s first really great artistic success.