Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mikio Naruse's Mother (1952)

As a film set in post-war Japan, it strikes a sad but not a bleak note. Director Mikio Naruse looks at quotidian life of ordinary people. In this case, it is about the family of a laundry man. The person who holds herself through the deaths of her son and husband is the eponymous 'Mother' played by Kinuyo Tanaka. She plays Masako Fukuhara, the middle-aged matriarch, who works steadily to make the life of her two daughters. She allows the younger one to be adopted by relatives, and she manages to appease the apprehensions of her elder daughter that she might marry the help whom her husband hires. The mood is grim throughout but there are moments of warm bonding, a touch of sentiment among the children themselves, between the Fukuhara couple, between the elder daughter and her lover, between the sisters and also between Masako and the employee.
Naruse is able to achieve the most dramatic effects through the understated scenes. The dying son tells the mother that he came back just to be with her. The overwhelming sadness in the film is in through tears that are withheld. The only time the characters are allowed to cry without control is when they go to see a film.
The frames are simple and stark, but not without depth as the interior of the Fukuhara home is lovingly picturised. The cramped home space should have evoked claustrophobia but Naruse manages to convey the sense of togetherness of the small space of the home of the harried Fukuharas.
There is no talk about the political context of the hard times, and it lifts the story without effort into a universal plane. It is the state of any poor family struggling to live and be happy in the straitened circumstances.

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