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Ashita no namikimichi (Morning’s Tree-Lined Street)

Posted by martinteller on April 7, 2013

Chiyo (Sachiko Chiba) leaves the country to find a job in Tokyo.  Her friend Hisako (Ranko Akagi) lives there, and Chiyo plans on surprising her.  When she arrives, she discovers that Hisako now goes by “Shigeyo” and works as a bar hostess.  Chiyo stays with her friend above the bar and tries to find work.  She gets friendly with Mr. Ogawa (Heihachirô Ôkawa), who tries to help her.  Their efforts, however, are unsuccessful and she resorts to being a hostess until she can get a better job.  Ogawa starts to visit the bar more frequently.  One night, Chiyo has a little too much to drink….

And I’ll stop there, since I don’t want to spoil anything.  That’s already two-thirds of the movie.  It’s a short film (only an hour) and could use more fleshing out.  Some more background on Chiyo and her home situation would have been helpful, and a little more development here and there could have made it all feel a bit more substantial.

But it’s still another very fine film by Naruse.  It contains some of his usual commentary on the burden of economic factors in people’s lives, and the limited opportunities, especially for women.  Chiyo’s introduction to the vertical sprawl of Tokyo is punctuated by jaunty jazz and flashy montage, but you can’t help noticing that the skies are quite gray.  Although she maintains a sunny disposition, it’s clear that her situation is desperate and prospects are bleak.  The bar atmosphere is tainted by alcoholism and violence and a survival of the fittest mentality.  Chiyo and Shigeyo are often framed in enclosed spaces.

The third act turn takes on operatic tones, but it makes sense in context.  In the end, we see that life is even more disappointing than nightmares.  As in Repast, the final note is one of optimism, but one that rings — one has to assume deliberately — utterly hollow.  The smile on Chiyo’s face is in stark contrast to the life she has to look forward to.  Chiba’s performance is quite nice… she did several films with Naruse, and would marry him the following year.  They would divorce three years after that, which seems fitting to Naruse’s often cynical views.

There are some wonderful camera techniques at work, including a couple of stunning zooms and a poetic superimposition.  Rating: Very Good (80)


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