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TSPDT 2013: Bangiku (Late Chrysanthemums)

Posted by martinteller on May 18, 2013

The lives of four former geishas.  Okin (Haruko Sugimura) lives only with her deaf-mute maid.  But she wields the most economic power of any of them, and as a moneylender, all the others are in her debt.  Nobu (Sadako Sawamura) runs a bar with her husband, but can’t afford to have children.  Tamae (Chikako Hosokawa) is an ailing widow, and her son Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Koizumi) is unable to find a job and is involved in a questionable relationship.  Otomi (Yûko Mochizuki) is an alcoholic and a gambler, frequently borrowing money from her own daughter Sachiko (Ineko Arima) and squandering it.

Money is a running motif throughout Naruse’s work, perhaps never more so than here.  Most of the conversations revolve around it.  Sachiko is going to marry an older man because he makes more than the young fellas.  Okin constantly hounds her friends to pay their debts, even coming in Nobu’s house from the back door so she won’t sneak out.  There are discussions about who pays for what.  Several shots of cash.  As Otomi says, “Money is everything.”

But Okin gets little comfort from her financial security and secretly envies the others for their families.  There are two men in her life.  Seki (Bontarô Miake) tried to kill her in an attempted double suicide love pact many years ago.  He shows up again but she wants nothing to do with him (and what does he want from her? money, of course).  The one she longs for is her old flame Tabe (Ken Uehara), a hunky who she lost to another woman.  When she gets a letter from him announcing an upcoming visit, she gets giddy with delight and starts primping.  However, Tabe turns out to be a pathetic, passionless disappointment.

And Tamae and Otomi are ultimately disappointed and abandoned by their own children.  There’s no solace in money and there’s no solace in men and there’s no solace in family.  As they assess their lives now, their time as geishas appears to be their glory days, long behind them.  Naruse’s harsh cynicism once again separates him from Ozu, and there’s little room for sentimentality here.

All of the performances seemed pretty good to me.  Sugimura (especially notable for her work with Ozu, but excellent in just about everything) shines brightest, as a character who seems so mercenary at first but wins some sympathy as the movie progresses.  I quite liked Mochizuki as well, who has to do a lot of drunk acting but pulls it off well.

As usual, I was very glad to see Naruse’s work but still have not developed a strong affection for him.  However, not every director has to be a favorite, and I will continue to seek out more of his films, which are always intriguing or rewarding on some level.  Rating: Very Good (83)

IMDb
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