I watched a great Japanese film last night by Mikio Naruse called ‘Late Chrysanthemums.’ It was film following four former geisha in the post-war world of Japan. Each of their lives have taken drastically different turns, with O-Kin becoming a tight-wad money lender, Tamae and Tomi who live together and grapple with their disappoints (mostly unfounded) in their children, and Nobu who owns a restaurant the others frequent. Whether it is Haruko Sugimura’s performance as the moneylender O-Kin (I loved her in Tokyo Story – a Yasujiro Ozu film I recommend everyone sees at least once before they die) is absolutely astounding as she allows for her character’s multiple layers to be peeled back throughout the course of the movie. Yuuko Mochizuki’s turn as Tomi breathes life into a gambling, drunk Japanese woman who shatters gender stereotypes and conventions with aplomb. Her unkempt hair, her slovenly drunken ways all deny her geisha past while simultaneously exhibiting a kind of liberation that would have been impossible under more traditional strictures. She even claims to be supporting a young man, and in the scene at the Mah-Jong parlor where her daughter works, it is revealed that even her daughter is aware of her mother’s somewhat libertine values. Tamae is disappointed in her son’s dalliance with an older mistress and is frequently incapacitated by migraine headaches. Her beauty is one of fading glory, the evidence of her being a former geisha still written large upon her face and graceful body language. Indeed, in one amazing scene, the director has Tamae leaning against a table, her body elongated by her dress and the blanket covering her legs, giving her a long, graceful silhouette that highlights her femininity and reminds us of the elegant world of a geisha woman while juxtaposed behind her is Tomi, hair unkempt, slouching on her elbows on a table. The characterization that this one scene helps promote demonstrated to me why I love Japanese film. Everything is quite deliberate and sometimes the scene and how it is filmed tells as much about the story as the actual dialogue and action of the film. Of the characters, O-Kin reveals the most about herself while changing the least, but it isn’t a change that’s expected. Rather, one sees why O-Kin has become the way she is and it is an admixture of prudence as well as latent bitterness at a life perhaps unfulfilled since she lacks a husband or any children, unlike the others. In fact, she is dismissive of family life when Nobu mentions her desire to have children. When O-Kin’s former lover Tabe arrives to see her, but only to borrow money, the audience gets a clearer picture of why O-Kin’s life is miserable and that in order to survive she has emotionally detached herself from it. Indeed, nearly everyone in the film presumes she will loan them money, that she has money, or she has already loaned them money. Such constant badgering for repayment as well as for new loans would make any normal person embittered. All in all, not quite as poignant as Haruko Sugimura’s other turn in Tokyo Story, but nonetheless an awesome film that any fan of Japanese cinema should check out.

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