Eclipse Series 26 Silent Naruse
It's sad to read in the liner notes for the Eclipse set, Silent Naruse, that of the twenty-four films that the Japanese writer/director Mikio Naruse made in his first years of filmmaking, only the five contained here still exist. An early cinematic pioneer whose career spanned nearly half a century, he made eighty-nine films in total, and only about half of them have survived the decades since. In an age when film seems so permanent, and even the worst box office dud gets preserved in high-definition for future generations to suffer through, we can't forget that, once upon a time, the art of movies was mutable.

Thus, Mikio Naruse is a director that more of us probably know by name rather than by his work. He was an artist whose specialty was what was termed the "woman's picture." Like Douglas Sirk in the U.S., Naruse made movies that, for the most part, focused on family drama with a female center. Many of his films were emotional tales that explored the unique struggle of women in Japanese society--particularly those who lived on the fringe, either economically or socially, or sometimes both, one dictating the other. This peek into his earliest work confirms that these were issues he was concerned with from pretty much the get-go, though the core ideas would be ones that would develop over time, along with his style.

The Eclipse boxed set Silent Naruse is a wonderful time capsule, the only remaining snippet of the great Japanese director's early career. Collecting his five surviving films from the silent era--and indeed, the earliest he has available--it shows how he honed his craft, going from family comedy to full-blown melodrama, elevating the low-end "women's picture" to high art.

The most lighthearted in the set is Flunky, Work Hard (1931), Naruse's earliest surviving work, which follows a poor, bumbling, and somewhat infantile insurance salesman as he tries to woo a new client, keep his disgruntled wife happy, and maintain a relationship with his troublesome young son.

The rest of the films in the set conform more closely to themes that Naruse would develop for most of the rest of his career, following the sagas and struggles of primarily female protagonists who undergo hardships and heartbreaks with very few happy endings. No Blood Relation (1932), Apart from You (1933), Every-Night Dreams (1933) and Street Without End (1934) are fairly bald examples of melodrama, but show enough freshness of technique to explain Naruse's popularity as an accomplished storyteller. Aging geishas, struggling mothers and mothers-in-law, children who are conflicted or caught in the middle, husbands or suitors who are either absent or angry, and the pull of tradition versus the somewhat tawdry lure of modernity are recurring themes in these short features that also rely heavily on expressionistic or experimental techniques to often startling effect.

The movies are all presented as either completely silent or you have the option of playing new scores by Robin Holcomb and Wayne Horvitz. These need to be turned on at the main menu. The pair provide solid musical accompaniment, laying a foundation for the movies without overshadowing the events onscreen.

3 x DVD | NTSC 4:3 | 370 minutes | 17.3 Gb + 3% rec
Language: Japanese Intertitles
Subtitles: English
Genre: Drama

Download Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse: Flunky, Work Hard! (1931), No Blood Relation (1932), Apart from You (1933), Every-Night Dreams (1933), Street Without End (1934) 3 x DVD Criterion Collection:




Related posts:

  1. Eclipse series 42: Silent Ozu — Three Crime Dramas: Walk Cheerfully (1930), That Night’s Wife (1930), Dragnet Girl (1933) 3 x DVD5 Criterion Collection
  2. Eclipse Series 44: Julien Duvivier in the Thirties: David Golder (1931), Poil de carotte / The Red Head (1932), La tete d’un homme / A Man’s Neck (1933), Un carnet de bal / Dance Program (1937) 4 x DVD Criterion Collection
  3. Hal Roach: Female Comedy Teams: Feed ‘em and Weep (1928), A Pair of Tights (1929), The Pajama Party (1931), On the Loose (1931), Show Business (1932), Asleep in the Feet (1933), The Bargain of the Century (1933), Beauty and the Bus (1933), Babes in the Goods (1934), Maid in Hollywood (1934), The Misses Stooge (1935), Top Flat (1935) 2 x DVD9
  4. Eclipse Series 16: Alexander Korda’s Private Lives: The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), The Rise of Catherine the Great (1934), The Private Life of Don Juan (1934), Rembrandt (1936) 4 x DVD5 Criterion Collection
  5. The Complete Jean Vigo: A Propos de Nice (1930), Taris (1931), Zero de conduite (1933), L’Atalante (1934) 2 x DVD9 and Blu-Ray Criterion Collection