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The Lost Films of Mikio Naruse

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    Patrick Galvan

    Not sure if many people here are familiar with his work, but Kurosawa’s senior Mikio Naruse (for whom he was an assistant on “Avalanche” and whom he praised in his autobiography as unrivaled in his mastery of editing) was one of the great Japanese directors of the 1930s-60s. Of his 89 films, 21 have been lost. I recently put together a guide on Naruse’s lost films based on information I was able to dig up on them.

    The Lost Films of Mikio Naruse

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    Mugibuefan

    Thanks, Patrick. One of my favourite “lost films” of Naruse is “Ginza Cosmetics” which I was able to catch once on You Tube before, for some unaccountable reason (probably copyright), it was taken down. I have not found any permanent version of this available.

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    Patrick Galvan

    Mugibuefan,

    Worry not. “Ginza Cosmetics” is not a lost film. It still survives today and subtitled copies do exist (the Criterion Collection has one, albeit they haven’t put it on any kind of physical media release yet). The Naruse films I cover in my article are the 21 films of his that do not exist – at all – anymore. The ones where the original negatives, all duplicates, etc. no longer exist.

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    shadedpain4

    Oh man, thank you for this Patrick. I’ll read this when i have more time. Naruse is a favorite of mine.

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    Patrick Galvan

    You’re very welcome! I hope you find it interesting. Always delighted to meet other fans of this great director.

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    Longstone

    Hi Patrick , wow that looks like an excellent read , just had time to skim through for now but will try to give it a proper study as soon as I get a chance .
    I don’t suppose there is any sign of more English friendly releases on DVD or Blu-ray of the surviving films in the foreseeable future? Naruse seems criminally under represented on home cinema. I don’t have access to streaming services and to be honest don’t really enjoy that method of viewing.
    Luckily here in the U.K. in the past I bought the BFI DVD set and the Masters of Cinema set plus the Criterion releases when they all happened as I think the UK releases are now long gone as well ?
    Maybe I read that some Blu-rays were being released in France ? don’t know if this is a sign of new possible releases elsewhere ?

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    Ugetsu

    Patrick, that’s fantastic, I had no idea Naruse made so many earlier films. I love his post war work, at their best they are the equal to Kurosawa and Ozu as works of art.

    By a coincidence, last week I caught Hirokazu Kore-eda’s new film Shoplifters. Lazy film writers often talk of him as being the new Ozu, but he has said several times in interviews that Naruse is his great influence and its easy to see why with Shoplifters – its exactly the sort of film I think Naruse would be making if he was alive today, its that good.

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    Longstone

    Ugetsu , I’m jealous you’ve seen Shoplifters , it sounds like you think it’s as good as the critics say ?
    It is passing through a cinema close to me in January so not too long to wait.

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    Patrick Galvan

    I am overjoyed at the number of responses this thread is getting so far. Naruse receives so little attention at least here in the United States that I am always delighted to meet and talk to other people who share my admiration for his work.

    Longshore: Unfortunately, there are no plans for future releases. Criterion has ten Naruse films in their streaming-only library, but they don’t seem to be making a move to release them on physical media yet. And now that their streaming partner Filmstruck is gone, those movies will be completely unavailable to everyone until they find a new avenue to release them. And even then, I believe it’s a U.S.-only service. Which is a shame.

    A couple of months ago, I attended a seminar with the president of Criterion and I was hoping to ask him about the process they take in picking out directors and movies for their Eclipse series. I didn’t have the chance to ask him (they didn’t notice my hand during the Q&A), but I think Naruse would be a prime candidate for that series. I would love a “Late Naruse” bundle-pack, for instance.

    Alas, the BFI and Eureka! triple-packs you mentioned are now out of print. I had to pay a pretty penny to get the used copies I have in my collection. I’m glad I did, though, because I now have a DVD of “Repast,” which is one of my favorites.

    Ugetsu: I haven’t seen “Shoplifters” yet, but after reading your comments on it, I am now extremely interested in seeing it.

    Thank you, everyone, for the kind words about my article. I had a lot of fun putting it together and I’m happy to see others are finding it useful.

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    Longstone

    I found the French release is available on Blu-ray via Amazon france , I assume with no English subs, maybe someone will put this out in the U.K. ? although it does seem unlikely

    Amazon listing here

    It seems a bit chicken and egg , Naruse might be more popular if you could actually get a chance to see the films .

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    shadedpain4

    Naruse would be so perfect for additional Eclipse releases. They wouldn’t have to do anything (in terms of creating/licensing supplements) but press the discs. And most if not all of them would then be the only in print offical versions available in the world on disc with English subs.

    Maybe the demise of Filmstruck will create a slight resurgence of the Eclipse series?

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    Vili Maunula

    Yet another wonderful article, Patrick! Thanks for sharing! So sad so many films are lost and those that are not simply aren’t globally available.

    I absolutely adore Naruse’s work and have wrecked my brain recently about how to include his films in the film club. Alas, the global availability (or lack thereof) makes it very difficult.

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    Patrick Galvan

    Thanks, Vili! Yeah, the scarcity of Naruse’s films is rather frustrating when you’re trying to share his movies with other people. My hope is Criterion will either put more of his films on DVD or make their next streaming platform accessible to users outside of the U.S. I don’t know how realistic an expectation that is, but it would be nice, because they do have a sizable number of his best movies in their “streaming only” library.

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    Vili Maunula

    I would give my left arm, or alternatively about 9.99 € / month, for a streaming service that includes a Criterion type catalogue!

    I notice that with Netflix, HBO and Google Play, the three services that I primarily use, I have ended up watching far more things that I would previously never have specifically sought out, while at the same time getting hold of much fewer releases that I really want to see. The convenience offered by these services is definitely influencing my watching habits.

    I wonder, would something like a “Netflix for public domain films” be a feasible project for something like a non-profit to run. My understanding is that a lot of pre-1950 Japanese films are technically public domain, while old American films start to fall into public domain again next year. Of course, any project like this would need substantial funds for restoration (existing restoration work itself is usually under copyright after all), conversion and delivery.

    At least one can always dream.

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    Ugetsu

    For those who ask, yes, Shoplifters is well worth going out of your way to catch in the cinema. Its a slightly odd Kore-eda film in that it goes from his usual ‘observational’ style to a surprisingly plot-heavy ending. Its hard to explain without spoilers, but I think he just about pulls it off, even if, a little like his most recent film The Third Murder, he has veered a little bit towards didacticism (this is the only one of his films I’ve seen that I didn’t really like). But while I’m a little agnostic about the last 15 minutes or so of the film, the rest of it is truly magical and engrossing.

    Vili, like you I long for a streaming service that has a Criterion standard catalogue. When streaming started to displace DVD’s, we were promised that it would allow for a ‘long tail’ of choice, as it would be so cheap to keep thousands of obscure and old films available. But this certainly hasn’t happened, if anything I find it harder now to see some older Japanese films, as the wonderful DVD service I used to use is now no more, and so many of the films they used to have simply don’t seem to be available anywhere except to purchase at often exorbitant prices.

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    Ugetsu

    Incidentally, while on the topic of Kore-eda and his films, I forgot to post about it here at the time, but his last film before Shoplifters, the little seen The Third Murder, which I mentioned above – is clearly influenced by Rashomon and Scandal with a little bit of High and Low thrown in. So Vili, if you are looking for future discussions involving Naruse and Kurosawa, its a good choice (albeit one thats probably very hard to find – I just saw it at a Japanese film festival here in Dublin, I don’t think it got any kind of wide release).

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    Longstone

    Ugetsu , you did post a lengthy write up about The Third Murder at the time here
    Third Murder Thread

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    Mugibuefan

    Patrick: wonder what you thought of Naruse’s 1954 “Late Chrysanthemums” based on stories by Fumiko Hayashi – his treatment of geisha in decline is quite moving – I only have the VHS tape of this.

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    Ugetsu

    Longstone, thanks, it seems your memory is much better than mine! I’d completely forgotten about that.

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    Patrick Galvan

    Mugibuefan,

    I think “Late Chrysanthemums” is a very, very good movie. I’m lucky to have the now-out-of-print DVD that B.F.I. released along with “Floating Clouds” and “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs.” All of the acting in that film is good, but the one who really stands out to me is Hiroshi Koizumi (the son who abandons his mother to move in with an older woman). Koizumi is primarily known for playing scientists in Ishiro Honda’s science fiction movies — in which he rarely had much to do besides spout exposition — but here he has a genuinely interesting character to play and really has a chance to flex his acting muscles and show just how good an actor he could be.

    Something else, since I mentioned Honda. In the recent Honda biography by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, it’s mentioned that Honda, like Kurosawa, admired Naruse’s mastery of rhythm and editing. Furthermore, Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka once stated that had Honda not been pigeonholed in making science fiction for most of his career, he probably would’ve become a director (to use Tanaka’s words) “like Mikio Naruse.” Both of them seemed to have a sensitivity toward the plight of middle-class women, even if Honda’s endings were notably more cheerful than Naruse’s. Something I’ve always found interesting.

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    Mugibuefan

    Patrick: An interesting analysis of Koizumi. I appreciate your comments on Honda-I have a soft spot for those old, corny “B” Japanese SF movies – I’m glad somebody made a career of making them. I was impressed with, and tried hard to dislike (but without success), Haruko Sugimura’s role as the cyncial moneylender – her abominable treatment of her “friends” would impress Scrooge, and she seemed to enjoy being regarded as unspeakable. And yes, I’ve got “Stairs” on VHS as well – the 2 films seem to have been marketed together in several formats – my 2 tapes as a collection were called “The Films of Mikio Naruse Volume One” which begged the question for me: was there a “Volume Two”? I find Hideko Takamine (in Stairs, Floating Clouds and other films) absolutely luminous. Thanks for your review of the truly lost films of Naruse – like some of the missing parts of Metropolis, maybe one day copies of one or more of them will be found somewhere in the world.

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    Patrick Galvan

    Hideko Takamine was an extraordinary actress and she did a lot of her best work for Naruse. One of the best movies they made together is one that is unfortunately rather hard to come by. It’s called “Lonely Lane” (also known as “A Wanderer’s Notebook”), and it’s sort of a biopic about Fumiko Hayashi, whose stories and novels were the subject for many of Naruse’s best films. Takamine played Hayashi in the film and she herself considered it one of her two favorites she made with Naruse (the other being “Floating Clouds”). It’s a really good movie, one of many Naruse films I hope gets a widespread release some day.

    Thank you for the kind words about my article. It would be nice if some of them were rediscovered someday.

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