Like Mizoguchi, Naruse saw life as a crushing fate, and it was for him too the position of women in society that best expressed the claustrophobia and resentment we feel about our lot. Yet unlike Mizoguchi, still less like Ozu, Naruse allowed no moments of stillness, no redemption through the expanse of subsuming nature, no recognition of the rightness of order. Naruse found no quasi-religious reconciliation to the sorrow of living, and in his films showed only the confirmation of what he himself said of the human condition: “From the youngest age, I have thought that the world we live in betrays us; this thought remains with me.”

Despite this bleak view on the part of the director, however, the determined characters of the Naruse film never give up. A stubborn dedication to their own self-respect in the face of overwhelming crassness, vulgarity and exploitation from even those who should be most sensitive and protective toward the individual lends Naruse’s heroines a distinctive nobility. […] The Naruse heroine can be seen as a symbol for everyone who has ever been caught between ideals and reality, making do with something unsatisfying, as in Repast (1951) or Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro (1938), going without because all ideals have been crushed but self-respect remains, as in Late Chrysanthemums (1954) or When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960), or retaining a determination to realize the ideal against all odds, as in Lightning (1952) or Flowing (1956). All of these approaches to coping with life’s disappointments and betrayals strike a familiar chord in viewers around the world, and therein lies Naruse’s uniqueness.

These neutral conclusions, neither sad nor happy endings which have been called “inconclusive” by some critics, would not be possible without Naruse’s uniquely subtle technique. Without the quiet style in which they are couched, many of the stories of Naruse’s films, such as the late melodramas Yearning (1965) and Scattered Clouds (1967), would be maudlin and undistinguished. But the criticism the late Shochiku studio head Shiro Kido leveled against Naruse, “His films have no ups and downs; the tone is too flat”, reveals the consistent subtlety of the director’s technique. As with the films of Ozu, the Naruse film rejects plot in favor of character. Akira Kurosawa counters Kido’s remarks with a description of Naruse’s style as “like a great river with a calm surface and a raging current in its depths.”

Audie Bock on Mikio Naruse (August 20, 1905 — July 2, 1969)


"Mr. Naruse lives on in people’s hearts through his works, and so he lives on in my heart today. Even during his lifetime we hardly ever met except when we were working together, and our conversations then were so infrequent I could almost tally them up. The result is that every once in a while I catch myself thinking, ‘My, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Mr. Naruse,’ as if it were still possible." — Hideko Takamine
"Naruse’s method consists of building one very brief shot on top of another, but when you look at them all spliced together in the final film, they give the impression of a single long take. The flow is so magnificent that the splices are invisible. This flow of short shots that looks calm and ordinary at first glance then reveals itself to be like a deep river with a quiet surface disguising a fast-raging current underneath. The sureness of his hand in this was without comparison." — Akira Kurosawa
"If [my characters] move even a little, they quickly hit the wall. From the youngest age, I have thought that the world we live in betrays us; this thought still remains with me."
Mikio NaruseAugust 20, 1905 — July 2, 1969

"Mr. Naruse lives on in people’s hearts through his works, and so he lives on in my heart today. Even during his lifetime we hardly ever met except when we were working together, and our conversations then were so infrequent I could almost tally them up. The result is that every once in a while I catch myself thinking, ‘My, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Mr. Naruse,’ as if it were still possible." — Hideko Takamine

"Naruse’s method consists of building one very brief shot on top of another, but when you look at them all spliced together in the final film, they give the impression of a single long take. The flow is so magnificent that the splices are invisible. This flow of short shots that looks calm and ordinary at first glance then reveals itself to be like a deep river with a quiet surface disguising a fast-raging current underneath. The sureness of his hand in this was without comparison." — Akira Kurosawa

"If [my characters] move even a little, they quickly hit the wall. From the youngest age, I have thought that the world we live in betrays us; this thought still remains with me."

Mikio Naruse
August 20, 1905 — July 2, 1969

That 1963 disappearance was a scandal. She had been the most beloved of film stars, her handsome face, accepting smile, known to all. And then, suddenly, rudely, without a word of apology, she was going to disappear—to retire.

Here, where the stars hang on, voluntary retirement is unknown, particularly for one the caliber of Setsuko Hara. She had become an ideal: men wanted to marry someone like her; women wanted to be someone like her.

This was because on the screen she reconciled her life as real people cannot. Whatever her role in films—daughter, wife, or mother—she played a woman who at the same time, somehow, was herself. Her social roles did not eclipse that individual self, our Setsuko.

— Donald Richie, Japanese Portraits

Setsuko Hara
Born June 17, 1920

"People say [my eyes] are expressive but I’ve never tried to use them that way. They are just the gateway to my internal feelings. Kurosawa used to tell me, ‘Wherever you are, there is light coming from your eyes.’ And that’s a very good thing for an actor, I say."

Tatsuya Nakadai
Born December 13, 1932

"Naruse’s method consists of building one very brief shot on top of another, but when you look at them all spliced together in the final film, they give the impression of a single long take. The flow is so magnificent that the splices are invisible. This flow of short shots that looks calm and ordinary at first glance then reveals itself to be like a deep river with a quiet surface disguising a fast-raging current underneath. The sureness of his hand in this was without comparison." — Akira Kurosawa

Repast // dir. Mikio Naruse

Mikio NaruseRepastMeshiめしSetsuko HaraFilm
Akira Kurosawa and Mikio Naruse. Kurosawa served as Naruse’s assistant director on Nadare (Avalanche, 1937).

One day on the set I had nothing to do, as usual. So I went behind a backdrop that had clouds painted on it and found a huge velvet curtain that was used for backgrounds in night scenes. It was conveniently folded, so I lay down on it and promptly went to sleep. The next thing I knew, one of the assistant lighting technicians was prodding me awake. “Run!” he said. “Naruse’s mad.” In a panic I fled through a ventilation hole in the back of the stage. As I scrambled, I heard the lighting assistant yell, “He’s behind the clouds!” When I came nonchalantly through the front entrance to the stage, Naruse was coming out. “What’s wrong?” I asked, and he replied, “Somebody’s snoring on my stage. My day’s ruined, so I’m going home.” To my great shame, I was unable to admit that I had been the culprit. In fact, I didn’t bring myself to tell Naruse the truth until ten years had passed. He thought it was very funny.Akira Kurosawa: Something Like an Autobiography

Akira Kurosawa and Mikio Naruse. Kurosawa served as Naruse’s assistant director on Nadare (Avalanche, 1937).

One day on the set I had nothing to do, as usual. So I went behind a backdrop that had clouds painted on it and found a huge velvet curtain that was used for backgrounds in night scenes. It was conveniently folded, so I lay down on it and promptly went to sleep. The next thing I knew, one of the assistant lighting technicians was prodding me awake. “Run!” he said. “Naruse’s mad.” In a panic I fled through a ventilation hole in the back of the stage. As I scrambled, I heard the lighting assistant yell, “He’s behind the clouds!” When I came nonchalantly through the front entrance to the stage, Naruse was coming out. “What’s wrong?” I asked, and he replied, “Somebody’s snoring on my stage. My day’s ruined, so I’m going home.” To my great shame, I was unable to admit that I had been the culprit. In fact, I didn’t bring myself to tell Naruse the truth until ten years had passed. He thought it was very funny.

Akira Kurosawa: Something Like an Autobiography

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs // dir. Mikio Naruse

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs // dir. Mikio Naruse

"Naruse’s method consists of staging one very brief shot after another;  but when we look at them placed end-to-end in the finished film, they  give the impression of one long single take. The fluidity is so perfect  that the cuts are invisible. A flow of shots that looks calm and  ordinary at first glance reveals itself to be like a deep river with a  quiet surface disguising a fast-raging current."
- Akira Kurosawa on Mikio Naruse, born 106 years ago today.

"Naruse’s method consists of staging one very brief shot after another; but when we look at them placed end-to-end in the finished film, they give the impression of one long single take. The fluidity is so perfect that the cuts are invisible. A flow of shots that looks calm and ordinary at first glance reveals itself to be like a deep river with a quiet surface disguising a fast-raging current."

- Akira Kurosawa on Mikio Naruse, born 106 years ago today.

Mikio NaruseFilm
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs // dir. Mikio Naruse

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs // dir. Mikio Naruse