A Wanderer’s Notebook

This biopic of Fumiko Hayashi, the novelist whose work was the basis for five other Naruse films, is adapted by Sumie Tanaka and Toshiro Ide from Hayashi’s autobiography and from a popular theatrical adaptation by Kazuo Kikuta. Catherine Russell claims that the play provided the film’s narrative and that the autobiography bears little relation to the movie.[1] On the stage, the role of Hayashi was identified with Mitsuko Mori, who allegedly performed Hayashi over 2000 times in nearly 50 years of revivals.[2] (Mori would later play Yoko Tsukasa’s sister-in-law in SCATTERED CLOUDS.)

Hideko Takamine’s casting as Hayashi in the movie version is not surprising, given her history as Naruse’s go-to Hayashi heroine; but her performance, though livened with comic moments, mostly seems actorish to me, too devoted to impersonation. More damaging, Hayashi as biopic subject mandates an intensity of focus that narrows the scope of Naruse’s storytelling options. The film winds up mythologizing Hayashi simply by putting her so up front and center, and I’m not sure that mythology is Naruse’s strong suit. A WANDERER’S NOTEBOOK manages to create a character for Hayashi, but not much of a narrative context: the focus remains on her stoicism in the face of relentless poverty, and on the poetry of her voiceover commentary on her struggles. Too often – as, for instance, in the set piece where Hayashi confronts two bar patrons who are abusing the hostesses – a big scene-shattering emotion simply confirms ideas about the character that are already well established. Naruse and the writers give only partial information on important character points: did Hayashi really sabotage her literary rival? Was her bad record with relationships a character trait? The gaps in information don’t feel like ambiguities to enhance Hayashi’s mystery: in fact, they are barely acknowledged.

A bar scene in which Hayashi does a little clown dance (an enjoyable outcropping of Takamine’s pantomimic skill), and a few other hints of extroversion in her personality, like her funny habit of sticking her tongue out like a little kid, hint at aspects of her personality that are never developed. Hayashi is able to attract a string of desirable (though unpleasant, of course) men, despite generally coming across as dour.  I wish that the movie had brought out her presumed charm or seductive powers; as is, her flashes of exuberance feel like isolated moments instead of an undercurrent.

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[1] Russell, The Cinema of Naruse Mikio, 361.

[2] Blankestejn, “Japanese Masters: Hayashi Fumiko,” Japan Navigator.

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