Avalanche

One of the least appealing Naruse films. It looks like a prestige project, adapted by Naruse (in collaboration with left-wing intellectual Tomoyoshi Murayama) from a serialized novel by Jiro Osaragi, who also provided source material for Ozu’s THE MUNEKATA SISTERS. Consisting mostly of conversations in well-appointed parlors, and shot through with interior monologues, the film centers on wealthy young Goro (Hideo Saeki), who feels empowered by the spirit of modernity to cast off his wife Fumiko (Noboru Kiritachi, of Yamanaka’s HUMANITY AND PAPER BALLOONS) in favor of his true love Yayoi (Ranko Edogawa). The characters are fairly pure embodiments of the film’s theme, which is conveyed via speeches from Goro’s moralizing father (Yo Shiomi, the grandfather in THE GIRL IN THE RUMOR): the younger generation has acquired knowledge but somehow failed to acquire understanding, and is consequently throwing off social restraints and becoming a menace to itself and to others. Naruse doesn’t devise a good way to handle these flat, message-bearing characters devoid of mystery. His visual style is unusually fluid and beautiful here, evoking the space between characters and stripping away decor for a minimalist effect. But the poetic ambience has nothing much to attach to. The best scene is the climax, which is close to horror in the contrast between Goro’s mentally unstable internal monologue (signalled crudely by a dark filter pulled down over the camera lens) and repeated closeups of his inexpressive face. Interestingly, a coda of Yayoi and her brother on the beach, which feels like Naruse in its contrapuntal use of open air and sunlight, cuts off abruptly, as if Naruse had salvaged some footage that pleased him and tacked it onto the end of the uncooperative story.

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