Both You and I

A definite pick-me up, after A DESCENDANT OF URASHIMA TARO set expectations low for occupation-period Naruse. Like URASHIMA TARO, BOTH YOU AND I is designed as social propaganda: in this case, to encourage postwar Japanese workers to be less deferential to the authority of their employers. But whoever came up with this mission (presumably the Allied occupation forces. If so, it’s interesting that they tolerated, or encouraged, so much railing at capitalists; Kyoko Hirano writes that New Dealers had control of the occupation for a few years[1]) seems not to have cared much about how Naruse executed it. Featuring the well-known manzai comedy team Entatsu Yokoyama (the barber in Naruse’s 1944 THIS HAPPY LIFE) and Achako Hanabishi as the oppressed office workers Aono and Ooki, BOTH YOU AND I is little more than a series of comedy sketches, mostly not very funny but made endearing by writer/director Naruse’s winking refusal to stitch the plot together or to cover up the contrivance of the casting. (“If you consider how much it would cost to hire a couple of comedians, they’re cheap,” says the duo’s boss after making them perform at one of his parties.) Between the sketches, Naruse inserts disconnected bits of droll character business: Ooki falling abruptly asleep at the dinner table; Aono unaware of the ages of his marriageable daughters; unruly youngsters somersaulting threateningly in living rooms. For a while, the film’s propagandistic passages are comically tucked away in the dialogue of a play being rehearsed by Ooki’s son; when the message eventually invades the plot line, it is pounded home so monotonously that the film nearly sinks. But the manzai duo pull out their only really funny routine for the climactic telling-off-the-boss scene, which sugarcoats the pill of the sloganeering. I wouldn’t exactly call BOTH YOU AND I a good film, but its desultory freedom of expression lifts it above much of Naruse’s work from the relatively dry 1946-1950 period.

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[1] Hirano, Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo, 4.