Even Parting Is Enjoyable

A celebration of the creative renewal of Toho in 1947, the portmanteau film FOUR LOVE STORIES included episodes by Naruse, Shiro Toyoda, Teinosuke Kinugasa and Kajiro Yamamoto. Naruse’s episode, the second, written by Hideo Oguni, is a leisurely dramatic piece about the breakup of bar girl Mitsuko (Michiyo Kogure, the star of OKUNI AND GOHEI), and gangster Arita (Isao Numasaki), mostly staged in Mitsuko’s apartment. Seemingly shot on a shoestring, the episode contains only one other location, a bar where a group of predatory characters (including Ichiro Sugai, memorable in A MOTHER NEVER DIES) lie in wait for the bar girl to become available. These marginal figures acquire some edge from Naruse’s usual harsh detailing, but the romantic story, driven by maudlin music, gradually becomes lugubrious after a few feints at lowlife humor, and is one of the few instances of Naruse’s direction being difficult to detect. The structure of the episode, in which introductory material is kept to a minimum in order to arrive quickly at juicy dramatic scenes, is not uncommon for commercial short subjects of the time, but it deprives Naruse of the opportunity to play with narrative development. And one suspects that sentimental love scenes, even if they end badly, don’t interest him very much.

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