Fairly early on, one gets the sense that this two-part adaptation (by Fumitaka Iwasaki, from a novel by Kan Kikuchi, who also provided source material for GATE OF HELL) spells out its issues too directly to be Naruse’s dream project. Eventually it emerges as a tearjerker about a young woman named Toyomi (Takako Irie), impregnated and forsaken, whose only purpose in life seems to be to enable increasingly outrageous story contrivances. The material contains some psychological nuance which may or may not be attributable to Naruse, especially regarding the self-deceptions of Toyomi’s weak victimizer Shintaro (Minoru Takada, the father in SINCERITY). But the crazy plot does what it will, sweeping aside petty issues of characterization. Certainly it would be hard to tell what any of the characters learn from their experience.
Naruse takes refuge in the visual flourishes that he favored in this period, and around the middle of Part I he hits an interesting, almost Sternbergian stride, beginning and ending scenes on striking long shots of novel locations, suspending the story in a contemplative and dusky ambience. (Several beautiful images seem to be photographed in low light with high-speed film, with real light sources visible in the frame, and movie lights used to supply highlights.) Part II has charms as well: possibly the most evocative interlude in the film is the depiction of the canal-side boarding house where the pregnant Toyomi takes up residence, with unidentified boarders traversing the shadowy hallways to the omnipresent sounds of passing boats. And there’s a pleasing and dramatic pan from a closeup of the signage at the obstetrical institution where Toyomi gives birth to an elegant long shot of nurses playing hanetsuki, establishing the date as New Year’s Day. Still, the tightening grip of the absurd plot squeezes the life out of Part II and negates what little character Toyomi had previously been given.