Sudden Rain

A comedy about pitched marital combat, not entirely satisfying but with a more interesting formal approach than is immediately apparent. Based on a one-act play by Kunio Kishida, Yoko Mizuki’s script expresses the enmity between husband Namiki (Shuji Sano, the son in THERE WAS A FATHER and the husband in A HEN IN THE WIND) and his wife (Setsuko Hara) in terms of everyday trivialities such as cooking inadequacies and the clipping of recipes out of unread newspapers. The couple’s conflict is universalized by mirroring it: first in their niece Ayako (Kyoko Kagawa), on the verge of leaving her husband for equally quotidian offenses; then in the young couple next door, Mr. and Mrs. Imasato (Keiju Kobayashi and Akemi Negishi – the latter the star of Sternberg’s ANATAHAN), who swap marital complaints with their neighbors. Everyone finds the grass greener – Ayako flirts with her aunt’s husband Mr. Namiki, who is attracted to Mrs. Imasato, while Mr. Imasato seems fascinated with Mrs. Namiki – but no one has both opportunity and inclination to act. Naruse complements this universalizing tone with stylized cutting and pacing that pushes the film in a comic direction. For instance: when Mrs. Namiki encounters a posse of local wives who disapprove of her feeding a stray dog (many of the supporting performances are pushed toward the grotesque), Naruse plays a formal game by systematically cross-cutting between Mrs. Namiki and each of the women successively. Or: from a shot of a crowd, a woman approaches the foreground and starts a conversation with an unknown off-camera party, who is revealed as Mrs. Namiki only when we see the reverse angle. The long interlude about Mr. Namiki’s work life that takes over the film near the halfway point is introduced by a brisk, faintly comic montage sequence of commuters heading to the city, hustled along by the blocking and cutting like leaves blown in a windstorm. All this abstract formal play culminates in the surprising and pleasing ending, where Mrs. Namiki appears out of nowhere in a reverse shot to join the children’s ball game in which Mr. Namiki has become oddly absorbed.

The odd thing about this schema is that Naruse’s depiction of the husband-wife conflict, despite the banal issues presented by the script and the light-hearted formal play, is characteristically brutal and devastating, creating an scorched earth of emotions that doesn’t cohabit easily with the comedy of reunification. Sano, an actor with more natural gravity than, say, Ken Uehara, is impressively convincing both in his appealing self-possession with all the other women in the movie and in his withering, smiling contempt for his wife. Hara too achieves a plausible dual personality, presenting her familiar ideal-woman persona (her husband’s co-workers admiringly describe her as “lively but emotionally fragile”) to everyone but her husband, to whom she is a bit of a shrew. (SUDDEN RAIN is the film to show people who complain of Hara being a one-trick pony. I especially admired her in a hushed kitchen scene in which she explains to her husband the genesis of a comically bad meal she is serving their guests, her performance perfectly suspended between naturalism and comic exaggeration.) Given Naruse’s seeming conviction that this couple is unable to exist comfortably together, the film’s formal play, suggesting as it does the tradition of remarriage comedy, seems incongruous.

The persistent piano score, reminiscent of American melodramas of the time, comes to signify the repetitive, lightly-borne tone of the story rather than the emotionality that such music connoted in America. The film’s title has only a slight connection to the narrative, but a rainstorm does create one of its most evocative moments, in which a despondent Mrs. Namiki makes her way home from the train station at night on rain-washed streets, taking solace in a roasted yam she buys from a street vendor.

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