The Actress and the Poet

A foray into screwball comedy, not without interest but not completely satisfying.. Free-spirited, childlike poet Geppu (Hiroshi Uruki) struggles to maintain status within his marriage to successful actress Chieko (Sachiko Chiba, later Naruse’s wife, in her first Naruse role). The script, by Ryuji Nagami from a novel by Minoru Nakano (who also wrote the play on which WIFE! BE LIKE A ROSE was based), mandates a straightforward comedy of nonconformism and light-hearted sociopathy, especially in its digressive first half, which is dominated by a collection of eccentric and borderline malevolent neighbors who take advantage of Geppu’s good nature. The material encourages Naruse to exercise his more experimental and angular tendencies, and the film’s comic set pieces are driven with surrealist elisions and strange transitional shots of objects.

Only near the film’s end does the marriage come to the fore, when a scripted quarrel in a play Chieko is rehearsing is recapitulated as a real marital fight, complete with startling glimpses of physical violence. Despite the script’s contrivance, Naruse is attentive to the classical dramatic virtues of grading and emphasis in this final movement: he draws out the climactic domestic quarrel, uses editing and point of view to create an unexpected detachment from the protagonists during the action, and nurtures the stillness that follows the battle. All this effort is wasted on a commonplace reaffirmation of the protagonists’ marriage and the husband’s dominance – still, a sense of event permeates the last act despite the pat scripting.

Despite its general exaggeration of effect, the film contains a weirdly subtle Naruse touch in which an affectionate, seemingly well-to-do young couple attempts double suicide without the least bit of foreshadowing. The open-air shots of the protagonists’ improbably barren neighborhood are quite attractive, with ghostly trolley cars traversing the background during transition shots.

The appealing Uruki, who wrote and directed films in the 20s[1] under the name Yokota Toyoaki,[2] also played the womanizing musician in FIVE MEN IN THE CIRCUS. He died in 1936 at age 33.

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[1] “Toyoaki Yokota,” Complete Index to World Film.

[2] “Yokota Toyoaki,” MyDramaList.info.

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