The Battle of Roses

One doesn’t have to read the credits to tell that this oddball movie is an adaptation of a novel. Catherine Russell says that Fumio Niwa’s 1937 source material was originally a newspaper serial;[1] as adapted by Motosada Nishiki (WHITE BEAST, THE ANGRY STREET), the film is a lurid Harold Robbins-like saga of sex and power, set in the cosmetics industry and centered on the love lives of three sisters, played by Kuniko Miyake (TOKYO STORY and LATE SPRING), Setsuko Wakayama (CONDUCT REPORT ON PROFESSOR ISHINAKA and THE ANGRY STREET), and Yoko Katsuragi (SCANDAL). Naruse takes the project at a sprint, covering large quantities of plot in short jostling scenes, muting the melodrama with his observational sensibility, and even playing editing tricks at transitions to raise the perplexity quotient. The result sometimes calls to mind Straub’s THE BRIDEGROOM, THE COMEDIENNE AND THE PIMP in its comical compression, at least until the exposition slows down in the second half and Naruse allows himself a little breathing space to linger over atmosphere and establish scenes (often with pans from one focal plane to another, not a style device I generally associate with his work). For most of its length the film is watchable and rather likable in its crazy way: though the characters are sketched quickly, Naruse finds interesting angles on some of them, with Katsuragi especially intriguing as the kittenish youngest sister whose lighthearted rebellion against social strictures seems sometimes benevolent, sometimes hostile. Despite the more measured pace of the second half, THE BATTLE OF ROSES still can’t hit the brakes hard enough to give the climactic scenes the weight they seem to require. This odd lack of emphasis is especially noticeable in the final reconciliation scene between sisters, which is a rough draft for the ending of LIGHTNING, albeit more perfunctory and glancing.

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[1] Russell, The Cinema of Naruse Mikio, 206.

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