The Road I Travel With You

Not a bad movie at all, but somehow more constrained and less expressive than one would expect from a description. The source material is a play by Yukiko Miyake,[1] and the film certainly feels play-like, with the drama concentrated in the dialogue and the action mostly set in a single location. Naruse, who adapted, makes attempts to open up the material with exterior locations (the film is set in the beach town of Kamakura), to very little effect; one suspects that the main obstacle to adaptation was less the paucity of locations than the dialogue’s self-sufficiency .

Notwithstanding Noburo Ito’s oddly light-hearted score, the material is quite dark: the otherwise promising young man Asaji (Heihachiro Okawa, in the lead role for a change) and his younger brother Yuji (Hideo Saeki) face blighted lives because of society’s disapproval of their illegitimacy and déclassé family. A sharply observed opening shows the uncomfortable brothers clearly trying to minimize their interaction with their dotty, vulgar mother (Naruse regular Tamae Kiyokawa, in a good performance as one of the director’s subtler representatives of family evil) and their profligate grandfather Utsagi (Kamatari Fujiwara). All the plot problems are laid out early in the proceedings and don’t change much: the story simply escorts the characters to their foreseen ends. Naruse’s usual preference for indirection in revealing his true subject doesn’t pertain here; yet the film is often incisive and moving. The forbidden love between Asaji and his neighbor Kasumi (Naoyo Yamagata, an intriguing, childlike actress) is depicted with a strange resignation, as if Asaji could no longer manage more than nostalgia for happiness. Naruse satisfies his instincts for dramatic structure by saving a spasm of overt emotion for the climactic scene in which Kasumi’s family sends an emissary to demand the return of her love letters from the humiliated Asaji. After this, the film settles in for a sustained aftermath, as even tragedy fails to take the wind out of the sails of the banal, malevolent forces that surround the survivors.

A few of the performers strike me as either inadequate (Saeki) or miscast (Fujiwara, in heavy old-age makeup). And the important character of Tsukiko (Masako Tsutsumi), Kasumi’s confidant and Yuji’s love interest, seems dramatically ill-conceived, her story functions trumping her characterization. All in all, the film feels like an assignment that never took off, despite a respectable virtue-to-vice ratio.

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[1] Bock, Japanese Film Directors, 126.