The Way of Drama

A very bad project, combining patriotic wartime preachiness and senseless melodrama; I wouldn’t be surprised if Naruse had no input into the script. (The IMDb says it was based on a novel by Koen Hasegawa, who was known as a radio dramatist; Toshio Yasumi adapted.) Set in the Osaka theater world, the story is dominated by self-righteous troupe leader Yamatoya (Roppa Furukawa, a famous comedian and writer who provided the source material for Naruse’s FIVE MEN IN THE CIRCUS) who bravely risks his popularity by selecting only plays that support the Japanese military cause. (Catherine Russell points out that all Yamatoya’s stands were illustrative of official national policy for the film industry.[1]) In his spare time, Yamatoya decides to break up the love affair between his star actor Shinzo (Kazuo Hasegawa) and shamisen player Omitsu (Isuzu Yamada) in order to purify Shinzo’s commitment to his craft. A host of supporting players repeat every plot point and character development until the writer feels sure that we can’t miss it: this frontal approach to story is not unprecedented in Naruse’s career, but in this case it’s not clear what he gains thereby. Still, Naruse keeps his nose to the grindstone and works hard to create ambience, with particularly evocative renderings of musical and dramatic performances. In general, the film’s visuals look pretty great, albeit more shadowy and low-key than usual for the director, with crowded, Sternbergian exterior sets and attractive squared-off long shots down hallways and through doorways. But the good-looking images feel like decoration here: the drama is too banal to give them any purchase.

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[1] Russell, The Cinema of Naruse Mikio, 143.