Women’s Ways

Part of the three-episode portmanteau film THE KISS, “Women’s Ways” is the liveliest and most enjoyable of Naruse’s short subjects. Naruse’s signature lead actors, Ken Uehara and Hideko Takamine, star as a doctor named Kaneda and his wife Tomoko, who becomes jealous when she reads the diary of her husband’s impressionable nurse Kiyoko (Meiko Nakamura, a child actor in Naruse’s 1944 THIS HAPPY LIFE). But the stars provide little more than a framing story for the film’s real subject, the combative courtship between Kiyoko and local grocer Seikichi (Keiju Kobayashi), a courtship completely and successfully engineered by Tomoko to neutralize her rival. The youngsters are somewhat exaggerated comic figures who do not discard their character defects in order to fall in love: Kiyoko has an idée fixe that a grocer’s wife must subsist on leftover vegetables, and Seikichi’s dogged persistence as a suitor is a natural extension of his original stubborn resistance to marriage. Both young lovers are unaware of their own reversals of emotion and of how manipulable they are, and yet they convey enough sincere feeling to make us aware that this jerry-rigged marriage is as authentic as any other. The doctor and his wife assume center stage again in the film’s last scenes to chew over the story Jane Austen-style, though Naruse and his writers conclude with a rather ordinary twist ending. (Takamine’s new husband Zenzo Matsuyama, working with Naruse for the first time, adapted a story by author Yojiro Ishizaka, who supplied material for Naruse’s SINCERITY and CONDUCT REPORT ON PROFESSOR ISHINAKA.) Continuously playful (after an uneventful opening, Tomoko steps up to the camera – “I hope you don’t mind waiting” – but she turns out to be talking to a patient) and not overly ambitious, “Women’s Ways” is an appealingly detailed exercise in character observation that showcases Nakamura and Kobayashi’s comic skills.

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