Tuesday Editor’s Pick: “Yearning”

by on April 5, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick


Keith Uhlich for Slant:

“It is best to begin a discussion of Mikio Naruse’s Yearning by focusing on its concluding image: a close-up of war-widow Reiko Morita, played by the director’s favored actress Hideko Takamine, as she watches the body of her brother-in-law Koji (Yuzo Kayama) being wheeled away along a rocky rural path. I bring up the film’s devastating final visual first because of its reverberatory complexity; what passes across Takamine’s face here echoes not only through this singular narrative (its screenplay authored by the lead actress’s husband, Zenzo Matsuyama, from a story by Naruse), but also across the entirety of its director’s career. This is the key moment in Naruse’s filmography and so it is tempting for the critic, struck dumb by awe and admiration, to avoid interpretation at any cost. Isn’t it better to trot out a well-worn cliché (something along the lines of “words cannot express…”) rather than spoil what is, in effect, a miracle? Yet adherence to such “silence is golden” dogmatics finally gets us nowhere; indeed, it is silence of a sort that ultimately undoes Reiko, who masks her true feelings for so long and with such societally-sanctioned deference—she is, in a way, the ultimate Naruse heroine—that it breeds a tragic turn of events mired in irreversible uncertainty. […]

This brings us full-circle to Reiko’s final close-up, about which pages should be written though such extended analysis will not be attempted here. Suffice to say that it is one of the cinema’s most primal images, a silent scream of recognition and understanding by way of soul-crushing regret, one that forever hangs, like a masterpiece of portraiture, within its own timeless space, waiting to be looked upon so that it may gaze back, alternately, in horror and in revelation.”


Jonathan Rosenbaum:

“The film clarifies why Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Yasujiro Ozu are all better known than Naruse: his turf is the lower middle class, and his chronically unfulfilled characters are typically unexceptional. Yet one can’t predict what any of them will do from one moment to the next, and despite the seeming simplicity of this tragic story, its psychological complexity is bottomless. No less remarkable are the abrupt, unsentimental editing and the remarkable mise en scene (in black-and-white ‘Scope), which shows the characters’ increasing entrapment even as it moves from claustrophobic interiors to scenic wide-open spaces.”


Peter Nelhaus:

Yearning can probably be described as Naruse’s most Sirkian film, one in which the forces of financial self interest and social conformity thwart true love. I could almost imagine the film recast with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson in place of Hideko Takamine and Yuzo Kayama… There are parts of Yearning that indicate that Naruse, like Hollywood peers such as Billy Wilder, George Cukor and Alfred Hitchcock, was ready to embrace at least some of the new freedom of cinematic expression.”


Chris Fujiwara:

Yearning is also a poem on the beauty of Hideko Takamine, in the next-to-last of the 17 films she did with Naruse.) But their beauty is chilling, like the beauty of the moon, on which Setsuko Hara reports in Sound of the Mountain. This beauty is the embellishment and relief of a living architecture that fascinates the eye and leads it onward.”


Nick Pinkerton on leading lady Hideko Takamine for The Village Voice:

“Takamine was Naruse’s other great collaborator. Her worrying hands, reproaching voice, and round, open face—an arena where contrary emotions compete for control—were fixtures of his shomin-geki (working-class dramas).”



More obits on Japanese Diva Hideko Takamine (1924-2010) from The Self-Styled Siren and Dave Kehr for The New York Times.

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