Directed by Mikio Naruse, Every Night Dreams is a haunting, poignant silent film about a young mother named Omitzu, who was deserted by her shiftless husband and pays the bills by working in a hostess bar. Omitzu is able to turn on the charm as she flirts and smokes with sailors passing by inviting them to the bar where she works. The owner realizes that it’s Omitzu’s charisma that brings in extra customers.
Omitzu’s neighbors tell her that a man has been coming around looking for her. She’s puzzled. The next day they say it’s her husband and Omitzu yells, “He’s our enemy!” The neighbors are shocked and try to convince her not to be so bitter. Give him a chance; be a family again. And so she does.
The husband returns, but can’t find work. He tries in his slow poke way, but to no avail. He urges Omitzu to quit her job and she’d love to be a housewife, but since the husband is just one more mouth to feed, quitting is out of the question.
Back at the bar, a sea captain wants Omitzu and while she’s able to handle most maneuvers, this man’s clout and impulses take the situation to a boil (though not in a modern Matt Lauer sort of style, the film’s PG not R).
Pressures build from their lack of money. Their boy, whose performance is so sweet and natural, needs medical attention, highlighting how the father’s unemployment has just made matters worse for all of them.
The film is beautiful and Naruse made me sympathize with all the characters. Omitzsu is a complex woman who doesn’t fall into one of society’s category’s of Madonna or tart. She’s pragmatic and faced with poor choices.
The Japanese film Our Little Sister is about three sisters, whose half sister comes to live with them after he dies. The older sisters are all out of school and working. The eldest, Sachi, is a nurse and the mother hen. She seems the most upright, but she’s got a secret romance with a married doctor. Next is the more sociable Yoshino, who works at a bank and has romance after romance. She’s the sort who gets too involved to fast. The third of the sisters is Chika, who’s very whimsical and happy go lucky. She’s all sunshine and smiles and she works at a store selling athletic shoes.
At their father’s funeral, the trio decides to bring Suzu, their half sister who’s in middle school to their family home. Suzu’s mother has died and her stepmother is really a non-entity. The film is a slice of life about the four sisters and the first three’s mother who deserted them but comes back to town briefly for her mother’s ceremony for the anniversary of her death. Along the way we get a natural look at a family that’s had plenty of difficulties and still has some struggles, but they manage to survive and thrive. The house is charming as the the warmth between these characters.
Watching the film feels like floating down a river. The pace is just right. The characters are insightful and perceptive. I loved my time with this family.
Claude Berri’s autobiographical, The Two of Us is a gem set during WWI in France. It opens with Claude, a mischievous boy, stealing a toy tank from a toy store getting chased all around. Claude finds trouble at every turn driving his father to distraction. Because since they’re Jewish, the safest path for the family is to lay low, but Claude constantly calls attention to himself with his troublemaking. A family friend arranges for Claude to go live with her Catholic parents.
The problem is that “Grampa” is quite a bigot and spouts all sorts of anti-Semitic slurs. Claude is coached to hide is religion so he’ll be safe in the countryside. Nonetheless, he’s mercilessly bullied for being the new kid from Paris. You just can’t win.
Based on the director’s own childhood experience, there’s a sophisticated treatment of a close relationship that grows in spite of prejudice. Played masterfully by Michel Simon, Grampa loves this boy and takes him under his wing, dealing with his troublemaking with patience Claude’s father couldn’t muster. Berri chose Cohen to play Claude while visiting a Jewish school and seeing him getting into trouble in class and later hiding from the principal behind some curtains. The shoes poking out from under the curtains gave him away. A natural actor, Cohen brings a realism to his understated performance.
The Two of Us, as Truffaut commented, shows how most French people lived during the war, those who weren’t in the Resistance or helping the Germans. People just going about their business; people who could be both kind, loving, and yet be hindered by ugly beliefs. It’s a deft film that can portray bigotry without supporting hatred all the while showing the goodness mixed in with the prejudice.
The Criterion Collection’s DVD, as usual, includes insightful short interviews that deepen one’s understanding of the film.
If you liked Claude Berry’s later films, Jean de Floret or Manon of the Spring, you’ll love The Two of Us.
Set in the 1930s and 40s, Kabei: Our Mother chronicles a family in Japan whose father gets arrested for thought crimes during the lead up to WWII. The Nagomas and their young daughters live in Tokyo. They seem a genuinely loving, humble, happy family made human by some small money trouble. Then the father, a scholar, is arrested for writings that questions Japan’s invasion of China.
The story continues showing the strength of each character and those who come to offer help. The film manages to convey the best of Japanese mores without painting a halo around each character, which would make them honorable and untouchable. Here everyone’s feet touch the ground.
So many scenes stand out. For example, a rough and tumble annoying uncle comes to visit. He walks into town where some matrons are exhorting people to give up luxury goods. They get personal and chastise two young girls who’re dressed nicely. The uncle gets in the middle of this defending the girls and saying in his boisterous way that there’s nothing wrong with a girl looking pretty. The women turn on him since he’s wearing a gold ring, which they think he should donate to the army. Fat chance, this guy’s not going to do that. He manages to give them the slip as they call the police.
Though she’s the title character and a strong presence, the mother doesn’t take center stage. (Westerner works need a star, Japanese works need quiet relationships, the harmony of wa.) I see this as an ensemble film and each character is memorable and important.
Like an Ozu film, Kabei is full of scenes that are funny and touching. It’s full of what Barbara Nicolosi calls Haunting Moments, scenes and images that stay with you well after the credits roll.
I learned quite a bit about one facet of the effect of WWII on Japan.