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Mikio Naruse

Mikio Naruse
Naruse in 1933
Born(1905-08-20)20 August 1905
Died2 July 1969(1969-07-02) (aged 63)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter, producer
Years active1930–1967

Mikio Naruse (成瀬 巳喜男, Naruse Mikio, 20 August 1905 – 2 July 1969) was a Japanese filmmaker who directed 89 films spanning the period 1930 to 1967.[1][2][3]

Naruse is known for imbuing his films with a bleak and pessimistic outlook. He made primarily shōshimin-eiga ("common people drama") films with female protagonists, portrayed by actresses such as Hideko Takamine, Kinuyo Tanaka, and Setsuko Hara. Because of his focus on family drama and the intersection of traditional and modern Japanese culture, his films have been compared with the works of Yasujirō Ozu.[4] Many of his films in his later career were adaptations of the works of acknowledged Japanese writers. Titled a "major figure of Japan's golden age"[5] and "supremely intelligent dramatist",[6] he remains lesser known than his contemporaries Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Ozu.[7] Among his most noted films are Sound of the Mountain, Late Chrysanthemums, Floating Clouds, Flowing and When A Woman Ascends The Stairs.[1][7][8]


Early years

Mikio Naruse was born in Tokyo in 1905 and raised by his brother and sister after his parents' early death. He entered Shirō Kido's Shōchiku film studio in the 1920s as a light crew assistant and was soon assigned to comedy director Yoshinobu Ikeda. It was not until 1930 that he was allowed to direct a film on his own. His debut film, the short slapstick comedy Mr. and Mrs. Swordplay (Chanbara fūfū), was edited by Heinosuke Gosho who tried to support the young filmmaker. The film was considered a success, and Naruse was allowed to direct the romance film Pure Love (Junjo).[9] Both films, like the majority of his early works at Shōchiku, are regarded as lost.[5]

Naruse's earliest extant work is the short Flunky, Work Hard! (1931), a mixture of comedy and domestic drama.[7] In 1933–1934, he directed a series of silent melodramas, Apart From You, Every-Night Dreams, and Street Without End, which centered on women confronted with hostile environments and practical responsibilities, and demonstrated "a considerable stylistic virtuosity" (Alexander Jacoby).[6] Unsatisfied with the working conditions at Shōchiku and the projects he was assigned to, Naruse left Shōchiku in 1934 and moved to P.C.L. studios (Photo Chemical Laboratories, which later became Toho).[9]

His first major film was the comedy drama Wife! Be Like a Rose! (1935). It was elected as Best Movie of the Year by the magazine Kinema Junpo, and was the first Japanese film to receive a theatrical release in the United States (where it was not well received).[10][5][6] The film concerns a young woman whose father deserted his family for a former geisha. When she visits her father in a remote mountain village, it turns out that the second wife is far more suitable for him than the first. Film historians have emphasised the film's "sprightly, modern feel"[5] and "innovative visual style" and "progressive social attitudes".[6]

Naruse's films of the following years are often regarded as lesser works by film historians, owed in parts to weak scripts and acting,[7][9] although Jacoby noted the formal experimentation and sceptical attitude towards the institutions of marriage and family in Avalanche and A Woman's Sorrows (both 1937).[6] Naruse later argued that at the time he didn't have the courage to refuse some of the projects he was offered, and that his attempts to compensate weak content with concentration on technique didn't work out.[9]

During the war years, Naruse kept to what his biographer Catherine Russell referred to as "safe projects", including "home front films" like Sincerity.[7] The early 1940s saw the collapse of Naruse's first marriage with Sachiko Chiba, who had starred in Wife! Be Like a Rose! and whom he had married in 1936.[7][9] In 1941, he directed the comedy Hideko the Bus Conductor with Hideko Takamine, who would later become his regular starring actress.

Post-war career

The 1951 Repast marked a return for the director and was the first of a series of adaptations of works of female writer Fumiko Hayashi,[5][6] including Lightning (1952) and Floating Clouds (1955). All of these films featured women struggling with unhappy relationships or family relations and were awarded prestigious national film prizes. Late Chrysanthemums (1954), based on short stories by Hayashi, centered on four former geisha and their attempts to cope with financial restraints in post-war Japan. Sound of the Mountain (1954), a portrayal of a marriage falling apart, and Flowing (1956), which follows the decline of a once flourishing geisha house, were based on novels by Yasunari Kawabata and Aya Kōda.

In the 1960s, Naruse's output decreased in number (partially owed to illness),[7] while film historians at the same time detect an increase of sentimentality[9] and "a more spectacular mode of melodrama" (Russell).[7] When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) tells the story of an aging bar hostess trying to start her own business, A Wanderer's Notebook (1964) follows the life of writer Fumiko Hayashi. His last film was Scattered Clouds (a.k.a. Two in the Shadow, 1967). Two years later, Naruse died of cancer, aged 63.[7]

Film style and themes

Naruse is known as particularly exemplifying the Japanese concept of "mono no aware", the awareness of the transience of things, and a gentle sadness at their passing. "From the youngest age, I have thought that the world we live in betrays us", the director explained.[9] His protagonists were usually women, and his studies of female experience spanned a wide range of social milieux, professions and situations. Six of his films were adaptations of a single novelist, Fumiko Hayashi, whose pessimistic outlook seemed to match his own. From her work he made films about unrequited passion, unhappy families and stale marriages.[6] Surrounded by unbreakable family bonds and fixed customs, the characters are never more vulnerable than when they for once decide to make an individual move: "If they move even a little, they quickly hit the wall" (Naruse). Expectations invariably end in disappointment, happiness is impossible, and contentment is the best the characters can achieve. Of Repast, Husband and Wife and Wife, Naruse said, "these pictures have little that happens in them and end without a conclusion–just like life".[9] While his earlier films employ a more experimental style, Naruse's post-war films show a pairing down of style,[11] relying on editing, lighting, acting and sets.[6][7]


Naruse was described as serious and reticent, and even his closest and long-lasting collaborators like cinematographer Tamai Masao claimed to know nothing about him personally. He gave very few interviews[7] and was, according to Akira Kurosawa, a very self-assured director who did everything himself on the set.[12] Hideko Takamine remembered, "[e]ven during the shooting of a picture, he would never say if anything was good, or bad, interesting or trite. He was a completely unresponsive director. I appeared in about 20 of his films, and yet there was never an instance in which he gave me any acting instructions."[13] Tatsuya Nakadai recalled one instant during the filming of When a Woman Ascends the Stairs where Naruse yelled at an assistant director for drawing a cardboard eye to indicate the point of reference of Hideko Takamine's eyeline.[14]

Awards and legacy

Wife! Be Like a Rose!
  • Blue Ribbon Award for Best Film and Best Director[18]
  • Blue Ribbon Award for Best Director[18]
Floating Clouds
  • Blue Ribbon Award for Best Film[19]
  • Mainichi Film Concours for Best Film and Best Director[20]
  • Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film and Best Director[21]

Film scholar Audie Bock curated two extensive retrospectives on Naruse in Chicago and New York in 1984–1985.[22][23][24] Retrospectives have also been held at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in 1981 and 2006,[25][26] at the Locarno Film Festival (1984),[7] at festivals in Hong Kong (1987)[citation needed] and Melbourne (1988),[27] and at the Harvard Film Archive in 2005.[28]

Floating Clouds and Flowing have been voted into the 2009 All Time Best Japanese Movies lists by readers and critics of Kinema Junpo.[29][30][31]


Filmography of Mikio Naruse
Year English Title Japanese Title Rōmaji Title Notes
Silent Films in the 1930s
1930 Mr. and Mrs. Swordplay チャンバラ夫婦 Chambara fufu Lost. Also entitled Intimate Love
Pure Love 純情 Junjo Lost
Hard Times 不景気時代 Fukeiki jidai Lost
Love Is Strength 愛は力だ Ai ha chikara da Lost
A Record of Shameless Newlyweds 押切新婚記 Oshikiri shinkonki Lost
1931 Now Don't Get Excited ねえ興奮しちゃいやよ Nee kofun shicha iya yo Lost
Screams from the Second Floor 二階の悲鳴 Nikai no himei Lost
Flunky, Work Hard! 腰弁頑張れ Koshiben gambare
Fickleness Gets on the Train 浮気は汽車に乗って Uwaki wa kisha ni notte Lost
The Strength of a Moustache 髭の力 Hige no chikara Lost
Under the Neighbours' Roof 隣の屋根の下 Tonari no yani no shita Lost
1932 Ladies, Be Careful of Your Sleeves 女は袂を御用心 Onna wa tamoto o goyojin Lost
Crying to the Blue Sky 青空に泣く Aozora ni naku Lost
Be Great! 偉くなれ Eraku nare Lost
Chocolate Girl チョコレートガール Chokoreito garu Lost
No Blood Relation 生さぬ仲 Nasanu naka
The Scenery of Tokyo with Cake 菓子のある東京風景 Kashi no aru Tokyo no fûkei Lost. Short advertisement film
Moth-eaten Spring 蝕める春 Mushibameru haru Lost
1933 Apart From You 君と別れて Kimi to wakarete
Every-Night Dreams 夜ごとの夢 Yogoto no yume
A Married Woman's Hairstyle 僕の丸髷 Boku no marumage Lost
Two Eyes 双眸 Sobo Lost
Happy New Year! 謹賀新年 Kingashinnen Lost
1934 Street Without End 限りなき舗道 Kagirinaki hodo
Sound films in the 1930s
1935 Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts 乙女ごころ三人姉妹 Otome-gokoro sannin shimai
The Actress and the Poet 女優と詩人 Joyu to shijin
Wife! Be Like a Rose! 妻よ薔薇のやうに Tsuma yo bara no yo ni Also entitled Kimiko
Five Men in the Circus サーカス五人組 Saakasu goningumi
The Girl in the Rumor 噂の娘 Uwasa no musume
1936 Man of the House 桃中軒雲右衛門 Tochuken Kumoemon
The Road I Travel with You 君と行く路 Kimi to yuku michi
Morning's Tree-Lined Street 朝の並木路 Asa no namikimichi
1937 A Woman's Sorrows 女人哀愁 Nyonin aishu
Avalanche 雪崩 Nadare
Learn from Experience, Part I 禍福 前篇 Kafuku zempen
Learn from Experience, Part II 禍福 後篇 Kafuku kôhen
1938 Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro 鶴八鶴次郎 Tsuruhachi Tsurujirō
1939 The Whole Family Works はたらく一家 Hatarakku ikka
Sincerity まごころ Magokoro
Films in the 1940s
1940 Travelling Actors 旅役者 Tabi yakusha
1941 A Fond Face from the Past なつかしの顔 Natsukashi no kao
Shanghai Moon 上海の月 Shanhai no tsuki Incomplete footage survives
Hideko the Bus Conductor 秀子の車掌さん Hideko no shashō-san
1942 Mother Never Dies 母は死なず Haha wa shinazu
1943 The Song Lantern 歌行燈 Uta andon
1944 This Happy Life 楽しき哉人生 Tanoshiki kana jinsei
The Way of Drama 芝居道 Shibaido
1945 Until Victory Day 勝利の日まで Shori no hi made Lost
A Tale of Archery at the Sanjusangendo 三十三間堂通し矢物語 Sanjusangendo toshiya monogatari
1946 The Descendents of Taro Urashima 浦島太郎の後裔 Urashima Taro no koei
Both You and I 俺もお前も Ore mo omae mo
1947 Even Parting is Enjoyable 別れも愉し Wakare mo tanoshi Part of anthology film Four Love Stories (Yottsu no kai no monogatari)
Spring Awakens 春のめざめ Haru no mezame
1949 The Delinquent Girl 不良少女 Furyo shojo Lost
Films in the 1950s
1950 Conduct Report on Professor Ishinaka 石中先生行状記 Ishinaka Sensei gyojoki
Angry Street 怒りの街 Ikari no machi
White Beast 白い野獣 Shiroi yaju
Battle of Roses 薔薇合戦 Bara kassen
1951 Ginza Cosmetics 銀座化粧 Ginza gesho
Dancing Girl 舞姫 Maihime
Repast めし Meshi
1952 Okuni and Gohei お国と五平 Okuni to Gohei
Mother おかあさん Okaasan
Lightning 稲妻 Inazuma
1953 Husband and Wife 夫婦 Fufu
Wife Tsuma
Older Brother, Younger Sister あにいもうと Ani Imoto
1954 Sound of the Mountain 山の音 Yama no oto Also entitled The Thunder of the Mountain
Late Chrysanthemums 晩菊 Bangiku
1955 Floating Clouds 浮雲 Ukigumo
The Kiss くちづけ Kuchizuke Part of anthology film Women's Ways (Onna Doshi)
1956 Sudden Rain 驟雨 Shūu
A Wife's Heart 妻の心 Tsuma no kokoro
Flowing 流れる Nagareru
1957 Untamed あらくれ Arakure
1958 Anzukko 杏っ子 Anzukko
Summer Clouds 鰯雲 Iwashigumo Naruse's first color film
1959 Whistling in Kotan コタンの口笛 Kotan no kuchibue Color film. Also entitled Whistle in My Heart
Films in the 1960s
1960 When a Woman Ascends the Stairs 女が階段を上る時 Onna ga kaidan o agaru toki
Daughters, Wives and a Mother 娘・妻・母 Musume tsuma haha Color film
The Lovelorn Geisha 夜の流れ Yoru no nagare Color film. Co-directed with Yuzo Kawashima
The Approach of Autumn 秋立ちぬ Aki tachinu Also entitled Autumn Has Already Started
1961 As a Wife, As a Woman 妻として女として Tsuma toshite onna toshite Color film. Also entitled The Other Woman
1962 A Woman's Place 女の座 Onna no za Also entitled The Wiser Age and A Woman's Status
A Wanderer's Notebook 放浪記 Horoki Also entitled Her Lonely Lane
1963 A Woman's Story 女の歴史 Onna no rekishi
1964 Yearning 乱れる Midareru
1966 The Stranger Within a Woman 女の中にいる他人 Onna no naka ni iru tanin Also entitled The Thin Line
Hit and Run ひき逃げ Hikinige Also entitled Moment of Terror
1967 Scattered Clouds 乱れ雲 Midaregumo Color film. Also entitled Two in the Shadow

Home media (English subtitled)

  • Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse. DVD box containing Flunky, Work Hard (1931), No Blood Relation (1932), Apart From You (1933), Every-Night Dreams (1933), Street Without End (1934) (The Criterion Collection, region 1 NTSC)
  • Mikio Naruse. DVD box containing Late Chrysanthemums (1954), Floating Clouds (1955), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) (BFI, region 2 PAL)
  • Naruse Volume One. DVD box containing Repast (1951), Sound of the Mountain (1954), Flowing (1956) (Eureka! Masters of Cinema, region 2 NTSC)
  • When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) (The Criterion Collection, region 1 NTSC DVD)


  1. ^ a b "成瀬 巳喜男". Kotobank (in Japanese). Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  2. ^ "成瀬巳喜男". Kinenote (in Japanese). Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  3. ^ "成瀬巳喜男". Japanese Movie Database (in Japanese). Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  4. ^ Richie, Donald (2005). A Hundred Years of Japanese Film (Revised ed.). Tokyo, New York, London: Kodansha International. ISBN 978-4-7700-2995-9.
  5. ^ a b c d e "The best Japanese film of every year – from 1925 to now at the British Film Institute website". Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Jacoby, Alexander (2008). A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press. pp. 268–273. ISBN 978-1-933330-53-2.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Russell, Catherine (2008). The Cinema of Naruse Mikio: Women and Japanese Modernity. Durham and London: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-4290-8.
  8. ^ Sharp, Jasper (2011). Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema. Scarecrow Press.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Anderson, Joseph L.; Richie, Donald (1959). The Japanese Film – Art & Industry. Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company.
  10. ^ Galbraith IV, Stuart (2008). The Toho Studios Story: A History and Complete Filmography. Lanham, Toronto, Plymouth: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-6004-9.
  11. ^ Fujiwara, Chris (September–October 2005). "Mikio Naruse: The Other Women and The View from the Outside". Film Comment. New York. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  12. ^ Kurosawa, Akira (1983). Something Like an Autobiography. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-394-71439-3.
  13. ^ "A dose of reality". The Independent. 29 June 2007.
  14. ^ "Tatsuya Nakadai on When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)".
  15. ^ "Awards for Wife! Be Like a Rose!". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  16. ^ "1951 Blue Ribbon Awards" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 7 February 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  17. ^ "1951 Mainichi Film Awards" (in Japanese). Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  18. ^ a b "1952 Blue Ribbon Awards" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 7 February 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  19. ^ "1954 Blue Ribbon Awards" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 7 February 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  20. ^ "1955 Mainichi Film Awards" (in Japanese). Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  21. ^ "Awards for Floating Clouds". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  22. ^ Bock, Audie, ed. (1984). Mikio Naruse: A Master of the Japanese cinema. A Retrospective. Chicago: Film Center, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. ISBN 978-0-8655-9067-0.
  23. ^ Shepard, Richard F. (11 October 1984). "A Retrospective of Films by Naruse". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  24. ^ "Mikio Naruse: A Master of the Japanese Cinema" (PDF). New York: Museum of Modern Art. September 1985. Retrieved 26 January 2021.
  25. ^ "The Films Of Mikio Naruse". BAMPFA. Retrieved 22 July 2023.
  26. ^ "Scattered Clouds: The Films of Nikio Naruse (January 12 - February 18, 2006)". BAMPFA. Retrieved 22 July 2023.
  27. ^ Freiberg, Freda (May 2002). "The Materialist Ethic of Mikio Naruse". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  28. ^ "Mikio Naruse: A centennial tribute". Harvard Film Archive. Retrieved 20 July 2023.
  29. ^ "Japanese Movies All Time Best 200 (Kinejun Readers)". Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  30. ^ "Kinema Junpo Critics' Top 200". MUBI. Retrieved 8 October 2022.
  31. ^ "Top 200 - Kinema Junpō (2009)". Sens critique (in French). Retrieved 22 July 2023.

Further reading

  • Russell, Catherine (2005). "Naruse Mikio's Silent Films: Gender and the Discourse of Everyday Life in Interwar Japan". Camera Obscura 60: New Women of the Silent Screen: China, Japan, Hollywood. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. pp. 57–90. ISBN 978-0-8223-6624-9.
  • Blankestijn, Ad (5 March 2012). "Japanese Masters: Hayashi Fumiko (novelist, poet)". Japan Navigator. Archived from the original on 1 July 2015. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  • Bock, Audie, "Japanese Film Directors". Tokyo: Kodansha, 1978. Print, and Kodansha America, 1985 (reprint). ISBN 0-87011-714-9
  • Hirano, Kyoko. Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo: Japanese Cinema Under the American Occupation, 1945–1952. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992. Print
  • Jacoby, Alexander (4 August 2015). "Mikio Naruse". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  • Kasman, Daniel; Sallitt, Dan; Phelps, David (30 May 2011). "Mikio Naruse". Mubi. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  • The Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. Tokyo, New York: Kodansha, 1983. Print.
  • McDonald, Keiko. From Book to Screen: Modern Japanese Literature in Film. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2000. Print.
  • Narboni, Jean. Interview with Antoine Thirion. “Naruse Series.” Trans. Chris Fujiwara. Cahiers du Cinéma Oct. 2008: 60. Print.
  • "NaruseRetro". Google Groups. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  • Rimer, J. Thomas. “Four Plays by Tanaka Chikao.” Monumenta Nipponica Autumn 1976: 275–98. Print
  • Sarris, Andrew. The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929–1968. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1968. Print
  • "Toyoaki Yokota". Complete Index To World Film. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  • Thomson, Desson (10 March 2006). "Director Mikio Naruse, A Name Finally in Lights". The Washington Post. Retrieved 20 July 2023.
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Mikio Naruse
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