Mikio, Naruse (1905–1969) By Anderson, Joel Neville
Naruse Mikio was a popular and critically renowned Japanese film director who was active from the early 1930s to the mid-1960s. He completed eighty-nine films, of which sixty-seven survive. From a poor family and raised by his sisters, he began work as a prop assistant at Shochiku studios at the age of fifteen, where he would direct his first film ten years later. Beginning with slapstick comedies, Naruse’s interest in urban poverty and strong, if ill-fated female characters drew him to the josei-eiga (woman’s film) genre. By the mid-1930s he had moved to PCL (Photo-Chemical Laboratories, later incorporated into Toho Studios), where he would work for the following three decades, undertaking additional projects at Shintoho and Daiei. While his prewar silent pictures display early experimentation with voice-over, flashbacks, and montage sequences, his work in sound and later widescreen and color is characterized by exacting mise-en-scène, and quick unrelenting cuts following performers’ gestures and expressions. Naruse’s modernist economy of style moves at the pace of urban life, thrusting his female protagonists (often Takamine Hideko, who starred in seventeen of the director’s best-known films) into the financialization of interpersonal relationships, whereby yearning for love outside money and family is dulled by having to survive the daily hardships of patriarchal society and monetary debt.