Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

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Dancing Outside the Ozone Layer

This, in a nutshell, is the central dilemma of Mikio Naruse's 1951 film Dance Princess (Maihime 舞姫)*. The introduction of greater social freedom for women by the U.S. occupation following World War II is seen in this movie to present the rather existential problem of captivity in freedom, like a lot of Mikio Naruse's movies. One might call them domestic films noir. Dance Princess is a fascinating, perhaps a bit too broad, blunt perspective on family dynamics in post war Japan.

I was reminded a little of The Red Shoes--I remember someone saying how the British film, made just after World War II, was partly intended to state that now that people were finished dying for their country, it was time to die for art. Dance Princess also features a ballerina caught in a love triangle, though of a more conventional variety than seen in The Red Shoes. I do suspect The Red Shoes was an influence on Dance Princess, but rather than being about a woman torn apart by her passion for her art and a desire for a conventional romance, Dance Princess is about a woman torn between the possibility of getting what she actually wants and remaining in a painful but stable, and traditional, relationship.

Namiko (Mieko Takamine) is a ballet instructor who's been carrying on an affair with one man for more than twenty years, but has two children with her husband who are both around twenty when the film begins. Her husband, Motou, and she have remained in the unfulfilling relationship out of a sense of duty and tradition, but now the new western values going around have presented Namiko with a decision.

The girl in the first screenshot is a friend of Shinako, Namiko's daughter, who's working as a stripper in order to support her husband and child. She tells Shinako she's not sorry to work as a stripper, that she chose to do it, but saying she wished she could give away her freedom seems to imply she believes there could have been a more ideal situation if she simply hadn't the choice to work as a stripper. Which sounds a little like bad faith to me.

Shinako herself, played by the adorable Mariko Okada in her first role, is finding herself reluctant to marry after bearing witness to her parents' relationship, and the implication seems to be that she may never marry. Like many of the choices, the movie doesn't seem to approve or disapprove of the choice, but the music, and the characters' sense of uncertainty and doom, seem to point to a certain foreboding quality about these untested waters.

Like Naruse's Meshi, released the same year, the movie, in the end, ostensibly seems to come down on the side of a traditional relationship, yet at the same time it could be read as people being marched off to a spiritual execution. It's mono no aware, like so many of Naruse's films, and the characters are gradually restricted more and more by their own decisions.

*There's no Wikipedia entry for the film. The possibly fansubbed copy I downloaded** is called Dancing Girl and imdb lists the movie as The Dancer but 舞姫 translates literally to Dance Princess.

**Something I might bother feeling guilty about if anyone had bothered releasing this movie in the U.S. within the past sixty years.
Tags: existentialism, film noir, maihime, mariko okada, mieko takamine, mikio naruse, movies
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