There wasn't a moment in Mikio Naruse's 1954 film Sound of the Mountain (山の音) where I didn't want to hug Setsuko Hara. It's a typical Naruse movie in that it features a domestic situation that seems to become progressively horrible as the characters' sense of politeness or duty force them into bigger compromises and sacrifices. Based on a novel by Yasunari Kawabata, it's not one of Naruse's best movies but it is a beautiful and sad tale focusing on the common theme in 1950s contemporary Japanese film of the grace of traditional modes dying out in favour of the more pragmatic and selfish modes of modern, more Westernised culture.
Hara here is playing the sort of role she was best known for, the pure, virginal young woman, shy, smiling with genuine feeling she attempts to hide out of a sense of courtesy, seeming, as she did in Late Spring, to take a great deal of pleasure in riding a bicycle. She plays Kinuko, the young wife of Ken Uehara's character Shuuichi--Uehara having played her insensitive and aloof husband in the also Naruse directed Meshi (めし). It's marital trouble that provides the conflict in Sound of the Mountain as well, though much more dramatically here. What it boils down to is that Kikuko doesn't like sex and Shuuichi likes sex a lot.
Kikuko is the Setsuko Hara archetype, the considerate and modest young woman who sees to cooking and cleaning with a natural enthusiasm. And looks stoic whenever Shuuichi calls for her to join him in the bedroom.
She never refuses of course. But this has led to feelings of discontentment in Shuuichi who begins to have an affair with a more sexual young woman, a singer, which he unabashedly discusses with Shingo, his father and co-worker.
Unusual for a Naruse movie, the story doesn't follow the woman's POV, in fact Hara doesn't have nearly as much as screen time as one might expect. Instead, it's Shingo who's in every scene, made the active agent by caring deeply for Kikuko while having the knowledge and opportunity to do something about his asshole son.
As an older, more traditional man, he and Kikuko share a natural rapport and he can't begin to understand his son's discontentment, and it's in the arguments between the two men that the movie most directly voices the conflict between traditional Japanese ideas and encroaching western ones.
But the movie isn't a cut and dry advocacy of the old while questioning the new. One strange, almost dreamlike recurring element in the film is a mask Shingo purchases from a client and brings home with him.
The older men who see it worn, reluctantly, by Shingo's secretary, a friend of Shuuichi's mistress, remark on how beautiful it is. As is pointed out in dialogue, it's meant to be the face of a beautiful boy. I wondered what the significance of a woman reluctantly wearing the face of a beautiful boy to please a couple of older men could be--perhaps it signifies how women are traditionally subjugated to a male ideal.
And, indeed, it is through modern means that Kikuko eventually obtains her freedom and opportunity for happiness, though it is not without a great deal of pain and sadness for the sense of something very large disappearing or dying.
Twitter Sonnet #427
Baby fences slightly seal buds of corn.
Cereal kingdoms contain fibre.
Fomenting madness narrows the morn.
Frosted Flakes need never fear the tiger.
Milky crackers congeal down amber walls.
Litigious giants yearn for potato.
Venus fly trap train sets whisper of malls.
The cigar bursts like an old toquito.
Carrot oboe shoehorn cushions offend.
Square root cadavers vocalise their glut.
Money pillows lack decency to spend.
A sleeve worn as a skirt can't hide a butt.
The toothpaste preens in the molar mirror.
Springfield chaos called like Harry Shearer.