Mikio Naruse was a Japanese film director and screenwriter who was active from the 1930s through the 1960s.
Despite being less well-known internationally than some of his contemporaries, Naruse was highly regarded in Japan for his sensitive and nuanced depictions of women and his exploration of the complexities of human relationships.
Naruse’s films often focused on the struggles of working-class people, particularly women, and were marked by a sense of realism and understated emotion.
His visual style was elegant and restrained, and his use of composition and framing was highly effective in conveying the emotional content of his films.
Some of Naruse’s most well-regarded films include “Late Chrysanthemums” (1954), “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” (1960), and “Floating Clouds” (1955).
These films are notable for their deep empathy for their characters, their subtle critique of societal norms, and their ability to convey complex emotions through simple, understated scenes.
Best Mikio Naruse Films
If you are a fan of Japanese cinema, or if you appreciate intimate, character-driven dramas that are rich with emotional depth and social commentary, Mikio Naruse’s films are definitely worth exploring.
1. Floating Clouds (1955)
“Floating Clouds” is a 1955 Japanese film directed by Mikio Naruse and starring Hideko Takamine and Masayuki Mori.
The film is based on a novel by Fumiko Hayashi and tells the story of a woman named Yukiko (played by Takamine) who returns to Japan after serving as a nurse in the Japanese army during World War II.
Yukiko begins a tumultuous and often destructive relationship with Kengo (played by Mori), a former colleague who also served in the war.
As the two struggle to find their place in a society that has been deeply scarred by the war, their relationship becomes increasingly complicated and fraught with tension.
“Floating Clouds” is known for its powerful performances, evocative cinematography, and exploration of complex themes related to love, loss, and the human condition in the aftermath of war.
The film was praised for its nuanced portrayal of the central characters and their struggles to come to terms with their experiences and the challenges of post-war society.
“Floating Clouds” has since become recognized as a classic of Japanese cinema and a seminal work in the career of Mikio Naruse, one of Japan’s most celebrated and influential filmmakers.
The film remains a must-see for fans of Japanese cinema and anyone interested in powerful and thought-provoking films about the impact of war on human lives.
2. Yearning (1964)
“Yearning” is a Japanese film released in 1964, directed by Mikio Naruse and starring Hideko Takamine and Yuzo Kayama.
The story follows a middle-aged woman who runs a small bar in Tokyo and finds herself attracted to a young student who frequents the establishment.
As their relationship develops, she begins to question her own choices in life and confronts the challenges of love, social expectations, and her own sense of identity.
“Yearning” is known for its poignant and sensitive portrayal of the human condition, as well as its exploration of themes such as aging, regret, and the changing roles of women in Japanese society.
The film is considered a classic of Japanese cinema, and Naruse is regarded as one of the country’s greatest filmmakers.
3. Flowing (1956)
“Flowing” is a 1956 Japanese drama film directed by Mikio Naruse.
The film follows the lives of the geishas who live and work in a Tokyo geisha house, as they struggle to maintain their livelihoods and relationships amid changing societal norms and modernization.
The main character, Rika (played by Kinuyo Tanaka), is a former geisha who returns to the house after a failed marriage.
As she tries to adjust to life in the house again, she becomes embroiled in the personal and financial struggles of the other geishas and the house’s proprietress.
“Flowing” is notable for its nuanced portrayal of the geisha culture, and its exploration of themes such as female solidarity, independence, and resilience.
The film also features strong performances from its predominantly female cast, and is considered a classic of Japanese cinema.
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4. Late Chrysanthemums (1954)
“Late Chrysanthemums” is a 1954 Japanese drama film directed by Mikio Naruse. The film tells the story of four aging geishas who have fallen on hard times and struggle to make ends meet in post-World War II Japan.
The film explores themes of aging, class struggle, and the changing roles of women in Japanese society.
Each of the geishas is faced with unique challenges, from financial struggles to family problems, and the film portrays their struggles with compassion and sensitivity.
“Late Chrysanthemums” is notable for its nuanced and realistic portrayal of the lives of geishas, who are often stereotyped and misunderstood in popular culture.
The film also features excellent performances by its cast, particularly Haruko Sugimura and Chikako Hosokawa, who play two of the geishas.
Although not as well-known as some of Naruse’s other works, “Late Chrysanthemums” is considered a masterpiece of Japanese cinema and has been praised for its poignant and thought-provoking exploration of the lives of its characters.
5. Shûu (1956)
“Shuu” is a 1956 Japanese film directed by Mikio Naruse. The film tells the story of a mother and daughter who run a small business selling flowers.
Despite their hard work, the business is struggling, and they find themselves facing financial ruin.
The film is notable for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of the struggles faced by working-class women in post-war Japan.
It explores themes of family, duty, and sacrifice, and presents a subtle critique of the social and economic forces that conspire to keep people trapped in poverty.
Naruse’s direction is characterized by a restrained, observational style that allows the emotions of the characters to come through in natural and unforced ways.
The performances of the cast, particularly those of the two lead actresses, are excellent and lend the film a sense of authenticity and emotional depth.
“Shuu” is a powerful and moving film that offers a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people struggling to make ends meet in a challenging and rapidly changing world.
It is a testament to Naruse’s skill as a director and his deep empathy for his characters.
6. Wife! Be Like a Rose! (1935)
“Wife! Be Like a Rose!” is a 1935 Japanese film directed by Mikio Naruse, and was one of his earliest works.
The film is a domestic drama that explores the relationship between a struggling salaryman named Shuichi (played by Den Obinata) and his wife, Kikue (played by Sachiko Chiba).
The film examines the social and economic pressures faced by the couple, as they struggle to make ends meet while also conforming to the strict social expectations of their roles as husband and wife.
Shuichi becomes increasingly distant and frustrated with his lot in life, while Kikue struggles to maintain her dignity and sense of self-worth in the face of her husband’s emotional and financial neglect.
“Wife! Be Like a Rose!” is known for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of its characters, as well as its exploration of complex themes related to gender roles, economic inequality, and the strains of modern urban life in Japan.
The film was praised for its realistic and unsentimental depiction of the challenges faced by ordinary people in a rapidly changing society.
While “Wife! Be Like a Rose!” was not a commercial success upon its release, it is now recognized as a classic of early Japanese cinema and an important work in the career of Mikio Naruse.
The film remains a must-see for fans of Japanese cinema and anyone interested in exploring the complexities of human relationships and the challenges of life in modern society.
7. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)
“When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” is a Japanese film released in 1960, directed by Mikio Naruse and starring Hideko Takamine.
The story follows a widowed bar hostess named Keiko who struggles to make a living and support her family in Tokyo’s bustling Ginza district.
Keiko must navigate the complex social dynamics of the hostess world, where men’s desires and expectations clash with her own desires for independence and self-respect.
“When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” is known for its powerful portrayal of a woman’s struggle for agency in a patriarchal society, as well as its sensitive and nuanced exploration of class, gender, and human relationships.
The film is widely regarded as one of Naruse’s masterpieces and a landmark of Japanese cinema.
8. Every-Night Dreams (1933)
“Every-Night Dreams” (also known as “Every Night Dreams”) is a 1933 American pre-Code drama film directed by Victor Halperin.
The film tells the story of a young woman named Mary (played by Dorothy Revier) who is a struggling actress living in New York City.
She is determined to make it in the entertainment industry, but finds herself caught up in a web of deceit and exploitation.
As Mary struggles to make ends meet, she meets a wealthy businessman named John (Conway Tearle) who offers to help her career.
However, John’s intentions are not entirely pure, and he begins to use Mary for his own sexual desires. Mary must navigate the dangerous world of show business while also trying to protect herself from John’s advances.
“Every-Night Dreams” is notable for its frank depiction of sexual exploitation and the seedy side of the entertainment industry.
The film was made during the pre-Code era of Hollywood, when censorship regulations were lax, and it pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable on screen.
The film’s themes and content would later be subject to censorship under the stricter Production Code that was enforced in Hollywood starting in 1934.
9. Scattered Clouds (1967)
“Scattered Clouds” is a 1967 Japanese film directed by Mikio Naruse. The film is based on a novel by the renowned Japanese author, Kawabata Yasunari.
Here are three reasons why you should watch “Scattered Clouds:”
The cinematography: The film is beautifully shot, with stunning landscapes and intricate camera work that captures the subtle emotions of the characters.
The cinematography creates a dreamlike atmosphere that perfectly complements the film’s melancholic themes.
The performances: The lead actors, Yoko Tsukasa and Yuzo Kayama, give powerful and nuanced performances that bring depth and complexity to their characters.
Their performances convey a sense of longing and loss that is at the heart of the film.
The themes: “Scattered Clouds” explores themes of grief, loneliness, and the fleeting nature of happiness.
The film raises questions about the value of love and the importance of human connection in a world that is often cruel and indifferent. The themes are timeless and universal, making the film relevant even today.
Overall, “Scattered Clouds” is a stunning film that showcases the best of Japanese cinema. The film’s beauty, emotional depth, and universal themes make it a must-watch for any fan of world cinema.
10. Sound of the Mountain (1954)
“Sound of the Mountain” is a 1954 Japanese drama film directed by Mikio Naruse, based on the novel of the same name by Yasunari Kawabata.
The film follows the story of Shingo, a middle-aged businessman who struggles to reconcile his personal life with his responsibilities to his family and career.
The film explores themes of family dynamics, societal expectations, and the human experience of aging.
As Shingo navigates the complexities of his life, he must confront his own mortality and make difficult choices about his relationships and priorities.
“Sound of the Mountain” is notable for its subtle and nuanced portrayal of its characters, as well as its beautiful cinematography and score.
The film also features excellent performances by its cast, particularly Setsuko Hara and So Yamamura, who play Shingo’s wife and father, respectively.
The film has been praised for its sensitive and realistic portrayal of family life in Japan, as well as its exploration of universal themes of love, loss, and the passage of time. It is considered a masterpiece of Japanese cinema and one of Naruse’s most accomplished works.
3 Characteristics of Mikio Naruse Films
Here are three characteristics of Mikio Naruse films:
Realistic Portrayals of Everyday Life: Mikio Naruse’s films are known for their realistic and understated portrayal of everyday life.
His characters are often working-class people struggling to make ends meet, and Naruse’s films explore the difficulties and complexities of their lives with a deep sense of empathy and understanding.
Nuanced Portrayals of Women: Naruse’s films are also characterized by their nuanced and sensitive portrayal of women.
His female characters are complex, multi-dimensional individuals who are grappling with a range of social, economic, and personal challenges. Naruse’s films often focus on the ways in which women are affected by societal expectations and gender roles.
Subtle Critique of Society: While Naruse’s films are primarily focused on the lives of his characters, they also offer a subtle critique of Japanese society and its values.
Naruse was known for his ability to convey complex social issues through simple, understated scenes, and his films often explore themes such as class conflict, economic inequality, and the pressures of conformity.
Despite their subtle critique, Naruse’s films are marked by a sense of compassion and humanism, emphasizing the shared experiences and emotions that unite people across social and economic divides.
3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Mikio Naruse Films
Nuanced and Realistic Portrayals of Human Relationships: Mikio Naruse was known for his sensitive and realistic depictions of human relationships, particularly those between women and men in Japan.
His films often explored the tensions and conflicts that arise between individuals who are struggling to reconcile their personal desires with the expectations of society and the pressures of daily life.
Insights into Japanese Society and Culture: Naruse’s films offer a glimpse into the complexities of Japanese society and culture during the mid-twentieth century.
Through his portrayals of characters from various social classes and backgrounds, Naruse provides a nuanced and multifaceted view of Japan and its people, highlighting the challenges and opportunities faced by individuals in a rapidly changing world.
Masterful Filmmaking and Cinematography: Mikio Naruse was widely recognized as one of Japan’s greatest filmmakers, known for his skillful use of cinematography, sound, and editing to create powerful and emotionally resonant films.
His works often feature striking imagery and powerful storytelling that make them a pleasure to watch, even for those unfamiliar with Japanese cinema.
Overall, Mikio Naruse’s films offer a unique and compelling perspective on human relationships, Japanese society, and the art of filmmaking itself.
Whether you are a fan of Japanese cinema or simply interested in exploring the complexities of the human experience, Naruse’s works are definitely worth watching.
Best Mikio Naruse Films – Wrapping Up
Mikio Naruse was one of the greatest filmmakers of Japanese cinema, known for his sensitive and nuanced portrayals of human relationships and the struggles of everyday life. Some of his best films include:
“When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” (1960)
“Late Chrysanthemums” (1954)
“Floating Clouds” (1955)
“Sound of the Mountain” (1954)
These films showcase Naruse’s mastery of character development, his ability to capture the nuances of human emotion, and his unique perspective on Japanese society and culture.
Whether exploring the challenges faced by women in a patriarchal society, the complexities of human relationships, or the tensions between tradition and modernity, Naruse’s films continue to resonate with audiences around the world and cement his legacy as one of Japan’s greatest filmmakers.