A Wanderer’s Notebook

A Wanderer’s Notebook

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A Wanderer's Notebook, also known as Her Lonely Lane, is director Mikio Naruse's hollow biopic of authoress Fumiko Hayashi, whose work the director often adapted for the screen. Interesting that the source of some of Naruse's best films (Late Chrysanthemums and Floating Clouds among them) should prove, in her film incarnation, to be such an empty vessel. As played by the usually stellar Hideko Takamine, Hayashi is all down-turned eyes, shuffling gait, and metronomic facial tics. It's an off-putting, what-you-see-is-what-you-get performance, one that, if ignorant Western sensibilities were to prevail, we might term “Oscar Bait,” though several colleagues' passionate defenses (contending that Takamine is doing an intentional silent comedy-inspired turn) suggest that a future reevaluation is necessary. For now, I stand by my initial reaction: that A Wanderer's Notebook is basically the Naruse stock company (in addition to Takamine, Daisuke Katô, Keiju Kobayashi, and Kinuyo Tanaka all play prominent roles) gathered together in service of a conventional rags to riches narrative. Wallowing in ineffectual storybook squalor, Naruse and his actors are like constrained fairy-tale puppets (Hayashi is something of a cross between Pinocchio and the ugly duckling) trying to capture life's unpredictable rhythms within a handsomely designed, though wholly inadequate Cinemascope rectangle. The working-class milieu, a familiar stomping ground for the director, never seemed so unreal, dominated as it is by the actors' bug-eyed physical mannerisms tossed out from underneath a variety of appliances and accouterments. I suspect there's something of a Noh-theater sensibility to the choices made by Naruse and his troupe—forced to enact real people and events, they effectively turn their faces into exaggerated masks, though the resultant self-aware grotesquerie finally seems more in service of hagiography than truth. Only when A Wanderer's Notebook turns meta (via the superimposition of several of Hayashi's most famous sentences over on-screen action) does one get a sense of Naruse's personal connection to the material and to his literary muse. In particular, the final sequence's recapitulation of the Hayashi quotation that ends the director's Floating Clouds is a profound complement to the earlier film and to its literary progenitor, one of the few moments where A Wanderer's Notebook eschews awestruck reverence for piercing insight into an artist's complicated heart and mind.

Toho Company
124 min
Mikio Naruse
Toshirô Ide, Sumie Tanaka
Hideko Takamine, Akira Takarada, Daisuke Katô, Keiju Kobayashi, Kinuyo Tanaka, Mitsuko Kusabue, Noboru Nakaya, Yûnosuke Itô, Jun Tatara, Masao Oda, Takeshi Katô, Tomoko Fumino

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