Late Chrysanthemums

Late Chrysanthemums

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Late Chrysanthemums is director Mikio Naruse’s most perfect film, a seamless combination of several short stories (Bangiku, Suisen, and Shirasagi) by authoress Fumiko Hayashi that detail the lives of three aging geishas, O-Kin (Haruko Sugimura), Tamae (Chikako Hosokawa), and O-Tomi (Yûko Mochizuki). Perfection, I suppose, implies some sort of apotheosis, a personal best never again achieved, yet Late Chrysanthemums is more the film that inaugurates Naruse’s masterful run up to and including 1964’s Yearning, a significantly rougher effort that is nonetheless the director’s fullest and most expressive achievement. This is not to take anything away from Late Chrysanthemums, which in spirit plays as a sort of “after the fall” sequel to Naruse’s Flowing, though it interestingly precedes that film by two years, a further illustration that Naruse’s body of work is rarely prisoner to any normal concepts of time. Time is what each of these geishas are marking in their twilight years: O-Kin, in the company of her partner Itaya (Daisuke Katô), meets each day with a moneylender’s harsh, cold stare, while Tamae and O-Tomi drunkenly commiserate (in and out of each other’s company) about their often unwarranted disappointment in their children. O-Kin’s story makes the deepest impression, her miserly layers slowly peeled away when she reconnects with two former lovers: the disinterested Tabe (Ken Uehara) and the suicidal Seki (Bontarô Miyake). Tamae and O-Tomi, meanwhile, are tragicomic counterpoints lost in varying states of brilliantly enacted inebriation, always subtly mocked by omnipresent radio broadcasts that showcase the latest musical sensations. Late Chrysanthemums is a film of unbridled riches, so it’s only appropriate that it contains two of Naruse’s typically superb climaxes: O-Kin burning Tabe’s photograph when she comes to recognize his duplicity and Tamae and O-Tomi momentarily turning the scales on the younger generation—or, perhaps, giving into it—by imitating Marilyn Monroe’s signature gait.

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DVD
Distributor
Toho Company
Runtime
101 min
Rating
NR
Year
1954
Director
Mikio Naruse
Screenwriter
Sumie Tanaka, Toshirô Ide
Cast
Haruko Sugimura, Sadako Sawamura, Chikako Hosokawa, Yûko Mochizuki, Ken Uehara, Hiroshi Koizumi, Ineko Arima, Bontarô Miyake, Sonosuke Sawamura, Daisuke Katô