With the exception of Flunky, Work Hard! (reportedly only available in a 38-minute digest version), Mikio Naruse’s earliest surviving feature is Not Blood Relations, a silent mother-love melodrama whose stylistic crudities explicitly illustrate what, in the director’s later work, is relegated to subtlety and subtext. In telling the story of two mothers—one biological, one surrogate—fighting over the same daughter, Naruse makes excessive use of an over-the-top technical flourish (a swift camera track in from medium-shot to close-up) that emphasizes a character’s inner turmoil while rather cheaply and mechanically heightening a given scene’s sense of suspense and dread. Naruse employs the visual so often that its cumulative effect, over the course of a very long 85 minutes, is deadening, yet it remains, despite its manipulative superficiality, of multifaceted thematic interest. Seen in light of the director’s more psychologically penetrating future efforts, it becomes clear that Naruse—via Not Blood Relations’ oft-repeated visual motif—is as much digging for a personal style as he is for his characters’ souls. The film is perhaps best viewed in this way and through this prism: as a work of youthful insouciance, the gesture of an innately talented apprentice whom we know (thanks to the dubious benefit of hindsight) will soon become a master.
- 85 min
- Mikio Naruse
- Kogo Noda
- Shinyo Nara, Yukiko Tsukuba, Yoshiko Okada, Toshiko Kojima, Fumiko Katsuragi, Joji Oka, Ichiro Yuki
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