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Review: Late Chrysanthemums

Late Chrysanthemums is a film of unbridled riches, so it’s only appropriate that it contains two of Mikio Naruse’s typically superb climaxes.

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Late Chrysanthemums
Photo: Toho Company

Director Mikio Naruse’s most perfect film, Late Chrysanthemums is 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.

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

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