Review: Lightning

The climactic confrontation illustrates Mikio Naruse’s talent for concluding his films on an ideal, though rarely contented, final note.

Photo: Daiei

Mikio Naruse’s second adaptation of a novel by Fumiko Hayashi stars Hideko Takamine, the director’s frequent muse, as bus conductress Kiyoko Komori, the youngest daughter in a family of squabbling half-siblings. All the children are products of different fathers, though they share the same mother: a tragically weak-willed woman named Osei (Kumeko Urabe). The familial tension only increases when the husband of one daughter dies and leaves behind a substantial insurance policy, so Kiyoko abandons them to their quarrels and makes a go of it on her own, though she finds she can’t leave her mother behind so easily. Takamine is especially terrific, her perpetually wide-eyed, comically exasperated performance at once suggesting Kiyoko’s trappings of the body and the wanderings of her mind. It’s a highly conceptualized piece of work that anticipates the actress’s divisive, tic-heavy take on Hayashi herself in Naruse’s fatally flawed biopic A Wanderer’s Notebook, though I’d certainly place Takamine’s stylings here alongside her masterful turns in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs and Yearning. Lightning never quite reaches the heights of those films (much like Older Brother, Younger Sister, it is superbly modulated, second-tier Naruse), though the climactic mother/daughter confrontation—scored to classical music and punctuated by expertly timed lightning flashes—is close to perfection and once again illustrates Naruse’s talent for concluding his films on an ideal, though rarely contented, final note.

 Cast: Hideko Takamine, Mitsuko Miura, Kyôko Kagawa, Chieko Murata, Jun Negami, Eitarô Ozawa, Kumeko Urabe, Chieko Nakakita, Hisako Takihana, Kenzaburo Uemura, Mariko Sugioka, Osamu Maruyama  Director: Mikio Naruse  Screenwriter: Sumie Tanaka  Distributor: Daiei  Running Time: 87 min  Rating: NR  Year: 1952

Keith Uhlich

Keith Uhlich is a writer living in Brooklyn. His work has been published in The Hollywood Reporter, BBC, and Reverse Shot, among other publications. He is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle.

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