Featuring one of Naruse’s most beautiful endings (a sublime visualization of generational reconciliation with the titular matriarch running to assist a weeping infant), Daughters, Wives and a Mother is unfortunately something of a dull slog through territory better covered in the director’s prior masterpiece Sudden Rain. Setsuko Hara stars as Sanae Sakanishi, widowed at the film’s outset and left a substantial inheritance that soon becomes the instigator of much familial discord. The vicious edge that Naruse brought out of the actress in Sudden Rain is nowhere evident; she’s back to her usual smiling self, projecting a sort of resigned luminosity that tramples nearly everything and everyone in its path, most unfortunately Naruse regular Hideko Takamine as her even more subdued sister (a case where two powerful personalities effectively cancel each other out). Naruse’s typically piercing psychological insight—comparable to the best work of Henry James and Eric Rohmer—only emerges in select scenes: in addition to the above-mentioned final image, a moment where Sanae rejects her vintner lover Kuroki (Tatsuya Nakadai) while foregrounded against the chiaroscuro shadows of dancers in a restaurant, as well as a superb sequence, in which the Sakanishis view the youngest son’s home movies, that hints at the growing emotional divides that will ultimately tear the family apart.
- Toho Company
- 123 min
- Mikio Naruse
- Toshirô Ide, Zenzo Matsuyama
- Setsuko Hara, Reiko Dan, Daisuke Katô, Masayuki Mori, Tatsuya Nakadai, Hideko Takamine, Akira Takarada, Ken Uehara
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