The competing husband and wife voiceovers that open the 1953 Mikio Naruse melodrama Wife set up a character dialectic that never comes to fruition and though the title suggests the resulting imbalance may be intentional, the film still plays out as a deeply flawed examination of marital discord. The typical Narusian roles are reversed with wife Mihoko Nakagawa (Mieko Takamine) holding sway over husband Toichi (Ken Uehara) until the cold, repetitious rhythms of their decade-old relationship drive him into the arms of his kind-hearted secretary. While Wife is primarily Takamine’s show, it is to the director’s credit that he clearly does not favor any one of his characters over another. Naruse is a keen observer of the whole spectrum of human behavior, a portraitist who depicts his subjects in all their raw, yet submissive complexity. In Wife‘s best scene Toichi meets his lover in Tokyo, only to discover she’s brought along her rarely mentioned young son. The child hangs off his mother like an appendage and it’s clear the perceived perfection of the couple’s extramarital liaison is suddenly subject to a severe reality check. Toichi gazes deep into his lover’s eyes before lowering his sight, rather contemptuously, to the child. Naruse then smash-cuts to a different setting: a restaurant, where the boy greedily slurps his soda while his adult companions look on in polite consternation. Unlike many of his cinema contemporaries (both in and out of Japan) Naruse views children skeptically—they seem potentially vicious adults-in-training who go about their business in a distressingly carefree manner that, in its unwitting ignorance, often does as much—if not more—harm than even the most bald-faced grown-up machinations. The young son in Wife joins both the budding boy capitalist of Daughters, Wives and a Mother and the Takamine-taunting tricycle duo from When a Woman Ascends the Stairs as one in a long line of venomous Naruse depictions of not-so-innocent adolescents.
- Toho Company
- 89 min
- Mikio Naruse
- Toshirô Ide
- Mieko Takamine, Ken Uehara, Rentaro Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama, Sanae Takasugi, Chieko Nakakita, Yatsuko Tanami, Hajime Izu, Yoshiko Tsubouchi
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