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Review: Summer Clouds

The film is an unfortunately strained effort, a sprawling, yet detached familial soap opera with an atypical country setting.

Summer Clouds

Mikio Naruse’s Summer Clouds if the director’s first film in color and Scope and it’s an unfortunately strained effort, a sprawling, yet detached familial soap opera with an atypical country setting. For the most part the new locale and aesthetic formats seem to cramp Naruse’s style; much belied by his later Scope efforts, Summer Clouds is pretty much all empty photography, essentially meaningless in its exterior grandeur and especially dull when it moves (as it all too often does) indoors for badly blocked, overly extended conversation scenes. After the unsung visual mastery of his prior film Anzukko—a profound summation of the expressive possibilities of both black-and-white photography and 1.33 aspect ratio—Summer Clouds is an unfortunate regression, yet its placement in the director’s canon suggests we view it primarily as an exercise, an immersion in new ways of artistic expression that lead to bigger and better things. And to be fair, the film does have its scattered share of moments, most involving the relationship between jaded country girl Yaé (Chikage Awashima) and married city reporter Okawa (Isao Kimura) who, on the pretext of reuniting a splintered faction of Yaé‘s family, strike up an affair. Tellingly, their scenes together are often the ones with little-to-no dialogue, and it’s only here—as Naruse dances about architecture in a newfound rectangular space—that the visuals take on the incisive depth of the director’s best work.

Cast: Isao Kimura, Michiyo Aratama, Chikage Awashima, Fumiko Honma, Chouko Iida, Ikichi Ishii, Natsuko Kahara, Keiju Kobayashi, Bontarô Miyake, Kumi Mizuno, Ganjiro Nakamura, Kunio Otsuka, Yutaka Sada, Haruko Sugimura, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Yokô Tsukasa, Akemi Ueno Director: Mikio Naruse Screenwriter: Shinobu Hashimoto Distributor: Toho Company Running Time: 128 min Rating: NR Year: 1958

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