Review: Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts

Even at a relatively brief 64 minutes, it feels as if Three Sisters explores a lifetime of heartache and tragedy.

Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts

Writer-director Mikio Naruse’s first sound film, Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts, tells the story of three very different siblings forced to work as samisen street musicians to make ends meet. O-Ren (Chikako Hosokawa), the eldest, is on a downward spiral into Tokyo’s Asakusa district underworld, exasperated middle sister O-some (Masako Tsutsumi) attempts to protect her sisters by appeasing their demanding mother Hahaoya (Chitose Hayashi), and Chieko (Ryuko Umezono), the youngest, pursues love and romance with kindly restaurateur Aoyama (Heihachiro Okawa). Three Sisters is one of Naruse’s most formally experimental works, making use of an intricate, yet playful flashback structure and a fluid, constantly moving camera to delineate the sisters’ varying paths through life. Chieko’s Folies Bergere-like dance numbers are a particular highlight, demonstrating Naruse’s affinity with and understanding of the psychology of performance. And even at a relatively brief 64 minutes, it feels as if Three Sisters explores a lifetime of heartache and tragedy, culminating in a wrenching train station climax where O-some makes the ultimate sacrifice to preserve a complicated sense of familial status quo.

Score: 
 Cast: Chikako Hosokawa, Masako Tsutsumi, Ryuko Umezono, Chitose Hayashi, Chisato Matsumoto, Masako Sanjo, Mariyo Matsumoto, Heihachiro Okawa, Kaoru Ito, Osamu Takizawa, Akira Kishii, Kamatari Fujiwara  Director: Mikio Naruse  Screenwriter: Mikio Naruse  Distributor: PCL  Running Time: 64 min  Rating: NR  Year: 1935

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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