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Review: Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro

Mikio Naruse’s Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro is primarily a vehicle for its very attractive stars.

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Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro
Photo: Toho Company

Mikio Naruse’s Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro is primarily a vehicle for its very attractive stars, Isuzu Yamada and Kazuo Hasegawa. As the titular, exceedingly popular performing duo (respectively a samisen player and a Shinnai singer) they enact a tragicomic tale of unrequited love that—save for a deeply affecting, pathos-ridden final scene—is far removed from Naruse’s usual cinema obsessions. Adapted by Naruse from a Matsutarô Kawaguchi novel, Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro is a film of beguiling and seductive surfaces. Its beauty, much like its constantly bickering protagonists, is only skin deep. The film’s many musical sequences, well-composed though they are, lack the thematic depth of Naruse’s best work with the form—rather than illuminating and/or counterpointing each character’s unique inner state (as in that masterpiece to come, The Song Lantern), they instead encourage our considerably blind adulation of Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro. (Toward this point, it is especially difficult to delineate the line that separates the adoring on-screen audience from its doting off-screen counterpart.) With stars like this, though, it is almost silly and most certainly futile to complain: Yamada and Hasegawa have the sort of sacrosanct chemistry that creates its own kind of insight and profundity. And though Naruse would use both actors to more layered effect in two future productions (Yamada as the dancing geisha-in-training O-Sode in The Song Lantern, Hasegawa as the enigmatic samurai Karatsu Kanbei in A Tale of Archery at the Sanjusangendo) there is a grand thrill in watching them perform together here, like bearing witness to dual forces of nature in a constant state of flux, forever moving between the emotional extremes of embattlement and reconciliation, of selfishness and sacrifice.

Cast: Kazuo Hasegawa, Isuzu Yamada, Kamatari Fujiwara, Heihachiro Okawa, Masao Mishima Director: Mikio Naruse Screenwriter: Mikio Naruse Distributor: Toho Company Running Time: 88 min Rating: NR Year: 1938

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