Sep. 12th, 2017

setsuled: (Skull Tree)


The moral demands of youth may be untenably expensive, as seen in Mikio Naruse's 1933 silent film Apart from You (君と別れて) about the son of a geisha who's ashamed of his mother's profession. The film is halfway between a melodrama characteristic of the silent era and one of the more complicated stories of financial desperation typical of Naruse's later films. Beautiful compositions and good performances come together for a nice story about tragic circumstances that are painful and, above all, expensive.



Kikue (Mitsuko Yoshikawa) is a geisha, introduced in a pleasant scene of well executed silent comedy as she and her coworkers laugh at their madam who accidentally puts her pipe in her mouth backwards.



Kikue's best friend and confidant is Terugiku, played by the stunning Sumiko Mizukubo who turned 100 last year. Kikue asks her friend to help her pluck a grey hair from her head.



The tone of this casual and friendly scene shifts through an ingenious sequence of cuts between title cards, first to a closeup showing Kikue placing the grey hair among several other strands on a peg on her mirror.



Then to a close profile shot of Kikue from the opposite side of the scene's establishing shots after a card quotes her as noting that she's getting old now.



Kikue's worried about her teenage son, Yoshio (Akio Isono). Yoshio's embarrassed by his mother's profession and runs with a street gang, carrying a knife at all times. Kikue is deeply troubled when a messenger inadvertently reveals to her that Yoshio hasn't shown up at school in some time. Kikue later begs Terugiku to talk to Yoshio and make him understand that Kikue has to do what she does for a living to support him and herself.



The sentiments in the film are pretty close to many American films of the time like Blonde Venus or The Sin of Madelon Claudet that play upon a tension between venerated motherhood and the taboo of sexually free women. Naruse distinguishes his film mainly through his characteristic mindfulness of the financial reality behind the pathos. Terugiku's plan to make Yoshio see reason involves simply taking him to visit her home where her parents and siblings all live in poverty and are completely dependant on her.



A romance begins to develop between Terugiku and Yoshio, making him seem more like an obnoxious hypocrite and Terugiku as more saintly, emphasised by her calm and extreme beauty in close-ups. Naruse's later films would make his many female protagonists more complex but his silent films are certainly outstanding.

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