The serenity of the Daibutsu was missing from the 1954
set-in-Kamakura Mikio Naruse film I saw one day after the
2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival came to an end
Sound of the Mountain (aka The Echo) (Japan, 1954)
- Mikio Naruse, dir.
- Starring: Setsuko Hara, So Yamamura, Ken Uehara
The 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival drew to a close on April 6th but my film viewing -- and reviewing -- goes on, including of some fest offerings that also are being screened this and next month in the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society's HK Cine Fan program. Most notably for me, the Mikio Naruse cinematic feast continues -- with not only with additional screenings of such as Repast and Daughters, Wives and a Mother side but other films starring Setsuko Hara and Hideko Takamine, two legendary Japanese actresses whose exalted reputations are well earned, which did not play at this year's fest!
Among these additional Naruse offerings is Sound of the Mountain, in which Setsuko Hara and Ken Uehara once more play a married couple. In this adaptation of a novel by Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata though, their characters -- housewife Kikuko and businessman Shuichi -- reside in the lovely temple town of Kamakura (where the actress retired to in 1963 and has remained a resident) with Shuichi's parents, who are far more grateful of the care and respect that their daughter-in-law accord them than their son is of his wife.
So affectionate is Shuichi's father Shingo (So Yamamura) towards Kikuko that his wife Yasuko (Teruko Nagaoka) is moved to point out that he's not as nice towards their own daughter Fusako (Chieko Nakakita). Even so, Yasuko herself chastises Fusako, who ran away from her husband's household on two separate occasions -- what is it with wives running away in Naruse's movies?! -- by telling her that her in-laws would treat her better if she behaved well towards them, the way that Kikuko does towards Shingo and Yasuko.
In contrast, Shuichi finds his wife wanting -- criticizing her for being too child-like, with the implication being that she's not as sexually sophisticated as he would like. Dissatisfied with Kikuko, he has an affair with another woman, and so obviously that his parents and wife know what's going on (despite his mistress living in Tokyo, where Shuichi and Shingo regularly commute to work from Kamakura). And after Shingo -- who also happens to be Shuichi's boss -- decides to try to put a stop to his son's philandering ways, further revelations are made that really are pretty shocking -- especially in a 1954 mainstream Japanese domestic drama!
Once again, it seems almost effortless for Setsuko Hara to play the kind of woman with both inner and external beauty, whom only a callous cad and moral degenerate would not be able to appreciate. At the same time, behind her luminous smiles, there is so much suffering, sorrow, and sufficient steel to carry out the kind of dramatic action that shows that, socially constrained as she may be -- given her being a married woman of a certain class in 1950s Japan -- she still can exert significant control over certain parts of her life and that of others.
For his part, So Yamamura convincingly portrays a good-hearted establishment patriarch whose rule nonetheless sadly is found wanting, leading his children to stray from the respectable ways one would have expected them to follow while Ken Uehara once more manfully takes on the thankless role of a husband who doesn't appreciate having the spouse that so many other people would love to have. In their own way, both of their characters reveal how men who appear in privileged positions still can't always have what they want, in the domestic sphere, if not professional one. In so doing, they collectively help to paint a portrait of the Japanese family that's far more complex than the stereotypes would have it being.
My rating for this film: 8.0