Directed by Mikio Naruse. Japan. 1954.

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"As the sound fades, 
the scent of the flowers comes up - 
the evening bell" - Matsuo Basho

Sadness and nostalgia permeate Late Chrysanthemums, a 1954 film by Japanese auteur Mikio Naruse, now undergoing a retrospective showing of his long unavailable films thanks to James Quandt of Cinematheque Ontario and The Japan Foundation. Based on three stories by Fumiko Hayashi, Late Chrysanthemums tells the story of four retired geishas, now middle-aged, whose lives have become full of disappointment and regret. Performance are uniformly outstanding, particularly that of Haruko Sugimura, who starred in films by Ozu's Late Spring, Floating Weeds, and Tokyo Story among others. Sugimura portrays Kin, a former Geisha who has no children and lives only with her young maid who is unable to speak. 

She has become cynical about men and has turned her attention to money, particularly real estate speculation and loaning money to her friends, Nobu (Sadako Sawamura), Tamae (Chikako Hosokawa), and Tomi (Yuko Mochizuki), all former geishas. Kin's friends live in meager circumstances and complain about how Kin has become greedy and Tomi spends considerable time gambling to try and make ends meet. Both Tomi and Tamae are in the process of losing their children. Tamae's son is leaving to work in the coalmines in Hokkaido, and Tomi's daughter has decided to accept a marriage proposal from an older man. Both resist the change in their circumstances but come to accept it as inevitable.

Two male friends visit Kin, Seki a former lover with whom she once contemplated double suicide, and Tabe (Ken Uehara), another lover who she looks forward to seeing again after many years. Her mood is upbeat but soon turns to resentment when she discovers that the two men are only interested in borrowing money. Naruse cuts between two extended sequences seamlessly as Kin confronts Tabe and Tomi and Tamae console each other over the loss of their children The dialogue is extremely natural and the characters are women of strength who, though their future does not seem bright, refuse to see themselves merely as victims. Late Chrysanthemums has the simplicity, humour, and stoic acceptance of life prominent in the films of Ozu and is a bittersweet reminder of the slow passing of time and the comfort that memory and companionship can bring along the way.


Howard Schumann
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