The Cinema of Naruse Mikio

Women and Japanese Modernity

The Cinema of Naruse Mikio

Book Pages: 488 Illustrations: 66 b&w photographs Published: September 2008

Asian Studies > East Asia, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Media Studies > Film

One of the most prolific and respected directors of Japanese cinema, Naruse Mikio (1905–69) made eighty-nine films between 1930 and 1967. Little, however, has been written about Naruse in English, and much of the writing about him in Japanese has not been translated into English. With The Cinema of Naruse Mikio, Catherine Russell brings deserved critical attention to this under-appreciated director. Besides illuminating Naruse’s contributions to Japanese and world cinema, Russell’s in-depth study of the director sheds new light on the Japanese film industry between the 1930s and the 1960s.

Naruse was a studio-based director, a company man renowned for bringing films in on budget and on time. During his long career, he directed movies in different styles of melodrama while displaying a remarkable continuity of tone. His films were based on a variety of Japanese literary sources and original scripts; almost all of them were set in contemporary Japan. Many were “women’s films.” They had female protagonists, and they depicted women’s passions, disappointments, routines, and living conditions. While neither Naruse or his audiences identified themselves as “feminist,” his films repeatedly foreground, if not challenge, the rigid gender norms of Japanese society. Given the complex historical and critical issues surrounding Naruse’s cinema, a comprehensive study of the director demands an innovative and interdisciplinary approach. Russell draws on the critical reception of Naruse in Japan in addition to the cultural theories of Harry Harootunian, Miriam Hansen, and Walter Benjamin. She shows that Naruse’s movies were key texts of Japanese modernity, both in the ways that they portrayed the changing roles of Japanese women in the public sphere and in their depiction of an urban, industrialized, mass-media-saturated society.


“[A]n exhaustive study of this brilliant, oft-overlooked Japanese filmmaker who always made women and the woman’s perspective central to his films. Well contextualised and full of the kind of details anyone interested in Naruse’s work would want, Russell’s book is a delight.” — Paul Dale, The List

“A comprehensive study of Naruse in English has long been needed, and this book does not just fill that gap, it adds greatly to our overall understanding of Japanese mass media and popular culture in the twentieth century.” — Rachael Hutchinson, Monumenta Nipponica

“At long last, Naruse Mikio’s cinema has received serious attention in the first booklength study of his work in the English language. . . . [Russell] has conducted comprehensive research on all the extant Naruse films, and their critical reception in Japan and abroad, as well as on the academic literature on modernism in Japanese studies and film studies.” — Freda Freiberg, Asian Studies Review

“Catherine Russell brings deserved critical attention to this under-appreciated director.” — IIAS Newsletter

“For scholars of Japanese cinema in general this work is of great interest; for those of feminist cinema and the cinema of the postwar, humanist masters, it is of great importance. Russell has given us a solidly persuasive, researched, and illustrative analysis of Naruse's films, presenting them within the contexts that they themselves accept as most relevant: feminism and modernity. It is the overwhelming strength of this study that these two terms are not limited here to the context of Japan alone, but have much to say to global modernity as well. This work represents a great contribution to cinema studies, and points to the richness of Naruse's opus as a field of inquiry which scholars will be able to explore in many was. Naruse has not yet received the critical exploration his work deserves; this book, though detailed and impressive, is by no means exhaustive. Instead it is introductory—but what a tremendous introduction it is.” — Timothy Iles, Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies

“In The Cinema of Naruse Mikio, the first in-depth English language study of Naruse Mikio and his films, Catherine Russell brilliantly brings the auteur and his oeuvre out from the obscurity of fourth place. . . . Russell describes Naruse’s films—and the ethnographic picture of women in Japan between the 1920s and 1960s that they provide—in such compelling detail that the reader wants to view them all.” — Jeffrey A. Dym, Pacific Affairs

“In the new century, the availability of Japanese films of the studio period is shaping as the most exciting new area to be opened up for scholarship. Catherine Russell’s study of Naruse is a significant addition for non-Japanese scholars in their knowledge of a filmmaker who has hitherto been known in the west for a small sampling of a career which lasted almost forty years and produced 89 films as a director for, first Shochiku, and then Toho. . . . With the increasing availability of Naruse’s films on subtitled dvds, this book is wonderfully timely. It kept me shuttling back and forth between her pages and my dvd player.” — Mike Walsh, Screening the Past

“Over the near-500-page course of her book, Russell uncovers a lot of valuable information about Naruse’s films, their reception, and their promotion . . . and says much about them that is illuminating. The Cinema of Naruse Mikio is an important work that will undoubtedly be essential for further Naruse studies and for the future study of Japanese cinema.” — Chris Fujiwara, Cineaste

“Russell’s study stands as a formidable achievement. She is to be commended for her precise and meticulous work, and for the cohesion of the volume. This book should satisfy those readers / viewers with a passion for Japanese film and women’s studies.” — Alison Clifton, M/C Reviews

“This volume makes a significant contribution to the English-language study of Japanese cinema. . . . Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.” — N.A. Baker, Choice

The Cinema of Naruse Mikio presents not only a deft and subtle run-through of the world of an important auteur, but also a virtual encapsulation of the intellectual history of Japanese cinema during its most important period, the 1930s–60s. Catherine Russell contextualizes Naruse in the commercial situation in which he worked and in the historical, social, political, and intellectual project of mid-twentieth-century Japan. I came away firmly believing that Naruse was more attuned to how modernity was leaving its indelible marks on Japanese women than any other director of classical Japanese cinema. For students of feminist film criticism, Russell’s book is an absolute must.” — David Desser, author of Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema

“A confluence of many forces produced the great (and stereotypical) triumvirate of Japanese cinema: Kurosawa/Mizoguchi/Ozu. However, even as these three took their positions at the forefront of auteurism, a fourth name was regularly invoked and too often ignored. Perhaps this was to be expected. Naruse Makio’s films lacked period color for those searching for Oriental spectacle. Likewise, scholars celebrating formal inventiveness mistook Naruse’s cinematic style for pedestrian convention. Those who looked at the director’s films closely, however, knew that this was an extraordinary body of films and for a good many reasons. Catherine Russell looked closer than anyone, and has discovered a critical framework that provides us solid footing for exploring Naruse’s modern world. Working meticulously through all sixty-seven extant films, Russell gradually reveals a director and team of technicians and actors exploring the contradictions, hopes, and disappointments of modern Japan—particularly for women, who participate in and contribute to modernity both on and off Naruse’s screen. The Cinema of Naruse Mikio is a vivid and long-needed survey of the director’s life work and the everyday landscape of twentieth-century Japan.” — Abé Mark Nornes, author of Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary

“Even for those who read Japanese and are familiar with Naruse Mikio’s work, Catherine Russell’s book contributes to a new understanding of his cinema. Russell shows how Naruse’s films contributed to Japanese modernity as a cultural movement, and, using feminist film criticism and Miriam Hansen’s influential concept of ‘vernacular modernism,’ she traces how his films illuminate female subjectivity throughout the studio era.” — Daisuke Miyao, author of Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Catherine Russell is Professor of Film Studies at Concordia University. She is the author of Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video, also published by Duke University Press, and Narrative Mortality: Death, Closure, and New Wave Cinemas.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Preface xi

Introduction: The Auteur as Salaryman 1

1. The Silent Films: Women in the City, 1930-1934 39

2. Naruse as P.C.L.: Toward a Japanese Classical Cinema, 1935-1937 81

3. Not a Monumental Cinema: Wartime Vernacular, 1938-1945 131

4. The Occupation Years: Cinema, Democracy, and Japanese Kitsch, 1945-1952 167

5. The Japanese Woman's Film of the 1950s, 1952-1958 226

6. Naruse in the 1960s: Stranded in Modernity, 1958-1967 315

Conclusion 398

Notes 405

Filmography 431

Bibliography 435

Index 447
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4312-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4290-8
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