I love Mikio Naruse. Not all his films work for me, but he's got a good enough hit rate that I'd recommend him to normal people who don't watch arty stuff. This is a bracingly zippy film (54 minutes) with entertaining characters, funny gags, subversions of expectation and yet also quite a lot of darkness underneath.
It's about a family who run a sake store. There's Dad (Ko Mihashi), who had an unhappy marriage and doesn't want the same to happen to his daughters. (His wife's dead. If you look up "pleasant, open face" in an actors' dictionary, you'll see Mihashi. His feelings shine through. If you had to cast the role of a good, honest, straightforward man, you'd choose him.) Meanwhile his two daughters are the traditionalist, dutiful Kunie (Sachiko Chiba) and the jazz-loving bad girl Kimiko (Ryuko Umezono). Umezono isn't malicious, but she likes parties and spending money when the family really can't afford it.
Other characters include Mihashi's mistress (disliked by Umezono and I'd guess also Mihashi's late wife), who's actually a sensible, honest woman who'd probably do the family a lot of good if she married Mihashi at last. There's a friend of the family who's trying to broker an arranged marriage for Chiba, then finally a disgraceful old grandad (Yo Shiomi) who's as bad as Umezono. He made me laugh.
The tone's light, occasionally to the point of comedy reaction shots. The family's clearly in financial trouble and Kunie's trying to get married to someone she believes will make her unhappy, but even so Naruse keeps everything fast and entertaining. The family gets on well and everyone's friendly to each other, even when someone's behaving badly and creating real problems. The sisters spar banteringly. You like them. The story's darker undertones are definitely present and there's more than one powerful shot of a female character being stoic in the face of real emotional pain, but it's not a hard film to watch.
There are production oddities. Is it significant that the Japanese movie industry was still making lots of silent films at this point? The blocking, transitions and editing can all be a bit theatrical or abrupt. Every so often there will be a moment (sometimes involving Mihashi) that I didn't believe, even though Mihashi's basically excellent and I'd have no problem with him once the scene got going. (He moves like a marionette on strings, though. Surely he doesn't do that in other films? In a more fantastical genre, you'd take that to mean that his character isn't human.) There's also at least one cut that personally I'd have held a little longer. The weirdest thing, though, is the casting of Shiomi, who in real life was slightly younger than Mihashi (both born in 1895) and could plausibly have been cast as a university student. They've given him what looks like a shaved head and otherwise just let him potter around the screen looking young enough to be Mihashi's son, not his father. (His performance is entertaining, though.)
This film is interesting because it's subverting itself. The film it's pretending to be is great fun. All the characters are as I've presented them and it's fast-paced and entertaining. Stick around and keep an open mind, though, because irresponsible characters can turn out to be perceptive and philosophical, upright ones can turn out to be a well-meaning threat to everyone and the stoic, cheerful, apparently self-sacrificing ones can turn out to have been caring more than you thought. What you thought you knew is often wrong. This film's light, fast-moving surface is hiding some deceptively sophisticated, dark guts.
Not to be confused with a 1954 Kenji Mizoguchi film (The Woman in the Rumor) about a brothel madam's daughter. The two films are unrelated.
I'd been expecting to enjoy this one and I wasn't disappointed, although this is actually my second watching of this film and to my surprise I've just discovered that I hadn't much liked it the first time. Maybe I've mellowed? Admittedly I was having to overlook a few things, but I was doing so because Naruse's clever, subtle and entertaining enough that he carries me over them. It's an intelligent film and it's expecting you to be intelligent too. Besides most of those hiccups are either relatively subtle (the editing and blocking) or funny (casing Shiomi) and can be handwaved as a reflection of the production era. I'm not far off the point of drawing up a checklist of Naruse films, with the plan of working through them one by one.