LIGHTNING (Mikio Naruse, 1952)

The lovely breeziness of Mikio Naruse’s Inazuma (best film, best director, Blue Ribbon Awards) telegraphs the laughter of its eventual mother-daughter reconciliation and expresses optimism for daughter Kiyoko’s future; but at the same time the film, from a novel by Fumiko Hayashi, takes up Japanese cinema’s principal postwar theme: the breakdown of the Japanese family. Indeed, the cohesiveness of family is rendered insupportable in the example that Osei, Kiyoko’s mother, provides; each of her four offspring claims a different father, and the resident male, her one son, is a traumatized, wounded war veteran in clinging need of his mother’s care. Naruse’s light comedy has dark underpinnings.
     Played by round-faced former child star Hideko Takamine, Kiyoko is the protagonist, a bus tour guide: a flip, independent girl who takes full advantage of the dissolution of Japanese patriarchy. The film opens with Kiyoko at work as the view through the moving bus’s front window expresses the new freedom and range of possibilities at her disposal. Kiyoko moves out of her mother’s home once its financial stress has been shored up by a serendipitous death and legacy. In her final confrontation with her mother, the hilarious punctuation of lightning bolts again suggests that even the cosmos is on her side.
     In its own way, Naruse’s film evokes life’s transience as much as Ozu’s films do, but without Ozuvian gravity as ironical counterpoint. What you see in Inazuma is what there is. One is touched along the way by what touches Kiyoko: the sight of her handsome neighbor hanging up the wash that he has laundered so that his sister can concentrate on practicing at the piano: another example of the current better days in Japan for gender fairness—a social victory eked out of the tragedy of national defeat.

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