Other Noteworthy Performances: Louise Beavers (Imitation of Life), Louise Dresser (The Scarlet Empress), Flora Robson (The Rise of Catherine the Great), Alice Brady (The Gay Divorcee)
I don’t know much about Rieko Yagumo. As far as the English speaking world is concerned, her only screen appearance was in my choice for the best picture of 1934 A Story of Floating Weeds. Yagumo (on the right above) plays the disgruntled mistress of Sakamoto’s theater troupe leader and her characterization breathes life into what could have been a simplistic caricature of a woman scorned. Yagumo doesn’t play Otaka as a scheming harpy (though she does scheme); she is instead an artist resigned to a life of poverty and depressed expectations. The only happiness she gets is from Kihachi (Sakamoto) and when she realizes she might lose him her instincts set in.
Let’s be honest. Looking at Otaka and Kihachi together, we know she could do a lot better than him, but he’s the best things around to keep her entertained and emotionally fulfilled. She isn’t evil; she’s bored. One evening as everyone sleeps, she mischievously eyes the piggybank of the young boy in the troupe. She gently taps it, not because she wants to rob him (like his father); she just wants to see what will happen. Yagumo delivers a quietly intense performance. There is a coldness to her, but we know that coldness disguises bottled passion that has been put on hold for the duration of this stage of her life. The idea that Kihachi could move on to a better and more stable life before she does is galling to her. There’s a stunning moment late in the picture where she finally explodes, raging against Kihachi and her life. In this scene all that passion is spit out, but is quickly suppressed for a later quite, resigned reconciliation scene in a train station. It’s a perceptive and layered performance worthy of recognition.