(A.k.a. Kimiko, Japan, Mikio Naruse)
Naruse made an absurd number of movies in 1935. Most were mediocre at best (like The Girl in the Rumor). Wife, Be Like a Rose! though is where most of his creative fire went. It’s one of those movies, like Mizoguchi’s Poppies, that are quiet and sparse, but the more we watch, the more layers of emotional and visual complexity we find.
Young Kimiko (Sachiko Chiba), a modern city girl is close to being ready to marry and she needs her father, but he has deserted her and her mother in Tokyo. He left the city and moved to a small village with another woman and their children, much to the shame of his wife and adult daughter in Tokyo. Their only contact with the man is money he sends them on occasion, only cash with no letter. Kimiko resolves to go to her father’s village and bring him back both for her cold and distant mother, who is more interested in writing emotionally-charged poetry than expressing her own feelings, and for herself. She knows she will have to brave the horrors of his other life, including the woman with whom he consorts, a former geisha clearly using the poor weak man unable to resist a beautiful young woman. But this must be done if the geisha’s crafty spell is to be broken and her father is to be returned to his real family.
But her trip reveals that not all is as it seems and Kimiko is forced to reassess her assumptions and expectations. Naruse also forces the audience to discard their prejudices and look at people and their relationships in a fresh way. He is especially impatient with the stories we hear about people, usually from third parties that always giddily tell second hand stories about people they barely know. Gossip often shapes our views of people; we make our determinations based on unreliable sources and unyielding prejudices. Naruse wants us to reconsider our assumptions and look at the world with impartial eyes.
The movie is powerful and emotional without melodramatic hysterics to distract from the quiet, deliberate pace of Naruse’s direction. This is a welcome change from the increasingly moralistic storylines coming out of Hayes Code Hollywood in which no one who transgresses, especially in matters of sexuality, can live happily ever after. Naruse and other Japanese directors like Ozu, Shimizu, and Mizoguchi showed a higher degree of sophistication and insight into human nature than much of what was coming out from the U.S. and Wife, Be Like a Rose! is one of the best examples.