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PostPosted: Thu Sep 06, 2012 5:27 am 
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Re missing films - I seem to remember a few years back reading about a massive horde of early Japanese film found left by a private collector. It might have been on the old Masters of Cinema Ozu site but really can't place it specifically. Does any one know what treasures might be / have been discovered there or what the latest state of play is?


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 06, 2012 9:42 am 
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The National Film Center in Tokyo has had "Abe Yoshishige Collection" screenings since 2008. (He's the old hoarder.) They are compilations of fragments of films discovered in his collection. I don't know if any Naruse had been discovered. I'll head over to the NFC sometime soon to see if anything else has been found. It's right near where I work.


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 06, 2012 2:22 pm 
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manicsounds -- I'll beinterested in hearing about what you discover. Last I heard (years ago) was that very little of real worth had turned up in this collection.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 4:36 pm 
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Flunky, Work Hard is a fine short film. The remarkable thing is that after one scene I was so emotionally invested that in the second scene, when the competition with the other insurance salesman begins, I got disproportionately distraught. Naruse managed to sketch empathetic characters and their realistic and harsh situation so effectively in the first few moments that I was completely invested almost instantly. It's a truly superb achievement in economical storytelling and filmmaking craft.

Near the end of the film, we have a series of editing effects that are superbly done (given that it is 1930 and anoptical printer hadn't been invented, I wonder if some of them were achieved with kaledioscope esque lens attachments rather than in incamera masking and reexposure. If you consider that they were probably doing the compound directional wipes in camera it's even more impressive. The editorial disorientation in these emotionally climatic moments is superbly pulled off.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 8:55 pm 
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Not sure just how the kaleidoscopic effects were achieved in Flunky. Not my favorite part of the film, but interesting.

When we first meet Mrs. Flunky, she makes the wives in W.C. Fields' films looks positively sweet-tempered by comparison. Somehow Naruse manages to dial her down eventually in a fairly credible fashion.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 10, 2014 6:42 pm 
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No Blood Relation is a very good film that is perhaps a little bit hampered by its unrealistic happy ending. If you take the ending to be happy, because the character who makes everyone else happy is left very unhappy by the outcome. From the very first, the editing on the film is absolutely superb, Naruse is a master of graphic matching/cutting, the flow of the film is absolutely beautiful.

To again note an interesting effect, two or three shots have a title printed on top of a film image. This film also predates the invention of the optical printer. So either Japan invented it first, or had a similar device, or someone painted the characters onto the negative. I'm guessing the latter, it was rather shocking to see the title. Have film historians completely failed to consider Japan's post production technology pre-sound?

The story is a surprisingly liberal one, I think. A child's birth mother returns and wants custody. The woman abandoned her husband and infant six years ago, but is now returning to Japan wealthy and famous. Her husband remarried and his new wife considers the child to be her own daughter, to the extent that she throws herself in front of a car to save the little girl.

Naturally, the child considers the only mother she's ever known to be her real mother, and the plot of the film hinges on a back and forth of what constitutes motherhood. Today we consider this somewhat of a no brainer, but it feels somewhat radical for Japan of the early thirties. The birth mother even complains, "is the bond between mother and child so fragile?" because the child has absolutely no mystical feeling or connection whatsoever, a connection the mother feels entitled to, particularly because she's brooded on her 'lack' of her child for the past six years. The lack of reciprocation on the child's part is crucial and surprisingly realistic, and the child's persistence in wanting to return to her real mother is heartbreaking and effective.

There's also quite a lot of class critique in the film, or perhaps just a critique of simple greed. The child is taken to the birth mother because the grandmother wants to live in wealth and is very angry her son's business has failed, forcing the grandmother to be 'poor' for the first time in her life.

Also, there are three gangsters in the film, divided between the two sides. still puzzled about that.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 13, 2014 12:58 pm 
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Apart from You is yet another step up in quality from Naruse. Throughout this film I was continually reminded of Studio Ghibli, perhaps most of all when Yoshio is sitting on a bank by a railroad track and watching others walk by on the road below him, the score is very effective here in this moment of quiet, and sounds very much like Joe Hisaishi.

What I love is that Naruse manages to illustrate the emotional pain of being a geisha without too much Mizoguchi esque wailing. Here, like in Mr. Thank You, we see that the exploitation arises out of financial necessity--a sacrifice on behalf of others--and while tragic, is comprehensible and somehow more lamentable than the "universe is against us," bitterness of Mizoguchi's films. I've long loved Sisters of Gion or the more similar Osaka Elegy, but this film is superior to both because it feels more realistic, it gives you a more complete look of how the lives of the family of Geisha are affected, and it has the long and glorious scene in which Terugiku does not demur but directly declares to her father is a drunk and is to blame for her being a geisha and that she will protect her sister from being forced into the same life because of her father's failings. It is a magnificent, righteous monologue that is amazing to behold, completely worth it to watch the film just for that scene.

And in this film Naruse manages to avoid the happy ending by mediating it with a sad parting of the ways at the train station in the final scene. It's sad, but a skosh hopeful at the same time and it strikes exactly the right tone to match the rest of the film.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 13, 2014 11:31 pm 
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I would rate Apart From You as Naruse's first (surviving) masterpiece. (I wrote an analysis for Senses of cinema ages ago, so maybe I'm biased). So many stunning scenes -- my favorites are the one on the train and the one at the shore.

[Reveal] Spoiler:
Note, the not terribly bright younger sister seems miffed, rather than grateful, about being saved from geisha-hood -- perhaps her older sister knows that she would quickly be relegated to becoming a cheap whore/

The end isn't really hopeful at all. Our heroine is shipping out to become a remote provincial geisha -- at a point when this sort of geisha was a classier sort of provincial prostitute. Perhaps our young "hero" does not realize this, but the young geisha knows exactly what she will be doing to "save" her family.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2014 9:40 pm 
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I could definitely see Apart From You becoming richer and better with repeat viewings, it feels simple at first but there are all those surprising depths and nuances. I went back and rewatched a few parts of the film and it was even more satisfying a second time around.

Every-Night Dreams is the first film I've seen in this set I would call a masterpiece. Virtually flawless from beginning to end, It feels as though Naruse synthesized and tempered together all the various aspects of his prior works and yielded a stunning result. Refined, potent and brilliant.

Omitsu is a single mom working as a waitress. Her bar is populated by characters, a Japanese abbot and costello, a moustachioed captain straight out of TinTin, a caustic and loud owner, and her fellow waitresses. Omitsu has just returned from a trip and everyone is glad to see her back.

Also returning, unexpectedly, is Omitsu's estranged husband and she is definitely not glad to see him back. In a powerful scene she utterly rejects his attempt to return, only to give in at the end of the scene at the urging of her neighbors. Her itinerant husband is unemployed and unable to land a job, despite his attempts to do so. He spends most of his days playing with his son and the neighborhood gang of kids. And one night he interferes at Omitsu's bar. The Captain is harassing Omitsu and her husband will have none of it. That causes strife, but then their son is hit by a car and there is only one way Omitsu can get enough money to care for her son--give into the Captain's desires for a night. Her husband pledges he will beg friends instead, but he is lying.

The acting is so wonderful and the dialogue so sharp that I often felt I was hearing the voices and not watching a silent film. Naruse is brilliant with the characterization, sketching each person vividly, which makes the emotional connection and payoffs of the story incredibly effective, the film is suffused with quiet strength, it's really an incredible approach and achievement. Just stunning.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2014 11:13 pm 
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I fell in love with Every Night Dreams first, but when I took on the task of writing an Apart From You essay, I gradually decided I loved the earlier film even more. But both are truly wonderful.

Sumiko Kurishiuma was Japan's first great star actress, so it's unfortunate that almost all of her work seems to be lost (and little that survives is available). Lots of familiar faces from Ozu's early films show up in END -- and are first-rate. Both AFY and EMD strike me as virtual talkies.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2014 3:27 pm 
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Street Without End is not as good as the films that come before it. It's still a solid melodrama, erring on the side of drama, and Naruse seems to get more extreme with his editing digressions, often cutting away mid dialogue to broll pillow shots before coming back to the scene (at least that's how it felt). Early on he continually cuts away from characters to shots looking up buildings against the sky, it feels very similar to compositions Teshigahara used in Antonio Gaudi.

The film is very class conscious with a didactic screed in one of the intertitles that goes roughly, 'EVEN TODAY JAPANS TRADITIONS ARE DESTROYING YOUNG PEOPLE" and it fairly matches the plot of the Umitsu marrying for money rather than love or marrying at all rather than pursuing a career.

Naruse is extremely scathing in his visual portrayals of the rich mother and rich sister, they are so over the top they feel closer in characterization to the vengeful female ghosts of Kuroneko than they do to contemporaneous character in this story. If they were ghosts it would certainly make the story more interesting, unfortunately the rise and fall of Umitsu is a somewhat dull affair. The film is saved, somewhat, by Umitsu's monologue rejecting the family she married into, but even that seems a little pathetic; she says all the things one cannot--must not--say and she says everything clearly with no softening passive aggressive evasions nor tact. And that's the chief problem with the scene, magnificent as it is, it is so impossible a scene that I couldn't really believe it. It's too much wish fulfillment, I felt.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2014 3:31 pm 
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I would say that, in Street Without End, Naruse took a pretty clunky script and made a consideraly more interesting film than one would have expected.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 16, 2015 6:23 am 
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DISCUSSION ENDS MONDAY, MARCH 16th AT 6:00 AM.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 04, 2015 11:16 pm 
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Watching this for the first time in a few years -- and not right around also having just seen Apart From You and Every Night Dreams -- I appreciate it more than ever. The performances really are first-rate, especially the two competing mothers (Yukiko Tsukuba and Yoshiko Okada). The camera work, while a bit rough at times, is quite dynamic. I found it hard to feel this as being silent, I almost seemed to hear the dialogue (even though only presented in intertitles or mouthed). All in all, I'm no longer sure that I would rank this as "lesser" Naruse. It makes me miss, even more than before, all the lost early films of Naruse.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 3:08 pm 
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I found No Blood Relation to be a bit of a mixed bag. While initially I enjoyed the playful energy of the film and its multitude of camera dollies, eventually the visual pacing just became exhausting and a bit annoying. There's no need to shoot every scene with the camera pushing in and out like the heaving breast of a sobbing woman, and it bellies how thin the material here is despite all attempts to throw everything into the mix. Again, for a while the kitchen sink approach works, and given the film's soapy plot mechanics, it's hardly a big deal when one male lead exits the film and another, more handsome immediately enters. But once the film stops throwing characters our way and is forced to deal with the handfuls of ones we've got, the film still isn't left with much that couldn't have been expressed with less clutter and, despite the already short length, less screentime. That said, I still found much to enjoy here (which is more than I can say for the godawful Flunky, Work Hard this shares a disc with-- thank goodness this one's under discussion instead), with the performances all game (I especially liked the clownish thief who opens the film by stripping down on a street corner). The score too is strong, though sometimes its self-seriousness hobbles Naruse's more varied comedy/drama tone into one emotional response. And the pacing and cutting, while problematic to my eyes, does at least give the film a surprisingly modern feeling, for better or worse. So, while I'm hardly as versed in Naruse as our board's resident fans, this one doesn't make too strong an argument to me in either direction of quality.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 4:24 pm 
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Naruse had a thing about dollying for a few years. He wanted his own sort of rhetorical flourish. The head of Shochiku got irritated, saying we don't need a second Ozu, but Naruse started winning critical praise, and kept doint things more or less his own way. Interestingly HONG Sang-soo went through a similar phase (albeit zooming instead of dollying). I must say this aggravated me a bit when I first encountered it, but once I got used to it, it stopped bothering me. Other than this, I really like the pacing and cutting overall.

I think you will find Apart From You and Every Night Dreams a bit more elegant -- and satisfactory. I'm biased, of course, but these are two of my favorite silents films.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 6:19 pm 
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I'm with Dom on this film. One of the refreshing things about Naruse is how varied his work is, both within and between films, but this one definitely has a "kitchen sink" film, and while certain elements work and stand-out, there is still much to be desired.

There are some really great elements here. My favorite scene in the film is the first real confrontation between the two mothers, in person. The questions the film raises are interesting ones, and it's acted out very well in this scene. The film doesn't pretend to have the perfect answer. The sleeping scene that cuts between child and non-biological mother is also really well done. And as dom mentioned, there is some good comic relief with the little pickpocket that comes up here and there. Lastly, the idea that the mother is physically saving her child's life

But the story of why the mother packs up and leaves her family doesn't make much sense. I can't get over this. We're given the story of a struggle over motherhood but no real indication of the back story to that struggle. And if in the end, I feel like the film both condemns and feels bad for the birth mother. "Don't make mistakes?" is that the message of the film?


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 7:55 pm 
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This film definitely has some wonderful moments, and performances, but on both my viewings of it, it has ended up far from winning me over. The entire story is too implausible, convoluted, and messy, culminating in an ending that makes it hard not to let out a "Whaaat?" both because the epilogue is abrupt and incredible and also because the message it drives home is such a conservative one, for a film that otherwise poses an interesting contrast between the traditional wife/mother and the Westernized "new woman" (or "moga"). The ending restores order to the family by essentially shipping the moga back to America, as if to suggest that there's no place for her in Japan, and once she realizes it was wrong to try to take back her biological daughter, there's nothing for her to do but go back to Hollywood and continue striving to the non-family-friendly ideals of career and fame, and adapting herself to the pattern of a Norma Shearer or a Clara Bow.

There are quite a few ready examples of things in the film that stuck me as unconvincing and implausible, but one that struck me on this viewing was how sometimes the intertitles have the daughter Shigeko using much more mature and formal syntax than I'd expect from a six-year-old girl in a realist drama. For example, to her grandmother: "Why are you keeping me here? I'm starting to hate you too." Then she muses about her adoptive mother: "She's been a very good mother to me."

Many things attempted in this adaptation of a play (that was already considered outdated in the film's own time) fail badly, in my view. For example:
1. The attempt to swing the emphasis from the adoptive mother, Masako, in the earlier part of the film to the biological mother, Tamae in the later parts of the film, while failing to make Tamae a three-dimensional, relatable character instead of a villain.

2. The tendency to try to make the story relevant to contemporary events by injecting various economic issues related to class, labor, finance, consumerism, and the corrupting influences of money and those like Tamae who try to use it to manipulate others. Those are all interesting issues, but here they clash with what is essentially a family melodrama and, in hindsight, have dated the film badly.

3. The attempt to leaven the story's sentimental and at times mawkish moments with comic relief from the young hoodlum character. There are times when his slapstick works pretty well, but at others it seems totally out of place, such as right after the young girl has been hit and injured by a speeding bicycle, and at the same moment we're supposed to be amused by the boy trying to drink the beer that's fallen on the pavement.

Again, the film has some wonderful moments, but they get lost amid the film's problematic story, messy execution, and frantic camera movements and quick cutting. It very much feels like a film of someone in his twenties who was just starting out, of course, but I don't know whether it generally feels like the techniques of a director who was twitchingly eager to generate excitement or if the fast energy of the film reveals the cockiness of a talented filmmaker who hadn't found his footing yet.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 9:27 pm 
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Naruse was still very much in his "experimental" phase at this point. Unfortunately, every other film from this phase of his career is lost (I would say Flunky is the sole exemplar of an even earlier mini-phase).

I guess the implausibilities don't bother me all that much, Japanese "proto-realism" was still in its earliest phase. Besides, I'm not sure that this doesn't somewhat accurately reflect the dubious status of persons (especially women) who went abroad and came back as very much a quasi-outsider.

And, in any event, I find this less implausible than "Sunrise" (which for all its visual beauty is also far from believable plot-wise).


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 10:12 pm 
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I feel like in No Blood Relation, though, the leaps in faith we're asked to make aren't even explained in the universe they occupy. It may be insane to think that a religious awakening of the husband in Sunrise gets the wife to forgive him, but it's at least explained. Why, however, did the biological mother leave her family for another? Why was she unfulfilled? Last we see, she's risking her life for her child. After this, why does she come back? What happened during her affair? Why did she feel so compelled to go back to child? These supporting facts could have definitely helped my understanding of the story, which advances in confusing ways at points.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 10:43 pm 
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She ran off with someone to America for love, while there she became a famous actress (and lost the lover). Once well off enough, she could afford to come back and felt she could parlay her fame and wealth into regaining her place in Japan (and her daughter and maybe her husband). Why would further details be necessary?

Ironically, only a few years afterward, Yoshiko Okada, the actress playing the runaway mother, ran off to the USSR with her (married) lover, hoping to join Meyerhold's theater company. However, they were arrested in Siberia, the lover was summarily executed as a spy, and Okada, spent many years in detention in Siberia (she would not return to Japan for 34 years).

Not sure why you think the biological mother "risks her life" for the child?


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 11:07 pm 
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I just mean the opening sequence where she saves the child's life. Maybe I'm mis-remembering a detail, but that's how the movie starts, and then right from there, they are separated. I guess the effect we're supposed to feel of her leaving the child she once treasured was just lost on me. I missed the details about her moving to the USA you called out.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 11:31 pm 
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It is the stepmother who saves the child's life, not the biological mother.

Sequence is roughly -- we see the biological mother's brother and his associate doing dirty work, we see the two go the boat to meet the biological mother coming home, we see the idyllic family life of the father, stepmother and child (except for the rather selfish grandmother), we see the first hint of financial trouble brewing, then we see the little girl drop her doll in the street and the stepmother rescuing her but getting injured herself. You seem to be remembering this very much out of proper sequence. ;-{


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 14, 2015 5:51 pm 
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I watched this a few months ago, and I think it's gotten better with time since seeing it.

There's a lot of interesting things going on with the modernism, motherhood, family identity and so on. The title itself is part of that, it's celebrating the no blood relation of the woman who raised the child, the film is entirely on her side as the "true" parent, and I think that's a bit surprising. We still struggle with the question of "blood" so to speak in questions of adoption and parentage. The trend of the current generation is to treat your parents who raise you as far more significant than your genetic parents, but that wasn't always the case.

The film also goes out of its way to not totally condemn the mother who abandoned the child, and is somewhat sympathetic to her 'sacrifice' of returning to her childless life. I wonder about that. I think perhaps the film is implying a backstory we might miss in this day and age.

The story I felt was being implied was that this was something of a forced marriage, today we'd call it rape as well, and that once she had the means to escape a hated situation she had no agency within, she did escape. But that also came with a steep price, her child.

naturally, she has extraordinarily complicated emotions about herself, her marriage, her child, and its interesting that she returns it's with more power and agency. And in fact she's rejected as other and sent out of Japan at the end of the film in large part because of how she exercised that power and agency--and perhaps because she did so at all. So there's that as an interesting critique of Japanese culture as well. It's subtle, and feels smuggled in, but I kind of love it the more I think about it. Again, all this could be bullocks, it just comes from me pondering some of the implied darker aspects of her story.


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 15, 2015 2:16 pm 
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I never had any sense that the initial marriage was "forced" -- just "arranged". The mother and her brother are interesting -- one senses they came from a relatively well-off background of some sort, but perhaps had tastes beyond their means? I think the mother was sort of "spoiled" -- and found a romantic adventure (taking her to America and out of Japan) more enticing than motherhood. Once she achieved success (and lost the lover who caused her to go abroad), she wanted to see if she couldn't also regain some of what she had given up. I do think Naruse (and ultimately the father, stepmother and daughter) are sympathetic to her plight -- but also don't want their own harmony ruined.


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