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still from Floating Clouds (Ukigumo) (Mikio Naruse, JP 1955)
still from Floating Clouds (Ukigumo) (Mikio Naruse, JP 1955)

Films, talks & events

Mikio Naruse

1 January — 1 February 2017

still from When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga kaidan o noboru toki) (Mikio Naruse, JP 1960)
still from When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga kaidan o noboru toki) (Mikio Naruse, JP 1960)

He was a great director of women, and worked with numerous renowned actresses of Japanese cinema. Although a late discovery, Naruse’s work puts him in the company of Ozu and Kurosawa.

With a programme of fourteen of his most distinctive films, Eye Filmmuseum demonstrates that Mikio Naruse ranks among the great of Japanese cinema. Naruse was fascinated by the lives of ordinary Japanese men and women, whose stories he narrated in compelling and sober films. His immersive films take us behind the scenes of disciplined families and geisha culture. Naruse mainly highlighted the plight of women: independent, courageous and strong-willed, but ill-fated.

still from Late Chrysanthemums (Mikio Naruse, JP 1954)
still from Late Chrysanthemums (Mikio Naruse, JP 1954)

“Razor-sharp female portraits…. Naruse is well worth exploring.”

***** NRC Handelsblad

Great director of women

Like Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse was fascinated by the lives of ordinary Japanese people, whose lives he chronicled in moving films. His tales of the hidden dramas in impeccable households and geisha culture mainly focused on the role of women in modern Japan. Several novels by the feminist author Fumiko Hayashi were turned into films, including Repast, Floating Clouds and Late Chrysanthemums, by Naruse in the 1950s.

still from Apart From You (Mikio Naruse, JP 1933)
still from Apart From You (Mikio Naruse, JP 1933)
still from Scattered Clouds (Mikio Naruse, JP 1967)
still from Scattered Clouds (Mikio Naruse, JP 1967)

Using a mix of melodrama and realism, he presented the struggle of women to find their place in post-war Japan, a struggle that is often without hope. Whereas Ozu’s characters resigned themselves to their fate, the despair is more keenly felt in Naruse’s films and the tone is darker. Naruse’s reality is charged with greater political meaning and there is also greater stress on the consequences of social inequality.

Naruse is regarded as a great director of women. He worked with almost all of the renowned actresses of contemporary Japanese cinema. His main muse was Hideko Takamine (1924-2010), who was the leading actress in over fifteen of his films. Takamine’s characters epitomize Naruse’s notion of the heroic woman: independent, brave and determined, but fated to remain unhappy. Modest but gripping, was how David Thomson of the New York Film Festival characterized the films of Naruse, whose work continues to appeal to modern filmmakers. Hirokazu Kore-eda (Maborosi, Our Little Sister) called him one of his chief sources of inspiration, adding how Naruse shows people are prone to make mistakes, though he never condemns them.

still from Floating Clouds (Ukigumo) (Mikio Naruse, JP 1955)
still from Floating Clouds (Ukigumo) (Mikio Naruse, JP 1955)

“The Johannes Vermeer of Japanese cinema.”

De Filmkrant

portrait of Mikio Naruse
Mikio Naruse

About Mikio Naruse

Mikio Naruse (1905-1969) started out working for the Shochiku film studio as a director of films that were a combination of melodrama and slapstick. In 1933 he switched to the P.C.L. studio, the later Toho Film Company, where he became a master of the ‘shomingeki’ genre, domestic dramas about ordinary lower-middle-class people. He made 87 films, including 22 silent films, the majority of which has not survived. His most compelling films, like Floating Clouds and Flowing, were made in the 1950s, the golden age of Japanese cinema. Conflicts between family members, and between men and women, are the dominant themes of these films.

Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu have long been embraced by film lovers in the West, but the work of Mikio Naruse remained an insider’s tip until the Locarno Film Festival organized a retrospective in 1983, followed by a travelling retrospective in the United States and England in 2005. Kurosawa, who assisted Naruse for some of his films in the 1930s, compared his films to ‘a great river with a calm surface and a raging current in its depths’.

still from Yearning (Midareru) (Mikio Naruse, JP 1964)
still from Yearning (Midareru) (Mikio Naruse, JP 1964)
still from Wife! Be Like a Rose! (Tsuma yo bara no yô ni) (Mikio Naruse, JP 1935)
still from Wife! Be Like a Rose! (Tsuma yo bara no yô ni) (Mikio Naruse, JP 1935)
still from The Approach of Autumn (Mikio Naruse, JP 1960)
still from The Approach of Autumn (Mikio Naruse, JP 1960)

Programme brochure

Read more on Mikio Naruse

poster Mikio Naruse

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