“A woman like that must meet an end like that.”
An interesting detour by drama master, Naruse, whose majority of films (filmed in the ‘60s at least) were in colour and dealt with less noiresque plots. This film however retains that trademark drama he is most known for with Naruse exploring the psychology of his characters despite the deviance from his typical narrative approach. There are no easy answers provided but neither is the film overly harsh in its portrayal of reality.
The wife (Sayuri) of an architect (Sugimoto) has been strangled. She was a woman who was unconcerned with keeping her promiscuity a secret even from her husband. Sugimoto is a kind man whose heart has calloused over: he is affected by his wife’s infidelity no longer. Her death surprises few. Sugimoto is, of course, immediately suspected by the police, but he has an alibi – he was with a long-time friend, Tashiro. We follow all of this from Tashiro’s perspective. He is perplexed about something even before hearing about the murder it seems. It is apparent from the beginning of the film that he has something to hide. Another central character to the story is Kato, a friend of Sayuri. She often lent Sayuri her apartment; this was also the place where she entertained her many lovers. When Tashiro attends the wake, Kato seems to recognize him. He says he does not know her. Tashiro’s wife, Masako, however is observant and notices these things. Kato later tells Sugimoto that a face has been disturbing her. She recalls that she saw Tashiro and Sayuri leaving her apartment one night. Later, she mistakes a stranger on the street for Tashiro. Sugimoto is concerned and pensive but always composed. He confronts Tashiro privately and later, Tashiro confesses that he had an affair with Sayuri. After a few brief moments of joy taking his family to an amusement park called Dreamland (a not-so-subtle nudge), he has a nervous breakdown and takes off work to recuperate at a mountainside retreat. He is suicidal and guilt-ridden but indecisive and unaware of how he is affecting everyone around him.
Like a film by Chabrol, the relationships of the characters and how they develop is the focus; the crime is merely a backdrop. The story is not treated as a mystery for the killer is revealed halfway through the film; intrigue does not hinge upon the “who” but the “why.” The psychology of the killer is what interests Naruse most – “That fine line between reality and dream,” the killer says. It is never truly revealed whether the murder was intentional or the unfortunate result of playing a dangerous game. The killer is wracked with guilt but cannot be sure if the lure to cross that line into the ultimate taboo act (murder) was too great to resist.
Naruse has crafted another minimalist film that tackles its subject from an odd angle. Some viewers may not appreciate the flow of the film and lack of action but keep in mind that this is typical of a Naruse film. The most interesting aspect of the film is how certain characters truly believe the killer to be incapable of such an act. Naruse continues to prod this detail subtly, providing a very harrowing and (for Naruse) a very pessimistic view of man’s innate nature. The film explores remorse and responsibility, conformity and instinct in Naruse’s inimitable style.