“I’m a woman. When you said you loved me , I felt…very glad.”
Naruse’s 1964 film, Midareru, begins (more or less) with an egg-eating contest. This is significant because it is the antagonist of the film; over-indulgence eliminates desire. By the end of the film, the feeling of yearning is overwhelming. Naruse has crafted yet another romantic drama but this time the theme is unrequited love. Naruse has always been able to surprise with often uncharacteristic qualities in his films; he is not a filmmaker whose career is streamlined to merely one method but a wide-ranging palette of techniques.
The Shimizuya Supermarket is settled along a bustling, vibrant street. Its closest competitor is a general store owned by the Morita family who can’t afford to contend with the supermarket’s low prices. Early on, Koji Morita is arrested for brawling in a bar with the rich Shimizuya family. Koji doesn’t run the family store (technically, it is owned by his mother); it is run by a woman named Reiko. She has been running the shop for years, making up for Koji’s lack of responsibility. She is his older sister-in-law and has taken a kind of matronly conscientiousness to him. Her husband died in the war but she refuses to remarry, “I’ve been a different woman from that day on,” she says winsomely. She is the one who meets and chastises Koji after his release from jail at the beginning of the film. He is unable to take her chastisement seriously and this frustrates her. She insists that he must take over the shop, that she has merely been helping prepare for his progression to manager. He is unreceptive and is one of the many people throughout the course of the film that tell her (not unappreciatively) that she’s wasted her life helping the family and that she should start thinking about her own life. He drunk dials her throughout the film, often boasting about how many girls he’s entertaining. She never seems offended, only worries more.
Koji also has two older sisters, both married. One in particular, Hisako, is difficult to pin down. She seems annoyed by Reiko’s presence, even suggesting that Reiko would be a nuisance if mother died or Koji was married. As the film progresses, one soon becomes aware that Koji is not incapable of responsibility but simply unmindful of it. He is called a hoodlum for his reckless behavior and gambling though he does not do this out of malice but simply a lack of caring. Later in the film, Koji feels compelled to match the Shimizuya strategy. He suggests a partnership with Hisako’s husband to turn the Morita’s small shop into a supermarket (he drags his feet enacting this strategy however). Koji once had a secure job at a firm but quit for reasons unrevealed until later in the film.
It certainly begins as a predictable entry in Naruse’s long line of dramas but its conclusion is so harrowing and abrupt that it’s quite shocking (especially for a Naruse film – he also wrote it by the way). Despite the bleakness of the ending, it never feels forced or antithetical to the theme of the film, aptly titled. It is a yearning for nostalgia, a yearning for something one cannot have, a yearning for what could have been – all of this and more. Naruse’s work is as thorough and masterful as it’s always been with sharp editing and fluid cinematography; and who can forget the little ditty played over the loudspeakers in the Shimizuya Supermarket? Is it the comforting sound of convenience? Herald the coming of corporatism.