“I’m born like this, what can I do?”
Naruse’s Midaregumo is a vividly composed drama depicting two of that director’s favourite themes: misfortune and desire. It was his final film and perhaps one of his greatest works. It signifies his long and arduous journey portraying characters bound to fate (which is rarely kind). “From the youngest age I have thought that the world we live in betrays us; this thought still remains with me,” says one of the characters in Midaregumo but this is Naruse himself talking. It was his conviction for the entirety of his career: the mystery of it, the tragedy of it, and how it defines the human struggle.
Yumiko and Hiroshi are to be married. The film begins at the height of the couple’s happiness. They are leaving for Washington in three weeks because of his promotion; she hasn’t been practicing her English. Before their trip however Hiroshi is sent to assist the director of his company in Hikone. Yumiko pleads with him to stay with her; she has a foreboding feeling but he smiles and assures her he will return. She soon receives news that he has been struck and killed by a car. The man who ran him over was Mishima of the Meiji Commercial Company who is soon found not guilty of intentional wrongdoing in court. He appears at Hiroshi’s funeral to offer his condolences but is not received warmly. He is extremely penitent and insists on paying Yumiko a remuneration of whatever she deems worthy (he is fully aware that this is insufficient but doesn’t know what else to do). She refuses initially but later, reluctantly accepts. Shortly after, Hiroshi’s company (quite within the confines of the law) rescinds the inheritance she’s been receiving through her husband’s death. Mishima is transferred to a small office in Aomori. He suspects this is because of his engagement to the director’s daughter, Junko. Junko is unwilling to relocate with him and they separate. Yumiko goes to live with her sister, Ayako, at a country hotel in the same town. Neither Mishima nor Yumiko are aware of the whereabouts of the other.
Near the end of the film, Mishima and Yumiko witness an accident similar to the one that killed her husband and they gain objectivity about the incident. She forgives him. This is Naruse with his signature brand of bittersweet commonly employed in most of his films (daresay, his best films). Here though, there is a finality that is not only significant within the context of the plot but in the framework of Naruse’s career.
What is immediately apparent in the film is Naruse’s use of colour; the deep saturation, the vitality; it is Naruse viewing the world optimistically despite his characteristically cynical perspective. While his masterful ability to compose a scene can occasionally be overlooked in his black and white films, it is nearly inescapable here. The editing is precise and often erratic (for Naruse) where quick intercuts occur frequently merely to show a relative association. It’s a film that seems a bit looser than Naruse’s typical fare; taking its time to develop its characters and to transition their change (some, of course, don’t change). With an excellent score by Toru Takemitsu and Naruse’s expert direction, Scattered Clouds is an emotionally vast and impressively developed film. Recommended for tasteful masochists.