October 31, 2013
Every-Night Dreams – Japan, 1933
Mikio Naruse’s 1933 film Every-Night Dreams is about a decent woman forced into a humiliating profession as a result of the weakness of the man she placed all of her trust in. It is a familiar theme for Naruse, and it was his second film of 1933 (the other being Apart from You) that looked at women who had been abandoned by men and who now found themselves relying on the patronage of the kind of man who would not likely marry them. In Every-Night Dreams, the central character is Omitsu (Sumiko Kurishima), a strong-willed, determined single mother who moonlights as a bar hostess in a seaside town. Her job: to smile, look pretty, smoke, and act extremely flirtatious.
Upon returning from a two-week excursion (we’re not told where she went, but it is not hard to guess), she learns that a visitor has made repeated attempts to see her. The man turns out to be Mizuhara, the very man that abandoned her and their son three years earlier. He returns in ragged clothes without a penny to his name or any costly presents to woo them back with. In short, he is a man at the end of his rope. Mizuhawa is played by Tatsuo Saito, who gives him the appearance of a man physically weakened by having eaten too little and by an injury that seems to have left him physically weak and short of energy. He walks with a slouch, and in his eyes, we can see his longing for both purpose and redemption. Even his occasional bursts of joy have hints of pain behind them.
The fate of Omitsu, her husband, and their child, Fumio, comes down to whether Omitsu’s husband will be able to find employment. A lot is riding on this – her husband’s self-esteem, Omitsu’s chance to escape her place of employment, and Fumio’s hopes of having a united family. The pursuit of this happy existence is both enthralling and emotional. Viewers of Naruse’s earlier films will no doubt recognize a few of the plot’s dramatic conventions, including one that looks to have been lifted straight from his 1931 short film, Flunky Work Hard. However, where the film goes from there is proof of just how much Naruse had advanced as a storyteller in just two years.
Naruse, who wrote the story the film is based on, directs this film in much the same way that he directed his previous films. There are his usual camera movements, including his rapid zooms and equally rapid pull-backs. He also continues his impressive work with close-ups of characters undergoing emotional shifts, and these moments again allow his actors to convincingly convey their characters’ thoughts and feelings in ways they might not otherwise be able to. New, I believe, is an editing technique in which the camera focuses on an object or character in one location and then shifts the scene’s setting or object without fading out. The effects can be powerful and poetic, giving two scenes a surprisingly deep connection. However, perhaps Naruse’s greatest gift remains his ability to get astonishing performances from his lead actors and actresses.
Naruse excelled at presenting characters such as Omitsu in very realistic and often sympathetic lights, and he continues that pattern in Every-Night Dreams. With Omitsu, he presents audience with a surprisingly well-rounded and believable character. She has adapted to her situation, gotten used to the disapproving looks and the illicit offers of patrons who have money to burn, and become resigned to a life of unfulfilled dreams. Like characters from Naruse’s earlier works, she too pins all her hopes onto her son, as if his success in life will make up for all of her misery. Wisely, however, Naruse does not present Omitsu as simply sugar and spice and all things nice; life has been cruel to her, and she is not immune to moments of cruelty herself. Just watch the way she verbally tears down men she has little respect for.
Every-Night Dreams is an emotional roller coaster that pulls viewers in with its fascinating and sympathetic characters and thoroughly interesting story. It has characters that viewers will root for, for their hopes and dreams are similar to many of the audience’s. In one scene, Omitsu’s husband passionately states his determination to find work, and Omitsu confesses just how much she yearns for the day when she can like other wives. This is the dream that they grew up seeing and hearing so much about, and it is a dream that viewers will no doubt wish for them, all the while in the back of their head knowing that it is not always in Naruse’s style to see dreams fulfilled. (on DVD as part of Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse)
*Every-Night Dreams is silent with English subtitles of Japanese intertitles.