Wife ★★★★½

Best divorce movie ever (?) and the best Naruse I've seen out of seven. The man was killing it in the early fifties. Ginza Cosmetics (1951), Sound of the Mountain (1954), and Floating Clouds (1955) were all awesome as well, and the insanely prolific director made a bunch more films during the same time period.

My experience with him after 1955 hasn't been as good so far: I didn't particularly enjoy Flowing (1956), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960), or Scattered Clouds (1967). This could just be luck of the draw or it could be that Naruse moved on and tried different things, shying away from the aesthetic I find so perfect.

With Wife, Naruse takes a topic and just absolutely nails it, completely exposing both Japanese society at the time and marriage more generally: the film would be relevant in any time period or culture. Divorce is ugly, and Naruse is honest about that, so there are necessarily some elements of the film that are turnoffs to the audience. The voiceovers that bookend the film are cringe-inducing. The eponymous wife is pretty shitty.

But, as is his wont, Naruse's craft takes an honest, bleak, and despairing story and turns it into a beautiful movie that never goes so far as to disparage humanity. Naruse is melancholic but never misanthropic. His films retain a hopeful warmth that is evident everywhere: in the dignity of his actors, his melodious scores, his heavenly lighting, and even the framing of his shots themselves, which are less showy than Ozu's, but seven movies in I'm now realizing that they are just as beautiful.