Mikio Naruse was one of the biggest movie makers in Japan from 1930 til 1969 and for the next couple of weeks we are going to focus on his major filmography starting with a unique drama film starring Keiju Kobayashi.
The Thin Line, better known as The Stranger Within a Woman is one of the last films Naruse made before he died in 1969 and tells of a man Isao(Keiju Kobayashi) who is having an affair with his best friends wife Sayuri,(Akiki Wakabayashi) their sex life consists of sadomasochistic behaviour and one unlucky night he accidentally manages to murder her by strangulation and is being tormented on how he should handle the situation.
Mikio Naruse as a director has fascinated me for over a year, his use of strong female protagonists and working class family dramas are unlike anything you can ever find in Japanese theater. The strong female lead here is played by the phenomenal Michiyo Aratama who ends up owning the entire movie. She plays Isaos wife and has to handle her husbands grief when he wants to confess the murder and give himself in to the police. Naruse apporaches the plot points with the depressive melancholy as opposed to the typical excitement of a thriller.
This movie is a thriller, and Naruse uses flashbacks to tell us a deal of information, but there are no doubt that Isaro Toshiro is guilty, he confesses like 30 minutes into a 90 minute movie. The suspense throughout the film lies in what he will do and how his family will react and that is a kind of plot that Naruse does better than any other director I know of.
Naruses plots are usually normal families where a tragedy strikes the male protagonist and the female protagonist has to come up with a solution. This movie has one of the most fascinating plots in a Naruse film and the great writer Toshiro Ide based it on an old 1951 novel called The Thin Line by Edward Atiyah.
Japanese cinematography has fascinated me. Naruses way of using a camera to show a bleak and pessimistic tone of the movie is unlike any other japanese director. There were not many people who made black and white movies in 1966 but Naruse did swap between colours and cinemascope during the 60s before he reverted to black and white for his very last films. The film is visually astonishing and sensational in the artistic way and Naruse is one of the few directors who can justify that.
The Stranger Within a Woman is Naruse doing what Naruse knew best, a depressive drama filled with great acting great cinematography and directing from a director few people have heard of outside Japan but who may be Japans finest director.