The Whole Family Works (1939)

We are back to the 30s today with Naruses hour-long family drama about a family falling apart by disagreement. 

Ishimura (Musei Tokugawa) is an older man with nine children who is not capable of finding a job, so he tasks his children to provide economically for their family. All nine children silently do as their told until the oldest son Kiichi (Akira Ubukata) comes home one day with thoughts of going to the university.

The story is based on a short story written by Sunao Tokunaga and adapted by Naruse a year before it was filmed and irresolvable conflict hs the most recurring theme here.


In terms of thematic this is Naruse closest to the movies he is world-wide recognized for. The poverty family dramas of the 50s. Here the children have a chance at escaping their dreadful situations if they leave their family behind. Naruse starts focusing on distrust in the large family from the first second and in the dinner scene we clearly see them discussing just how terrible their economic situation is, and how all the children don’t trust each other trying to avoid obligations.


Compared to a lot of Naruses later works this movie is quite linear, the conflict is very simple and prevents him from trying to experiment a lot with the narrative parts and that’s a pity, cause Naruse does the experimentations with narrative very well, Naruse falls back to the safer dramas he made in his early days other than try to be a bit creative.

There are too many children in this film. 9, and it makes it really hard to care for all of them, or even care about what they do. Kiichi is the most important one, and one of the middle ones who clashes with his mother when he uses his money on candy instead of giving it to his parents creates some humour.


Kiichis development throughout the film and how he handles the guilt on his parents is a sign of very good acting. And the anticipation that builds up during his absence throughout the film leads into a beautiful montage leading into the climax of the family meeting where he announced his decision. This montage is so good that even Sergei Eisenstein would be very proud of it.

THe quality of the movie this day is not very good, and that is probably due to its age, I really don’t think it was supposed to be that grey when it first released.


The Whole Family Works is Naruse playing his moviemaking very safe, maybe a little too safe? The story is quite linear and straight forward into the climax, but there are not really a huge conflict that feels realistic here. The acting from Tokugawa and Ubukata is really good, and of course Naruse as a director himself was always good. The Whole Family Works is a kind of movie you should see if you are specially interested in it, it is not a masterpiece, but also not terrible and definitely worth a watch

Original title: Hataraku Ikka
Released: 1939
Directed by: Mikio Naruse
Playtime: 66 minutes


Score: 6/10

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