UCLA Film Archives' "Mikio Naruse: Tribute to a Master" series, which begins Friday at the Melnitz Theater, calls attention to a major Japanese director whose films are more often written about than shown.
Since his final films played at the old Toho La Brea in the '60s, his work has been virtually unavailable. Now, over the next six weekends (7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays), there will be a chance to see 25 of his 45 films spanning a four-decade career. Some critics are beginning to rank Naruse, who died in 1969 at 64, alongside Ozu, Mizoguchi and Kurosawa.
In film after film, he counseled an acceptance of one's lot in life. Sometimes he was so pessimistic that he believed that the struggle to better that lot only made it worse, but at other times he expressed a belief that a loving, usually self-sacrificing gesture could be redemptive. As part of his sense of realism he was constantly drawn to the plight of the impoverished.
Three key Naruse works, each possessing timeless impact, that screen over the weekend are linked by a painful, gradual reassessment either provoked or experienced by the film's central figure. In his 1935 "Wife! Be Like a Rose" (screening Friday), a vivacious young woman (Sachiko Chiba) decides to retrieve her long-absent father from the clutches of his ex-geisha mistress.
The superb 1951 "Repast" (Saturday), which began his important collaboration with popular novelist Fumiko Hayashi, is classic Naruse. An unappreciated young wife (Setsuko Hara) flees her home to return to her mother while pondering a permanent separation from her self-absorbed husband (Ken Uehara).
In the 1933 silent "Apart From You" (Sunday), a pretty teen-age geisha (Sumiko Mizukubo), who adores the wayward son (Akio Isono) of an older geisha (Mitsuko Yoshikawa), strives to make the youth appreciate the sacrifices his mother has made so that he can have an education and the promise of a better life.
Accompanying "Apart From You" is Naruse's earliest extant work, the wry, highly experimental, 28-minute 1931 silent "Flunky, Work Hard!" Unavailable for preview were "Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro" (1938), in which Isuzu Yamada and Kazuo Hasegawa play young Meiji-era musicians (screening Friday following "Wife! Be Like a Rose!"), and Naruse's first talkie, "Three Sisters With Maiden Hearts" (1935), based on a Yasunari Kawabata story about three very different young girls struggling for survival (Saturday after "Repast").
Mexican director-actor Emiliano (El Indio) Fernandez is expected to appear at the tribute to him Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in UCLA Melnitz, comprising 50 years of clips from his career plus a very rare screening of his beautiful 1943 "Maria Candelaria," which exemplifies Fernandez's attempt to create a true, socially conscious Mexican cinema. Dolores del Rio is the radiant but ill-fated Aztec beauty Maria, scorned because of her mother's reputation but adored by a handsome peasant (Pedro Armendariz). "Maria Candelaria," rapturously photographed in the floating gardens of Xochimilco by Gabriel Figueroa (who won a prize at Cannes for his efforts), is romantic melodrama raised to the level of poetic tragedy.