This is the first Mikio Naruse film I’ve watched in some time. It’s funny to think of such a gentle, carefully directed narrative coming out in Japan concurrent with stuff like Oshima’s Sing a Song of Sex or Imamura’s The Pornographers. This is Naruse’s last film and it’s fantastic. Really beautiful and filled with longing.
Yumiko’s (Yoko Tsukasa) husband is killed in a car crash where Shiro (Yuzo Kayama) was the driver. Scattered Clouds (also known as Two in the Shadows) tracks Yumiko and Shiro’s relationship.
Here’s a look at my favorite scene of the film. Shiro tells his girlfriend that he’s been transferred for work. Naruse starts the scene in this wide 2-shot-
-and then cuts in front of the girlfriend as Shiro approaches:
She moves to the window in that same shot above, as Naruse pans with her:
He then cuts to her in medium close-up, looking sorrowfully back at Shiro:
Naruse cuts to a wider view from outside the window. This type of shot is featured often in Scattered Clouds. Shiro walks towards us, and lands in a medium close-up:
In the same shot as the two images above, Shiro walks off, and the girlfriend closes the blinds, thus beginning a silent exchange, the best part of the scene:
Shiro is at the stove, unaware:
She closes the blinds and looks back at him:
He looks to her and there’s this emotional shot-reverse shot, both in front of closed blinds, entirely shrouded:
Naruse again cuts outside of the building, this time at a lower, slightly wider angle than the similar one before. Shiro silently opens the blinds:
He watches her:
We see her in close-up-
-and get a close-up as she picks up her purse-
I’ve always loved silent films where looks and shot selection do the work. This is the type of scene I’d love to have shot. It’s got more emotion in it than most scenes that feature tears and yelling. The closing of the blinds (perhaps an invitation to make love one last time) and the opening of those same blinds (saving dignity for both characters) is perfectly orchestrated. I love how Naruse constantly cuts outside at critical moments – it’s as though there’s an outsider perspective, at his or her own window watching the lovers (think of Jimmy Stewart watching the forlorn woman in Rear Window). That outside shot also gives us room to breathe and escape from an otherwise tense, close-in room.
My favorite shot in that scene is actually of the purse. It’s a detail that isn’t entirely necessary. If she leaves without it, or Naruse doesn’t cut to it, the prior emotion is still there and she still leaves. But it matches the rhythmic cutting thus far and serves as a fine symbol of her real departure. The object is so plain, but it’s all she takes, and we understand that it’s over between them.
Here’s another scene that I liked not only for its framing, but also for the specific shot selection. Yumiko has taken up work at a cash register in a restaurant. Naruse starts in a slight low angle 2-shot as she make change for a customer and works:
His next shot is from wider down the bar. A different customer, out of focus and in the foreground, watches Yumiko and then walks towards her:
Naruse cuts to the opposite side of the register to finish the man’s approach and stays in this 2-shot for their exchange (lots of 2-shots in this Naruse film):
As Yumiko’s sister enters Naruse cuts to an angle similar to the first. It looks slightly wider to me:
I love all of these frames, but also how each is, for the most part, a relative wide-shot. Naruse does use close-ups and inserts (as exemplified in that first scene), but he seems to thrive on wider frames for those moments that are pure storytelling and where the emotional impact isn’t quite as high. Maybe that’s just traditional filmmaking (save your close-ups for those high-intensity moments), but I really admire the precision of each frame above and how he doesn’t need to cut into Yumiko to see her frustration.
Very slight SPOILERS below
Speaking of wides, there isn’t an imperfect wide shot in the film. Towards the end, Yumiko and Shiro meet outside, one of many meetings in the film. The scene is not made up solely of these shots, but, even more so than the scene above, I was struck by just how many gorgeous wides there are in this location:
These frames really take advantage of the surrounding forest, encircling them in the first, setting them as tiny against a looming tree that threatens to crush them in the second, and nearly hiding Yumiko as voyeur in the last.
I love how Naruse uses a largely static camera but doesn’t make his film feel so still. That’s because he covers each scene a lot. I never really think to get this many wides in a scene when I’m shooting, but it’s something I’m working towards – the wides just above not only do much for the geography of the scene, but also really give a sense of 360 degrees of loneliness.