(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the FilmStruck app on Apple TV; built-in screen-capturing is disabled during playback from the Web and from the FilmStruck app on iPhone/iPad.)
Prefatory note: The go-to reference work in English about Naruse's films is Dan Sallitt's A Mikio Naruse Companion: Notes on the Extant Films, 1931-1967, which exists as a WordPress site accessible from the link. I've been reading his entries on each film after my initial viewing, and have been enjoying tremendously the lucid and sensitive considerations he's drawn from his own viewings over the years.
Naruse doesn't devise his films in this period with a 'reading' of mise-en-scène in mind — the style is 'invisible,' with the exception of such hallmarks as the alternation between (1) axonometric travelings of the act of walking, filmed in full-shots, and (2) cuts-in to two-shot medium close-ups of same. Sallitt mentions, sharply, the cuts in certain scenes — those sudden cuts that seem to bring the curtain down abruptly in the film, as happens too in Repast for example. Naruse's découpage, particularly in the scenes of family living rooms, might be likened to a round-robin, a sliding from shot to shot, glissando-esque: taken in tandem with variations on shot distance, the impression is one of "invisibility," of silence. This is highest-order mise-en-scène.
• mise-en-scène: décoratif -> (aesthetique) | contre | (psychologique) -> stylistique
The Sound of the Mountain [Yama no oto, 1954] is adapted from Yasunari Kawabata's novel. The setting is the city of Kamakura. Kikuo (diminutive: "Kikko") (Setsuko Hara) shares a loving connection with her father-in-law, Ôgata (Sô Yamamura), at whose house she and her husband Shûichi (Ken Uehara) reside. Ôgata notes early in the film that he and his wife have no grandchildren from Kikuo and Shûichi. The latter regularly goes out after work (he's in the employ of his father), spends the evening with his long-time mistress (one Kinuko — whom we'll meet late in the film, played by Reiko Sumi), and doesn't return home till late. Often drunk, he heads straight to bed, but doesn't fall asleep before, supine, calling out: "Kikko!". In the first instance of this scene, Naruse cuts from the interior of the house to the backyard...
Shûichi's sister Fusako (Chieko Nakakita) and her daughter Satoko and baby arrive at the Ôgata residence. Her husband is having an affair with another woman. Fusako already has footing as the least favorite child, and her parents seem to have resigned themselves to the inevitability of her divorce. Her daughter Satoko further irritates the Ôgatas — "She pretends to cry?" — whenever she doesn't get her way. During one such scene, Shûichi enters the room and, perfunctorily drawing the contrast, announces to Kikko, "You can't take care of children. You're a child yourself." Later, word comes from his secretary Ms. Tanizaki (Teruko Nagaoka) (who, it is suggested, herself harbors feelings for Shûichi) that he's told his mistress Kinuko, with whom Tanizaki is close, that his wife is "like a child." She adds: "You can't expect a proper wife to act like a prostitute."
(In one scene, a Narusean typhoon strikes. During the storm, Shûichi for the second time in the film grunts from his bed: "Kikko.")
In his own way, Naruse is as elliptical as Ozu, but in the former's body of work the omissions are more often associated with the unsavory details of the characters' lives than with temporal leaps in the storyline. The director allows himself the occasional visual metaphor to foreshadow or suggest unpleasant business, or topics unbroachable (at least by the 'standards' set by the early portion of the narrative). Take for example Kikuko's nosebleed (on the heels of the character Satoko's in Repast) which at once stands in (1) for The Feminine insofar as menstruation prevails as the corps' foundational process: mechanism of ovulation and, chauvinistically considered, the crucible of the humors; and (2) as the primary marker of post-adolescence, post-pubescence. Shûichi regards Kikuko as something of an obscenity. Her abortion, an act half-co-dependent and foreshadowed by the bloody nose, releases Shûichi from the burden of fatherhood and from new consideration (or considerations) of his wife. In an exemplary instance of the Naruse walk-and-talk, Shûichi, back turned, gaze persistently adverted, admits to his father (his father who has only recently displayed a decorative noh mask as his wife exclaimed: "THAT'S supposed to be a child?") after confronting him with news of Kikuko's abortion: "She said she wouldn't have my child with the way I am now." Upon a visit by Ôgata to Shûichi's mistress Kinuko, he learns she's broken things off with him. She is pregnant with his child. He tried to induce a miscarriage. She'll bring the baby to term on her own.
Everyone in The Sound of the Mountain has one foot in the past of habits (and habitual thinking) except for Kikuko, Fusako, and Kinuko: pregnancies and abortion and walk-outs. Early in the film Ôgata (who himself admits to Shûichi having carried on his own affairs, which has much to do with his visit to Kinuko to straighten matters, and with his strongly felt kinship with his son) proclaims that a successful father is one who makes his children a success. This, of course, is nothing more than a depressing Japanese post-war platitude that I feel Naruse no more endorses than does Ozu. Among both directors, however, one always senses that the effort to give shrift to both sides of the argument — family+tradition vs. independence — is at work not so much in the directors' own personal predilections as in the films themselves. Naruse and Ozu possess a willingness to air opposing positions to the film and the audience itself, in order that they reflect upon the given conceit. Both filmmakers are constantly obsessed with families (the audience is a set of families itself), even if they at essence have no more personal druthers in the matter than the one who punches the missile codes when the signal is struck.
After Kikuko returns from her convalescence at her parents' home (one has the impression of strained terms between the two families — her own is relegated to a phone call informing the Ôgatas of her staying there — "She'll be back when she feels better."), she meets with Ôgata for a walk-and-talk in a park, and here announces she will divorce Shûichi. In time, Ôgata remarks: "Soon my wife and I will go to the family house in Shinshû — and if it's livable we'll make it our final abode."
The open prospect of the park vista makes for a poignant end that brings no closure. Kikuko's main loss will be that of her (spiritual) father, Ôgata, who recited: " 'Without fulfilling the climbing of Mt. Fuji, I have reached old age.' " •
More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Mikio Naruse:
Nasanu-naka [No Blood Relation, 1932]
Kimi to wakarete [Apart from You, 1933]
Yogoto no yume [Every-Night Dreams, 1933]
Kagirinaki hodô [Endless Pavement, 1934]
Ginza keshô [Ginza Makeup, 1951]
Meshi [Repast, 1953]
Tsuma [Wife, 1953]