Mikio Naruse: Tabi Yakusha (1940)

With a film directing and writing career spanning over four decades (1930-1968), Mikio Naruse, is certainly one of the lesser known figures of the classical Japanese cinema. An unassuming and socially somewhat withdrawn individual, Naruse’s prolific film output from early to mid twentieth century, saw him engage with a diverse range of themes, while consciously remaining rooted in telling stories of the ‘bleak’ everyday. As Japanese film scholar Donald Richie notes “…given Naruse’s skill, devotion, and honesty, the world he creates through film remains both profoundly troubling and deeply moving.” In ‘Tabi Yakusha‘ (Travelling Actors,1940), Naruse places his protagonists (a pair of artists / actors / ‘clowns’ of a travelling theatre group), Hyoroku (Kamatari Fujiwara) and Senpei (Kan Yanagiya), within the context of a performance in a rural area by the ‘distinguished’ visiting kabuki troupe of ‘Kikugoro VI’. In what is apparently a light comedy, Naruse, manages to engage in existential, absurdist queries (in some ways, Hyoroku and Senpei predates Vladimir and Estragon‘s ‘wait’), while tackling issues of the role of the artist in society, of truth/reality and imitation, of human and animal. Watch.


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