Two silent films feature Aono Jikken scores
Examiner Film Editor

He was the first Japanese director to have a film reviewed in the New York Times — 14 years before “Rashomon.” He was a contemporary of Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi, and revered by Akira Kurosawa. In Japan, his films were box office hits and award winners. But unlike Ozu, Mizoguchi and Kurosawa, Mikio Naruse remains almost unknown in this country.

The Northwest Film Forum is attempting to rectify that by giving Naruse a long overdue North American retrospective, the first in more than 30 years. “Weathering the Storm: The Enduring Cinema of Mikio Naruse” runs Jan. 20 through Feb. 26 at NWFF’S theatre on Capitol Hill.

According to Japanese film scholars, Naruse is known for “shomin geki,” or working class dramas, as well as for their simple screenplays, minimal dialogue and leisurely pace.

Many of his films feature female protagonists, and while the leading characters in his stories — former geisha, destitute widows and single mothers — may face circumstances beyond their control, they do so with determination and without self-pity.

The retrospective of 10 films spans Naruse’s career from the 1930s to the 1960s and includes eight newly struck prints, as well as two rare, early silent works featuring the world premiere of new music scores performed live by the Aono Jikken Ensemble (AJE) on Jan. 27.

AJE will provide soundtracks for “Nightly Dreams,” Naruse’s 1933 film about a young mother who supports herself and her young son by working as a hostess in a Tokyo waterfront bar. She reunites with her unemployed ex-husband when he promises to change his ways, but the couple’s dreams are dashed by the economic reality of the time. “Nightly Dreams” plays with the 1931 short, “Flunky, Work Hard!” a slapstick satire about a meek insurance salesman whose wife and son grow tired of his humility and their poverty.

While AJE founder William Satake Blauvelt was familiar with Naruse, he had not seen either film prior to this project. “Watching them was a revelation,” Blavelt said. “Naruse has much in common with Ozu, but Naruse was more of a show-off early on. In ‘Nightly Dreams’ and ‘Flunky, Work Hard!’ there are some crazy editing and camera moves and angles that will leave the audience breathless. Naruse’s also more intense in the expression of emotions and more harder edged in general.”

The group has been working on their scores for the films for about two months. In addition to their repertoire of traditional and invented instruments, children’s sound toys, found object and vocals, for this performance they’ve added the piano — a standard of conventional silent films scores, but a first for AJE.

“We’re using it because we’re incorporating a number of Japanese and Western pop songs from the 1930s into the scores,” explained Blauvelt. “We’re also planning to do period songs that fit the films thematically before, in-between and after the films as part of the overall presentation. That’s something we haven’t done before and we were looking for something new to surprise the audience with.”

The Northwest Film Forum is located in Seattle at 1515 12th Avenue, between Pike and Pine. For more information about the Naruse retrospective, the AJE performance, show dates and times, or to buy tickets online, call (800) 838-3006 or visit

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