Where Forgotten Films Dwell

Welcome to this site! It exists for one reason: to preserve the memory of films that have been forgotten about or under-appreciated throughout the ages. Take a seat, read an entry, leave a comment. You might discover your new favorite movie!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Directed by Mikio Naruse

Nobody can really explain the friendship between Nobuko and Tomiko. The two young schoolgirls are close friends despite what Japanese society in the late 30s would consider to be damning differences. Nobuko is from a well-to-do middle-class family. Her mother leads a patriotic women’s association that helps maintain the home front while the men are away at war. Her father is a successful banker. There are whispers that he may be drafted into the army as an officer. Truly, Nobuko family represents the perfect wartime nuclear unit. Tomiko, on the other hand, does not. Her’s is a poor family led by a single mother who makes ends meet as a stay-at-home seamstress. The two share their house with an invalid grandmother. While Nobuko’s family is engaging the Enemy at home and abroad, Tomiko’s family can’t even offer a single male to serve as a private in the Imperial army. And yet Tomiko is head of her class while Nobuko ranks tenth. Nobody can explain the friendship between Nobuko and Tomiko. Even more, nobody seems to want to confront what their friendship implicates.

Not that this bothers Nobuko and Tomiko. The two live blissfully unaware of what their friendship represents. Yes, Nobuko is obviously from a superior family, but that doesn’t bother them. They seem to be made for each other. In one scene where the girls are being taught gardening skills (after all, they are girls in late 30s Japan) at school, a teacher comments that their work compliments each other. One works fast, the other thoroughly. They are both sides of a single coin.

Of course, Nobuko’s mother can’t comprehend how Tomiko could be getting higher marks. At first, she blames the teacher. But no, he is a good man who says that Nobuko isn’t working hard enough. So her resentment of Tomiko and her family simmers. She tells her husband about the situation. He seems less interested in Nobuko’s performance than in Tomiko’s achievement. Something about that girl seems familiar. He buys an expensive doll for Tomiko without any explanation. Who would have thought that such a simple gift would have such explosive ramifications. Such is life in Sincerity, a wartime effort by legendary Japanese director Mikio Naruse.

The giving of the doll comes at an uneasy time in Tomiko’s life. She discovers that at one point her mother and Nobuko’s father were in love. Tomiko begins to want to know about her own father. But she is given varying accounts of him. Tomiko’s mother claims that he was a great, honorable man. Tomiko’s grandmother yells back that he was a drunken scoundrel. Nobody seems to be able to agree what he was actually like. They have an old, dusty photo of who they claim was her father. But the photo is unmarked, faded, and of questionable origins. Her father remains an unspoken enigma within the family.

And then comes the gift of the doll. I would like to tell you that Nobuko’s father is revealed to be Tomiko’s father. I would like to tell you that it is revealed that the girls are really sisters.

Yes, I would like to tell you that. But I can’t. The last fourth of the film marks one of the strangest developments that I have ever seen in a film. The first three-fourths of the film focus on Tomiko. We follow her as she runs the emotional gauntlet of sadness, betrayal, joy, and acceptance as she comes to terms with her missing father. There are several delicately filmed and emotionally powerful scenes of the two girls trying to salvage their friendship after the revelation concerning Nobuko’s father is revealed. There is even a dream sequence where Tomiko imagines her mother and Nobuko’s father being reunited. But suddenly, near the end, the film makes a sharp turn and makes Nobuko’s father the center of attention. We are treated to a bizarre scene where Nobuko’s mother confronts her husband about the rumors concerning Tomiko’s father. He sharply rebukes her and reprimands her for thinking such things. Then the film transitions to a scene at a train station where Tomiko, Nobuko, and their two mothers cheerfully send off Nobuko’s father to the army. The girls wave flags, the mothers reconcile, and the father waves merrily as he is spirited away to the front lines.

And then the movie ends.

I have only one explanation for why the movie does such an abrupt about face: wartime censors. Many Japanese films of the era ended in the exact same way as Sincerity with families tearfully waving goodbye to valiant men off to battle. At the time, directors were not allowed to depict families mourning over their loved ones being sent off to battle. This explains why everybody is so happy when they first hear that Nobuko’s father is drafted. Disharmony was not allowed to be depicted among Japanese citizens and, even more insanely, selfishness. Filmmakers were literally not allowed to show Japanese citizens acting selfishly or partaking in actions that didn’t involve personal sacrifice for the wartime effort. I suspect that Naruse was ordered to reshoot the ending of this film. Naruse may still have been learning the ropes as a director in 1939, but not even the most inexperienced novice would purposefully end the film in the same manner.

So in the end we have a film that works more as a museum piece than a work of art. It is a glaring example of the reach and impact of Japanese wartime censorship during the Second World War. I would love to see how Naruse would have ended the film had he not been shackled by Imperial censors. The film suggests a powerful climax where the members of both families come to terms with Tomiko’s parentage. But what we have is a film with a tacked on ending that seems naive, insulting, and potentially offensive to modern viewers. Thankfully, Naruse’s career continued long after the Imperial censors left. We have many great films by Naruse that do justice to his original artistic intentions. But as it is, when we look back on Sincerity, we can only see wasted potential and hints of what could have been.

Note from the Editor: I will be uploading this film along with The Whole Family Works as soon as I figure out how to do it on my new MacBook Pro. Hang in there!



  1. Thanks for the interesting post. I'm not familiar with the film, but this certainly widens my knowledge of 1939 and am glad you included it in the blogathon.

  2. fascinating post on the impact of censorship on the arts - thanks so much for highlighting this important subject. I hope Naruse was able to express his artistic views much more freely in his later films.

  3. Oh, he was! Personally...I think that this is a great time capsule to the days of Japanese censorship.

  4. Nathanael,

    Always blessed by you.

  5. My dear...if I could figure out how to type Japanese on my new MacBook Pro, I would thank you in Japanese!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  6. Really takes you back empathetically in space and time. Very interesting, well written.

  7. Thank you again, Rana. As always, your words of encouragement are greatly appreciated!

  8. Doggone it, some kind of compatibility warning erased my whole comment. But this was too good not to try again. You have done it again -- a well-done review of a movie that I really want to see. Your description of the girls as both sides of the same coin was well-out. Oh, the innocence of children, who just know what they like and are pretty much unaware of adult prejudices and social politics. What a shame that Naruse was forced to tack on that silly ending. I can see that this movie would be perused more closely than The Whole Family Works because of its more controversial nature in conservative Japan, but I too will always wonder how the story would have unfolded.

    You do fanstastic work, Nathanael, and these 2 reviews are such a great contribution to the blogathon. Kudos!

  9. Oh dear -- typos! I meant that your description of both sides of a coin is well-PUT, not well-OUT! LOL! And I really do know hot to spell fantastic, but my fingers forgot!

  10. @ClassicBecky

    Ah, don't worry about typos, my dear.

    I'm glad that you enjoyed the two reviews! Thank you for your kind comments! I, too, wish that Naruse didn't have to tack on that meaningless ending....but c'est la vie....

  11. Nathanael, I just clicked on the link for Magalord, but don't see it. I wonder if you just changed your mind to do these two movies and I didn't realize it when posting the list. I wouldn't want to have missed another of your wonderful articles!

  12. Magalord is a typo. The Japanese title for "Sincerity" is "Magokoro."

  13. OK, that explains it....I just could'nt find m Japanese to English book. LOL! I'm a dinosaur, I took Latin!

  14. It's all good. Don't worry about it!

  15. Your musings on Sincerity remind me of Ozu’s Floating Weeds (1959), but I have not seen the earlier version of the film. The tension within the troupe of actors seems to reflect a more truthful response to the subject than the one tacked on as Sincerity’s insincere ending. I did a search of my local library’s catalog and discovered three titles directed by Naruse, each one is listed as a silent film. I am aware that during the early thirties both Chinese and Japanese films were released as silent, and I have seen The Peach Girl (1931) and The Goddess (1934) both starring Ruan Ling-yu (I was fortunate to see Stanley Kwan’s semi-
    autobiographical film when it was screened in theaters). I was wondering if you think the following titles: Flunky, Work Hard (1931); No Blood Relation (1932); Apart From You (1933); Every-night Dreams (1933) and Street Without End (1934) would make a good introduction to Naruse’s films.

  16. First off, let me say that you should try and see the early version of "Floating Weeds" as soon as humanely possible. I think that it is one of my favorite Ozu films. There are scenes of pure visual poetry in it. In particular, there is a scene where a father and son go fly-fishing and Ozu just regards them casting back and forth, back and forth....beautiful...


    Hmmmm....to be honest....I haven't seen any of those films by Naruse. As I said...not many of his films have been released overseas. It's also important to realize that early Naruse and late Naruse are completely different. Most consider late Naruse to be the best. But I'd take a chance on them, anyway. If have Netflix, you can rent one of his all-time greatest films, "When a Woman Ascends a Staircase."

    By the way, I reviewed "The Goddess" on this blog. It was actually one of the very first reviews that I ever wrote. I'd love to know what you think about it!

  17. May I ask you a total non-sequitur of a question? Do paper lanterns (or for that matter lanterns of any type) have a symbolic significance in Chinese and Japanese films? I think the appearance of these spots of light lend a lyrical quality to the films. Perhaps I'm simply reading something into the film that the director never meant. ...just a thought.

  18. I'm not entirely sure, actually....

    My GUESS would be that they represent impermanence...but that might just be me...

  19. Nathanael,
    Ya little sneak! Ha Ha I looked everywhere for a poster for "Megalord" with NO success! Like Becky I thought you had changed your mind.
    You'll have to write a screenplay titled "Megalord" now of course. With that title and your stellar writing skills it would certainly be a hit.
    Too funny! But Sincerity certainly was a fantastic choice.

  20. Thanks!

    Actually...I think that "Megalord" would make a pretty awesome metal band name....

  21. I just arrived at your blog by chance and, what a treat! This is one of the best reviews of this film I have read and makes me to search for my copy. Great.
    I am a Japanese and live in Tokyo area, but these early Naruses are hard to come by. In fact, I haven't seen "はたらく一家", your earlier review, yet. I was watching "When A Woman Ascends the Staircase" tonight. Marvelous work. And some googling about the film lead me here. I am looking forward to reading more of your essays.


  22. Why, thank you!

    I actually studied abroad in Tokyo at the International Christian University for 6 weeks my junior year in college!

    I'm trying to figure out how to put these two Naruse films online on youtube so that everyone can watch them.

    Did you see that I have already posted 5 Japanese films on youtube?

    I've posted:
    A Bloody Spear on Mount Fuji (血槍富士)
    Bad Boys (不良少年 )
    My Love Burns (我が恋わ燃えぬ)
    Tateshi Danpei (殺陣師段平)
    Utamaro and His Five Women (歌麿をめぐる五人の女)

    You can access them by clicking on their links on the right side of the screen.

    Thank you again for reading!

    I hope to hear from you in the future!

  23. Nathanael, you've gone international! Or, maybe you already were and I didn't know it...anyway, that's great. I'm glad I saw this because I didn't know you had other movies on youtube. I know what I'm going to be doing part of this weekend -- do you have any suggestions of two to start with?

  24. I'd start with "My Love Burns."

    But first read my review of it. It is easily the best movie that I have ever reviewed on this site.

    Then go with "A Bloody Spear on Mount Fuji."

    The other three aren't really as entertaining to watch...but are important for their historical value.

  25. Nathaneal,
    Your stay in Japan explains vast knowledge and deep understanding of these Japanese films. Also your choice of the films reviewed is quite fascinating.
    May I include your blog in my blogroll?

  26. Please do!

    I will do the same for your blog!

  27. Ugh...sorry folks...it may be a while before I can post this video on youtube....