Women’s Stories in Post-War Japan: Naruse Mikio’s Late Chrysanthemums (1954)
The title of Naruse Mikio’s 1954 film Late Chrysanthemums (Bangiku) evokes a familiar trope of Japanese poetics: the equation of women with flowers, whose beauty peaks and fades. There is beauty – to be sure – in the fading, as the flower and the woman become symbolic of the mortality of all things. And yet this iconography seems inadequate, if not inappropriate, to the representation of women in 1950s Tokyo. Indeed, Naruse’s film challenges the paradigm of the title by situating his fading flowers – four middle-aged women who were geisha together before the war – in the midst of the complex social and economic landscape of post-war Tokyo. Their struggle for survival and self-esteem cannot be aestheticized in nature imagery; they are not objects for the poet’s gaze, but subjects with their own stories to tell about modern Tokyo.