Review:
The Girl in the Rumour (1935)

(3/5)
Author: Miles Imhoff
Published:
July 26, 2014
Note: review may contain spoilers


For the sake of full disclosure, I wasn't able to view this film in its entirety. The copy I found was missing footage from approximately 8:23-16:18. Now that may not sound like much, but when you realise I missed almost 8 minutes of exposition from a 54 minute movie, that equates to nearly 15%...

So you might be wondering why I'm even taking the effort to write a review. I figure it this way: I've seen a lot of localised edits that have been cut to ribbons, so I just kind of consider the version I watched an unintentional edit of sorts. Enough of the film remained that it was still an enjoyable experience, and since the subtitles for the missing footage are readily available, I was able to piece together practically everything I missed. So without further ado, The Girl in the Rumour:

Our story begins in a barbershop across the street from a once famous liquor store. One of the barber's patrons laments the decline of Nadaya Sake, and we soon come to learn that its former proprietor's son-in-law, Kenkichi, is now suffering the burden of the business. Meanwhile, Kenkichi's daughter, Kunie, has plans of her own to assist her struggling family. A boy from the wealthy Sato clan has offered her a marriage proposal. Although she isn't truly in love with him, she has chosen to sacrifice her own happiness to ease her family's financial burdens. Her father staunchly disapproves, as his own loveless marriage found itself on the verge of collapse leading up to his wife's passing. Her sister, Kimiko, eventually meets Kunie's potential fiancé, but the lad's heart soon begins to wander away from the traditional Kunie in favour of the modern Kimiko.

Meanwhile, Kenkichi's father-in-law has begun to notice an odd flavour in their sake as of recent. When confronted, Kenkichi seems uneasy about this unusual development. What could be going on?

The story plays out like a cookie-cutter drama from '30s Naruse stock, but with a bit of a twist. The sake-tampering element is a genuine and compelling mystery that lingers in the plot's peripheral. Has Gramps' taste simply changed, or is something really happening to their product? The film doesn't seem to give us exact answers, but it does strongly imply that a certain element of desperation is involved. I don't want to give away too much, but the movie ultimately shows us the disastrous results during the climax.

The love triangle subplot is unusual this time around because it's not much of a love triangle, per se. Kunie really hasn't fallen for the Sato boy, but sees him as a path to stability; meanwhile, he's taken to her sister, who happily basks in this novel situation. Although Kimiko is characterised as a fatuous, self-centered moneygrubber, her strongwilled attitudes aren't entirely difficult to empathise with, especially when the plot touches upon her father's mistress, Oyo. Kimiko is categorically opposed to the woman, yet Kunie is so unwaveringly accepting that she even asks her to move in. The fact that no one saw fit to tell Kimiko that Oyo is her biological mother all this time is the problem, and Kenkichi's nearly violent reaction to Kimiko's dismissive attitude toward the other woman highlights a major flaw in the narrative's framing.

This is not an uncommon issue in Naruse films, where the "villains" often seem to be the gadflies who oppose traditional cultural mores. Hardly anyone is clean as a whistle in this picture. Kenkichi is an overbearing patriarch in the guise of a concerned paternal unit (not to mention the whole mistress thing), his father-in-law is hopelessly lost in a bottle of sake, and the Sato boy's loyalty is about as ephemeral as a mayfly. Even sweet Kunie is essentially planning on using the Sato wealth to her family's advantage, although her motive is sold as self-sacrifice. Nevertheless, can anyone guess who the movie tacitly cracks down on?

Kimiko.

It's difficult not to see the over the top villainising of her character in contrast to the others as pandering to both phallocentric and neophobic attitudes. It isn't quite as appalling as what we saw in The Actress and the Poet (1935), and in the eventual end, the uneven focus seems to tip on its fulcrum a tad. Even still, this chronic characterisation problem manifests itself in Kimiko... but with an interesting mystery element, an unusual love triangle, and an almost unsettling lack of music (which lends a dose of realism), The Girl in the Rumour is a film that does manage to hold the interest of the viewer. It's not haute cinema by any stretch and not even the best Toho film I've seen from 1935, but perhaps worth a viewing if you can track it down.