Cecile Pin enjoys this classic of Japanese cinema
‘I am moved by the sadness to be found in the simple lives of people in the limitless space of the universe.’ – Fumiko Hayashi
Repast is a film directed by Mikio Naruse which came out in 1951, and is set in postwar Osaka and Tokyo. It was inspired by a novel by Fumiko Hayashi.
The film depicts Michiyo, a dissatisfied housewife. Although she married her husband Hatsunosuke out of love and against her parents’ wishes, she finds herself extremely bored with her daily routine, which consists mostly of cooking and cleaning. The impromptu arrival of her flirtatious niece Satoko is the breaking point for her, and she decides to go back to Tokyo in the hope of breaking the routine/banal nature of her life, and finding happiness again.
Even though this film is more than 60 years old, it’s still relevant today, probably because the theme of boredom and disssatisfaction in marriage is such a universal and common one. It’s in so many other movies, including Contempt (Le Mépris, 1963), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), and Revolutionary Road (2008). Michiyo represents the classic character of the housewife trapped in her marriage , having nowhere else to go due to a lack of skills and education, because being a housewife is what society expects of her. On the other hand, her niece Satoko represents a more free-spirited and rebellious female character whom Michiyo scorns but, I think, also envies at the same time.
The film’s feminist themes are part of its appeal: based on a novel by a female novelist, it underlines the importance and strength of women in society. For example, once Michiyo leaves her husband, we see him in an almost comical scene struggling to keep the house together, incapable to do the chores his wife did everyday without complaining. In Tokyo, Michiyo also encounters an old friend who has lost her husband during the Second World War, who has to bring up her child by herself while also managing a job.
Michiyo’s trip to Tokyo acts as a sort of quest to find her identity as a woman outside of her marriage. For the first time, she finds herself free, and has her own money which she can spend as she likes. However, the film ends with her returning to Osaka with her husband. But she seems to come back as a stronger and different person: although she understands that she is not stronger than society, and that because of this she must still fulfil her role as a housewife, she learns to accept and embrace this role. She concludes the film with these words about her husband and herself:
‘Walking next to one another in life, in the pursuit of happiness, maybe that is my real happiness. My happiness… The happiness of women… isn’t it this?’
It seems as if her unhappiness did not come from her life itself, but from her spiritual outlook. By changing it , and by understanding she is walking next to her husband and not behind him, that she is his equal but still plays a different role to him in society, she finally finds happiness again.
Featured image credit: Setsuko Hara and Ken Uehara in Repast – Wikimedia Commons