Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts

Tokyo's Asakusa district, by night a hub of theater and music, by day a maze of activity, typified the spirit and flavor of the city in the thirties. Naruse's adaptation of a Yasunari Kawabata novel paints a beautifully angled and varied portrait of Asakusa before introducing Osome, Oren, and Chieko. The daughters of an indifferent mother who lives off the proceeds of young street-corner shamisen players, the sisters try variously to break away into love and stage careers. In his first sound film, Naruse uses incidental music constantly-shopkeepers sing as they work; jazz filters into alleys; in bars, the jukebox drowns out the thin sounds of the shamisen. Voice, too, takes on a narrative dimension as Naruse experiments with flashback and voice-over. But the great story of this film remains visual: Naruse's natural framing devices, so beautiful in themselves, provide the layers inherent in a story of three very different women captured in one moment in time.

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