Premiering in New York in 1937, Kimiko is the first Japanese film to have a commercial run in the United States (thirteen years before Rashomon!). Kimiko is a young girl whose parents have separated. When she sets out for her father’s house in the country, she envisions bringing him back and reuniting the family. Her plan falls apart, however, once she is confronted with her father’s mistress’s hospitality and genuine personality.
Mikio Naruse’s masterful, seamless storytelling style was something audiences in the United States were not accustomed to (“reminds of something too frequently forgotten in the movies . . . that economy is power” – Mark Van Doren).
And the journey Kimiko takes became a staple not only of Naruse’s films, but also of a certain American filmmaker as well: John Ford. Upon the US release in 1937, critic Frank S. Nugent wrote, “The picture is repetitive, and awkwardly contrived. It has a distressing habit of stumbling over the threshold of each new scene; its fade-outs and dissolves are awkwardly amateur.” Nugent went on to craft screenplays for many Ford films, all with a familiar theme—a woman traveling the countryside or a foreign land to live or meet another character, (for example, Rio Grande, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Donovan’s Reef) Could Kimiko have had a profound unconscious effect on Nugent? This is certainly not out of the realm of possibility as it is, according to critic Mark Van Doren, “one of the most moving films I know, and one for which there can be no better words than that it should be seen.” James Card was acutely aware of the power of such a film, and appreciated Naruse as an undeservedly overlooked true original in world cinema.