It's worth easing into Mikio Naruse's Untamed, to settle in and soak up the atmosphere before the eccentric power of Hideko Takamine's mercurial lead performance dwarfs any other considerations. Set in Japan's Taisho period (1912 -1926) of continued Westernization and governmental liberalization, Hideko's character Oshima is still caught in the patriarchal web, and spends the film casting off her multiple suitors/lovers/husbands. The settings are uniformly lovely, with the lilting melodies of Tokyo's street vendors (a recurring motif) and the imposing grandeur of a mountain village. Oshima battles for primacy over these settings as she does in her relationships.
First she escapes from her handsome, chain-smoking (and adulterous) husband, only to find herself abandoned by her dissolute brother in a remote mountain village. Once again deceived, she pays off her sibling's debts by working as a housemaid at an inn, whose manager soon falls for her charms. Mild-mannered and gracious, this fella seems like a keeper, but his marriage shunts Oshima into the role of mistress, a part she is constitutionally incapable of performing. Regretfully, and necessarily, she moves onward into a series of sexual/business power plays, until the dynamic shifts irretrievably in her favor. Takamine is extraordinary throughout, her childlike insolence subtly shifting into unshakeable authority, until, when in the celebratory final shot, not even mother nature can dampen her newfound freedom.
UPDATE: Tativille's Mike Anderson posted a revealing quote from Naruse on the making of Untamed, which I'll reproduce up here, since it's more interesting than my ramblings:
"Thanks for the post on a very interesting film, Rob. Since few people likely have access to the following, uniquely revealing Naruse quote on the film, I have reproduced it in its entirety (from the Filmoteca Espanola text on the director)":
'It was my original intention to tell a story about a strong-willed, independent female character. However, I discovered that this theme wasn't too popular at the box office. Although Oshima's emotional flaws are in the original story, I did not want to emphasize them. I wanted to avoid a story about someone with peculiar traits. In my view Oshima is strong and industrious. To me she is the opposite of the Yukiko character in Floating Clouds. I wanted to emphasize that aspect of her character. Women today are strong-willed but in a different way from Oshima. I tried to put some of the more modern female attributes into Oshima's character.' (p. 269)"