Uwasa no onna (1954)

3 05 2008

Made the same year as Chikamatsu Monogatari, this final collaboration between director Kenji Mizoguchi and actress Kinuyo Tanaka represents one of cinema’s greatest tag teams at their very best. In contrast to the more historical and mythological tone of Chikamatsu, this falls under the more downplayed modern drama. A genre that defined Mizoguchi’s work in the 30s, but also shows from time to time in his post-war features. Exquisite photography and great performances round out the package. This is not Mizoguchi’s greatest film, but it does seem to be one of his more accessible.

Following a failed suicide attempt, Yukiko returns home with her mother, Hatsuko, who runs a successful geisha house. Yukiko is slow to adapt; she despises her mother’s profession as well as the woman who become slave to it. Eventually, she begins to soften up and befriends some of the brothel’s employees. In the mean time, Hatsuko is busy trying (but failing) to seduce the young Dr. Matoba, who is creating a strong connection with Yukiko. Eventually, the tension becomes unbearable and the two women must open up about their respective secrets.

As mentioned earlier, this is one of the more downplayed modern relationship dramas that Mizoguchi put out during the 50s. Obviously, all of the films made during this time draw on his earlier more socially-driven work but only Uwasa no onna seems to do so stylistically, in addition to the narrative. The most obvious example of this is the painterly, but indoors, static compositions that the film is centered around. Of course, there’s plenty of slow panning and tracking but not as much as in a film like say, Ugetsu. Personally, I think the lack of camera movement is much more reflective of this film’s character-based nature.

Unfortunately, this would be the last time Kinuyo Tanaka and Kenji Mizoguchi would work together. Tanaka branched out, and gave her own try at directing, a move that Mizoguchi (for whatever reason) wasn’t very fond of. In the most over-discussed and over-dramatized element of their careers, it was possible that Mizoguchi was deeply infatuated with Tanaka. This is reflective of the way she is shot in almost all of his films. In the case of this film, it is hard to avoid the many rejected advances made by many of the characters. The most obvious case being Dr. Matoba’s resistance to Hatsuko, but Hatsuko herself turns down the invitations made by the much older Yasuichi. The many failed romances make sense in light of Mizoguchi’s typical melodramatic structure but it is hard to ignore what was going on in his personal life at the time.

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