Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

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cdnchris
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Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#1 Post by cdnchris » Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:13 pm

ECLIPSE SERIES 13: KENJI MIZOGUCHI'S FALLEN WOMEN

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Over the course of a three-decade, more than eighty film career, master cineaste Kenji Mizoguchi (Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff) would return again and again to one abiding theme: the plight of women in male-dominated Japanese society. In these four lacerating works of socially conscious melodrama—two prewar (Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion), two postwar (Women of the Night, Street of Shame)—Mizoguchi introduces an array of compelling female protagonists, crushed or resilient, who are economically and spiritually deprived by their nation’s customs and traditions. With Mizoguchi’s visual daring and eloquence, these films are as cinematically thrilling as they are politically rousing.

Naniwa erejî

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A critical and popular triumph, Osaka Elegy established Mizoguchi as one of Japan’s major filmmakers. Mizoguchi’s often-used leading actress Isuzu Yamada stars as Ayoko, a switchboard operator trapped in a compromising, ruinous relationship with her boss, who promises her recompense for her indebted, wastrel father. With its fluid cinematography and deft storytelling, Osaka Elegy ushered in a new era of sound melodrama for Mizoguchi.

Gion no shimai

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Sisters of the Gion, cited by preeminent Japanese film scholar Donald Richie as "the best Japanese prewar sound film," follows the parallel paths of the independent, unsentimental Omocha (Isuzu Yamada) and her sister, the more tradition-minded Umekichi (Yoko Umemura), both geishas in the working-class district of Gion. Mizoguchi's film is a brilliantly shot, uncompromising look at the mechanisms that keep many women at the bottom rung of the social ladder.

Akasen chitai

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For his final film, Mizoguchi brought a lifetime of experience to bear on the poignant, heartbreaking tale of a brothel full of women whose dreams and aspirations are constantly shattered by the socioeconomic realities surrounding them. Set in Tokyo’s Red Light District (the literal translation of the Japanese title), Street of Shame was so cutting and its popularity so great that when antiprostitution laws were passed in Japan just one year later, the film was deemed a catalyst.

Yoru no onnatachi

[img]http://criterion_production.s3.amazonaws.com/product_images/385/2001303_box_348x490_w100.jpg[/img]

After World War II, Mizoguchi felt compelled to make a film inspired by the current vogue of Italian neorealism, and he turned up with one of the most emotionally and visually raw films of his career. Filmed on location in Osaka, Women of the Night concerns two sisters, a widow and the wife of a narcotics smuggler, whose precipitous descent into prostitution and moral chaos evokes the postwar degradation surrounding them.
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#2 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:29 pm

Sounds like a great set. Too bad there won't be any Criterion-supplied supplementary materials for this.

I would rate three of the films as very very good to excellent and one (Women of the Night) as problematic - but fascinating.

Women of the Night is ostensibly concerned with the miserable fate of young (poor) women in the immediate post-war period -- but really it is just a classy exploitation film. It is redeemed, however, by Mizoguchi's most delirious visuals ever -- and a gutsy lead performance by Kinuyo Tanaka.

Pictures: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19 - 20

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#3 Post by domino harvey » Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:30 pm

None of these overlap with the MOCs, right? I've put off picking those up until I knew what was gonna be in the Eclipse set.

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#4 Post by denti alligator » Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:31 pm

domino harvey wrote:None of these overlap with the MOCs, right? I've put off picking those up until I knew what was gonna be in the Eclipse set.
There will be more, I'm sure.

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#5 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:31 pm

domino harvey wrote:None of these overlap with the MOCs, right? I've put off picking those up until I knew what was gonna be in the Eclipse set.
Street of Shame (Akasen chitai / Red Light District) is an overlap with one of the (current) MOC sets.

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#6 Post by domino harvey » Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:35 pm

Ah thanks Michael, that's why I wasn't so sure, since Criterion's using the English titles. And Denti, you're right of course, but they probably (famous last words) won't release more Mizoguchi for a little while after this set, so there's some buffer time.

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#7 Post by david hare » Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:00 pm

O Haru and Woman of Rumor would have been a no brainer for this set, but this is still a very pleasant surprise.

And If they are really on the ball how about a second box of Mizo's Actresses and Actors, including Downfall of Osen, Love of the Actress Sumako, and Zangiku Monogatari. All of them sublime.

I am assuming they will use the recently restored sources for Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion which grace the marvellous Carlotta French box. I thought these were quite beautiful but I am fascinated to see how much more beauty shopping Criterion can manage on the datacines.

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#8 Post by What A Disgrace » Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:02 pm

Even if one of the titles overlaps...this is my most anticipated Eclipse set of the year. I have been wanting to see Gion no shimai for almost seven years (when I first started getting into movies).

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#9 Post by Haggai » Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:10 pm

Looks like a great set. I was actually a bit let down by Sisters of the Gion when I saw it at a Mizoguchi retrospective a couple of years ago. It seemed a bit slight, although I'm sure it'll be worth seeing again; I guess I was just expecting more out of it. I haven't seen any of the others, so I'm looking forward to checking them out. And I'm all about Isuzu Yamada, so more of her on DVD is always welcome!

Is it expected that Story of the Late Chrysanthemums will end up getting a spine number? I haven't checked for that title in any of the speculation threads, though I imagine it'll be on the way at some point. Now there's a pre-war Mizoguchi that absolutely lived up to its lofty reputation for me when I saw it (also in that theatrical retrospective).

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#10 Post by movielocke » Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:16 pm

Mine!!!! Wow, a set that can possibly top the Ozu silents set on the awesome meter. I love the eclipse line. I've been waiting for Osaka Elegy and Sisters of Gion on DVD for sometime, can't wait to watch them again, and check out the two other films.

I'm very excited. I guess this probably means Story of the Last Chrysanthemum will be a Criterion. :)

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#11 Post by david hare » Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:19 pm

The Carlotta boxset's source print from Shochiku for Zangiku Monogatari/Crysanthemums in their second last box is one of the weakest Mizos I own (and that's everything available.) I think only Poppy looks worse. It would take considerable patience for an unitiated viewer to put up with the quality (ultra duped 16mm.) Of course there are almost certainly far better prints sitting on shelves all over the joint, including Australia but that doesn't mean Shochiku can, or will do any better.

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#12 Post by mteller » Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:30 pm

Haggai wrote:Looks like a great set. I was actually a bit let down by Sisters of the Gion when I saw it at a Mizoguchi retrospective a couple of years ago. It seemed a bit slight, although I'm sure it'll be worth seeing again; I guess I was just expecting more out of it.
It is slight. Not bad at all, but not that impressive either. I'm also not gaga over Street of Shame, but it's pretty good. Haven't seen the other two yet.

Oharu and A Geisha would have been no-brainers for this set, given its title. I hope that Oharu at least will get the full Criterion treatment at some point.

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#13 Post by Cinephrenic » Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:38 pm

Given its reputation, it is highly likely The Life of Oharu will be Criterion.

The Crucified Lovers, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums and possibly other post-war Mizoguchi might also be released. I'm sure there will be more Eclipse Mizoguchi, so anything goes.

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#14 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:57 pm

Kerrang! Very nice.

Color me happy and sold.

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#15 Post by zedz » Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:59 pm

Great news! Especially since only one of these is available in a good English-friendly edition. I agree that Life of Oharu is odds-on for the third Criterion release, and hopefully we'll have further titles dribble out (or pour - I'm not fussy) through both lines.

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#16 Post by david hare » Tue Jul 15, 2008 10:11 pm

Just to give some context for new viewers to these - paraphrasing both Michael K and I but the two 1936 Pictures - Naniwa Ereji/Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion are very much companion pieces or flip sides of identical thematic material - viz. traditional woman's roles and the struggle of the "new woman' to break the mould.

The movies are stylistically quite dfifferent in mise en scene even though they now seem inseparable to me. Osaka Elegy, as has been mentioned often has moments of comedy that while brief are as unusual as the comedy scenes in early 30s Ozu. There is a very clear visual influence from Stenrberg (and a performance influence from Lubitsch) in Elegy which extends from the sumptuous photography and settings to the unnerving climax on the bridge. Sisters plays very differently with the "modern" sister essentially taking control of the destinies of both her and her "acquiescent" sibling. In the process, and most unusually at this point in Mizo's work the men are almost universally played off as fools. And while the tone is a bit like a Mervyn Leroy Warner Girl on the Make picture, Mizo shades it with much darker elements. I really don't think either of these titles can be quickly dismissed, in fact I think they're both masterpieces.

Akasen Chitai is incomparable. And it's just a shame they couldn't find (or didn't want to yet include) Oharu.

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#17 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Jul 15, 2008 11:49 pm

mteller wrote:
Haggai wrote:Looks like a great set. I was actually a bit let down by Sisters of the Gion when I saw it at a Mizoguchi retrospective a couple of years ago. It seemed a bit slight, although I'm sure it'll be worth seeing again; I guess I was just expecting more out of it.
It is slight. Not bad at all, but not that impressive either. I'm also not gaga over Street of Shame, but it's pretty good. Haven't seen the other two yet.

Oharu and A Geisha would have been no-brainers for this set, given its title. I hope that Oharu at least will get the full Criterion treatment at some point.
I definitely would not characterize either Osaka Elegy or Sisters of Gion as slight. I might say Women of the Night was slighter than the rest -- but I wouldn't be surprised if at least some people don't enjioy it the most of anything in the set.

I guess their could be a "Fallen Women, box 2" -- with Oyuki the Virgin, Oharu, Woman of Rumor....

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#18 Post by sidehacker » Tue Jul 15, 2008 11:52 pm

Sisters of the Gion might actually be my favorite Mizoguchi film and that's from seeing a very, very old VHS. To think that I'll actually be able to see that and Osaka Elegy in non-damaged editions is sort of astonishing. I'm a bit disappointed by the decision to take Women of the Night (which is only so-so) over the great Sumako the Actress but perhaps the latter is in Criterion's future.

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#19 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Jul 15, 2008 11:57 pm

sidehacker wrote:Sisters of the Gion might actually be my favorite Mizoguchi film and that's from seeing a very, very old VHS. To think that I'll actually be able to see that and Osaka Elegy in non-damaged editions is sort of astonishing. I'm a bit disappointed by the decision to take Women of the Night (which is only so-so) over the great Sumako the Actress but perhaps the latter is in Criterion's future.
Sumako deserves a Criterion release. And it really does need more background information than Eclipse liner notes can provide.

I would never describe Women of the Night as "so-so". Way too over the top.

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#20 Post by HerrSchreck » Wed Jul 16, 2008 12:23 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:Women of the Night is ostensibly concerned with the miserable fate of young (poor) women in the immediate post-war period -- but really it is just a classy exploitation film. It is redeemed, however, by Mizoguchi's most delirious visuals ever
Mizoguchi

Exploitation film

Most delirious visuals:

sounds like a favorite may be on deck, here.

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#21 Post by Max von Mayerling » Wed Jul 16, 2008 12:32 am

I have joy in my heart.

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#22 Post by vivahawks » Wed Jul 16, 2008 1:12 am

Fabulous news. And I have to agree with the admiration for Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion; for me (admittedly not a big fan of Mizoguchi) Osaka is his best film, and Sisters isn't far behind. And very looking forward to seeing Woman of the Night.

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#23 Post by bunuelian » Wed Jul 16, 2008 1:16 am

A no-brainer purchase for me, in a time when all purchasers must be brainers.

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#24 Post by sidehacker » Wed Jul 16, 2008 1:55 am

So-so in Mizoguchi's league, I should say. An enjoyable film, overall.
Sumako deserves a Criterion release. And it really does need more background information than Eclipse liner notes can provide.
That is true, but I always thought the film wasn't considered as "important" as Mizoguchi's more famous titles. On the other hand, Utamaro and His Five Women would also need some lengthy background information. So perhaps an extensive two-disc boxset? Wishful thinking, again...

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#25 Post by david hare » Wed Jul 16, 2008 2:21 am

IS there any "general consensus" about Mizo's 30s and 40s work outside the few well known masterpieces?

I don't think there is, and given the immense time lag from the numerous worldwide retros literally 30 plus years ago (Sydney, London - a rare then complete season - and elsewhere) there has been little "general" cinephile discussion of these titles. Sumako reveals itself as a major critical work, central to Mizoguchi formally and as a self relfecting essay of a director and his subject, who literally destroys herself for her (their) art. It's a major canonical work. Once you've seen Tanaka play Carmen in this you will never forget it! Similarly, I think Osen plays uncannily like a later Ophuls film (La Signora di Tutti or Lola Montes) with the flashback structure and the conceits of performance and persona.

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