Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#101 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jan 08, 2009 6:04 pm

When I speak of sophistication as regards Naruse vs. Mizoguchi -- I am (of course) talking solely of dramatic sophistication (as it appears to me). With rare exceptions, no one tops Mizoguchi in terms of purely visual sophistication. ;~}

Kobayashi is another matter (for another thread), I guess. But I generally don't spend much time trying to figure out why some directors' work really annoys me (like Kobayashi -- and Tsai). I'd rather spend my time watching films I enjoy.

I _do_ spend a bit of time worrying about unloved Mizoguchi films -- because I love so many of his films.

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GringoTex
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Re: Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#102 Post by GringoTex » Thu Jan 08, 2009 8:03 pm

HerrSchreck wrote:Mizo ties his hands behind his back, has himself blindfolded, and with a spauldine taped between his jaws, finds a most affecting hands-on approach, a unique vision, and voice of crystal clarity... all of which culminate in a statement of profoundest effect.
This is a perfect description of my feelings for...Sisters of Gion. I found Streets of Shame rather overly direct and ordinary: little surprised me about it. But I've had a hard time appreciating Mizo's and especially Kurosawa's contemporary setting films since discovering Naruse. Somehow Naruse distilled the interactions between people within a domestic space to such a purified perfection but I find it very difficult to discern exactly how he did this. He's the most mysterious of filmmakers to me.

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Re: Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#103 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jan 08, 2009 11:02 pm

GringoTex wrote:But I've had a hard time appreciating Mizo's and especially Kurosawa's contemporary setting films since discovering Naruse. Somehow Naruse distilled the interactions between people within a domestic space to such a purified perfection but I find it very difficult to discern exactly how he did this. He's the most mysterious of filmmakers to me.
I also discovered that the more I explored Naruse's work, the harder it got to appreciate Mizoguchi's and Kurosawa's approach to contemporary drama. Curiously, Ozu's films did not cause the same sort of blocking effect. With persistent effort, however, I've managed to begin to re-learn my appreciation for (most of) M & K's works of this sort (while also integrating yet other directors into my Japanese classics pantheon). And some films have risen in my estimation -- such as My Love Is Burning and Women of the Night abd Osaka Elegy.

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Re: Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#104 Post by dad1153 » Mon Jun 15, 2009 7:00 pm

Bought this at lunch for $40 brand new! :P I've only seen two of Kenji's movies ("Ugetsu" and "Sansho the Bailiff") but damn if they didn't move me and shake me (particularly the ending of "Sansho") to my very core like few movies have. Despite his off-screen persona not fitting the profile I get the feeling from the two Mizoguchi flicks of his I've seen that he was as close to a male feminist movie director as the golden age studio of Japan would support. Looking forward to having my prejudice disproven or confirmed by the four movies in this Eclipse set.

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Re: Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#105 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Jun 15, 2009 7:35 pm

dad1153 wrote: Despite his off-screen persona not fitting the profile I get the feeling from the two Mizoguchi flicks of his I've seen that he was as close to a male feminist movie director as the golden age studio of Japan would support.
Not really. Mikio Naruse's films are typically far more "feminist" in tone and content. They are about fighters (and survivors). Mizoguchi most often portrayed the beauty of women sacrificing themselves for the men in their lives (very like Puccini in his operas).

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#106 Post by Daze » Mon Jul 06, 2009 12:58 am

I just watched "Street of Shame" for the first time. For me, the most striking thing about the film is the Varèse-like score by Tashiro Mayuzumi. It seems completely mismatched to the movie, more suited to a science fiction film or a Warner Bros. cartoon. The effect of a moving melodramatic scene accompanied by theremin music is just bizarre.

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#107 Post by HerrSchreck » Mon Jul 06, 2009 3:53 pm

It's just another of the many fabulous aspects of this incredibly powerful, original film, which screams so loudly by keeping its voice down. I can't imagine the film without that sublime score.

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#109 Post by NilbogSavant » Thu Dec 10, 2009 11:29 pm

With Eureka's Christmas sale and the upcoming B&N 50% off Criterion sale, I've decided to go ahead and purchase all of Mizoguchi's available films (I've seen and enjoyed Ugetsu, Sansho, and Oharu) on DVD. What would be the best way to do this with the least amount of repeat titles?

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#110 Post by swo17 » Fri Dec 11, 2009 12:39 am

You missed the B&N sale by about two weeks, and you've only got another week left on the Eureka sale, so grab all you can from that.

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#111 Post by NilbogSavant » Fri Dec 11, 2009 1:10 am

swo17 wrote:You missed the B&N sale by about two weeks, and you've only got another week left on the Eureka sale, so grab all you can from that.
I heard there was another one coming up. Is that not true? Well, either way, I'm sure it'll happen again as they've already had two sales in less than 6 months.

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#112 Post by AisleSeat » Tue May 11, 2010 6:31 pm

In Donald Richie's A Hundred Years of Japanese Film, he lists two lengths for Osaka Elegy: an original version of 89 minutes, and the U.S. version, 71 minutes. Is there any factual basis for this assertion?

Also, in his short guide to Japanese movies on VHS and DVD at the back of the book, Richie summarizes Osaka Elegy, in part, as: "... To keep her job as a telephone operator a woman becomes her employer's mistress. When he tires of her, she has no recourse but prostitution."

Hmm. She quit her job, didn't she? Also, didn't the executive's wife put an end to the affair, not the executive himself? Nitpicking, to be sure, but it does make one wonder ...

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#113 Post by escobar741 » Tue Aug 03, 2010 8:23 am

Does anyone have the MK2 box set 'Coffret Kenji Mizoguchi', which includes Osaka Elegy (L'Elégie de Naniwa)? It would be nice to find out if it's the longer (90 mins?) version. I found out that Sisters of the Gion is available in a longer version from tfi, though only with French subs.

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#114 Post by bottled spider » Tue Aug 17, 2010 11:20 am

AisleSeat wrote:Hmm. She quit her job, didn't she? Also, didn't the executive's wife put an end to the affair, not the executive himself? Nitpicking, to be sure, but it does make one wonder
Richie's book on Kurosawa contains several minor errors like that -- a line of dialog attributed to the wrong character, or a slight inaccuracy in a plot synopsis. The errors are surprising, but in my opinion do not indicate sloppiness or imply a lack of critical acumen. I think there's been a discussion of errors in Richie's books elsewhere on the board.

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#115 Post by zedz » Tue Aug 17, 2010 4:41 pm

Detail errors like these are par for the course for older film books. Pre-DVD, access to the vast majority of old films was incredibly haphazard, and authors would often have been relying on their memory of a single screening many years, or even decades, before, on the fallible accounts of other critics or filmmakers, or on a soundless viewing on a Steenbeck, if they were lucky enough to track down an actual print. In addition, the film may not have been subtitled, or have been subtitled partially and incorrectly. Of course, this is still an issue with less mainstream areas of cinema.

These various compromises were often aggravated by the necessity of including detailed plot synopses in any analysis, since the chance of the reader ever seeing the film under discussion was even more remote. It's a good thing to be aware of, as sometimes the false details prompt actual serious misreadings. (The only critical account of Amir Naderi's Water, Wind, Dust I could find before I saw the film, for instance, described a key scene that played out onscreen in the completely opposite way - unless there are two radically different versions of that film in circulation.)

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#116 Post by knives » Fri Nov 12, 2010 8:51 pm

I found Sisters of the Gion to be better than the two later films I've seen, but there are still a number of elements about him that I just can't overcome. The way he ended the film was so patronizing that it overcomes my general dislike for a number of other elements. While much more ambiguous in possibly a bad manner the 'bad' sister's proselytizing was both out of character and completely condescending to Mizoguchi's audience. Did he really think his audience would forget the contents of an hour film as they were watching it? In general this type of thing is my biggest peeve with his films I've seen. He has no faith that his audience will make the right choice in a moral situation.
I was also chewing my lip with the way he characterized the sisters and their situation. Part of it is that it hedges so close to a couple of Naruse's that I just feel tackle this character type and situation better. In something of a counter-statement to my previous paragraph I think the real problem here is that for much of the film Mizoguchi plays things in such a way as to force a dichotomy between the sisters rather than the extension he seems to be aiming with in the ending. He paints the 'bad' sister as a bad person, not one in an unfortunate situation. Again I can't help but think others have (or rather will) tackle this better. The lead in The Insect Woman is just as power hungry and self-centered yet it is a known factor that Imamura cares for this character and wants us to sympathize to some degree with her. With this picture though it came as something as a shock that Mizoguchi actually cared for this character as a hero too. I honestly felt that he wanted us to treat her with contempt while romanticizing the 'good' sister. Unfortunately he manages to just romanticize the both of them. Admittedly this is better than that first alternative (again this is something I'm seeing as a pattern for Mizoguchi), but considering the way so many even in this thread speak of the man I expect something better than the Japanese Spielberg.

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#117 Post by Yojimbo » Fri Nov 12, 2010 9:37 pm

escobar741 wrote:Does anyone have the MK2 box set 'Coffret Kenji Mizoguchi', which includes Osaka Elegy (L'Elégie de Naniwa)? It would be nice to find out if it's the longer (90 mins?) version. I found out that Sisters of the Gion is available in a longer version from tfi, though only with French subs.
I have that set; I wasn't even aware that there were different versions, but I'll check it out and see.
I've already watched the Eclipse version.

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#118 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Nov 12, 2010 10:59 pm

I don't _think_ there are two different versions of Osaka Elegy in existence.

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#119 Post by dad1153 » Tue Jan 04, 2011 3:59 pm

Finally got around to opening this Eclipse Set I've owned for over a year (yes, my kevyip pile is monstrous!). Watched "Sisters of the Gion" and "Osaka Elegy" back-to-back. Though completely different movies I can't separate them since they both feature mostly the same cast (with Isuzu Yamada as the lead in both) and same basic theme that echoed through the director's work: women in Japan had to put up with an unfair double-standard that put them at an unfair disadvantage with their fathers/brothers/co-workers/etc in just making a decent living. In Mizoguchi's movie world a telephone operator is no different than a geisha in the description of 'women,' and in both movies the final outcome sets back the lead women considerably but they're left with the inner-strength and will to carry on because they have nothing else left. "Osaka Elegy" is the slightly more fun of the two movies because Ayako is a cute little firecracker that only sleeps with her boss (who is played for laughs as an incompetent buffoon) to get her family out of financial trouble. The lack of appreciation and social outcast status bestowed upon Ayako by her father and brother (even little sister!) that should at least appreciate her sacrifices gives the movie's ending (especially that memorable walking shot across a bridge) poignancy that doesn't feel like a cop-out or cheap melodrama. "Sisters of the Gion" is a lot more simplistic and depressing (very little chance of happiness for any character that doesn't have a penis) but showcases Yamada-san's range as she plays the complete opposite of her role in "Osaka Elegy." Yôko Umemura plays the more sympathetic sister that still has optimism (and the self-appointed duty to help her bankrupt lover) until gradually, by the movie's end, these two are left only with each other to face a rough life ahead. Not as polished or nuanced as "Ugetsu" or "Sansho the Bailiff" (masterpieces both), these early movies by Mizoguchi are an interesting start into his middle-to-late work. More to come...

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#120 Post by movielocke » Tue Apr 28, 2015 6:59 pm

When I first got this set I immediately rewatched Osaka Elegy and Sisters of Gion, which I’d seen on VHS and film, respectively. I found both to not quite hold up to my ecstatic (best of the 30s!) memories of them, although both are superb films, with Gion the superior. Losing the momentum, the set was pushed aside for a few years and I eventually got around to Women of the Night which I didn’t like at all, it’s more of an exploitation approach, shrill and wildly over the top throughout. That impelled me to lose momentum once again, and the set got pushed back into the ever expanding kevyip pile.

That was a critical mistake as Street of Shame is the best film of the set. The film is straightforward, a slice-of-life piece on prostitutes in the red light district. It is refreshingly honest and candid from the first scene; nothing at all like the exploitation stylings of the previous film. The film opens on a madam chatting up a police officer as the radio speaks about the debate to outlaw prositituion. From here we drift throughout the house, learning about each of the women who work there. There’s a wide variety of prostitutes, from the ambitious to the indifferent--but for all of them it is just a job. Sometimes lucrative, sometimes an unavoidable unpleasant necessity, sometimes entrapping—akin to many peoples experience of any job, anywhere—in a way, the film is a “Salary-Woman” film.

That is not to say the film embodies any tropes of the Salary-Man genre, but to obliquely and ironicly indicate the impossibility/implausibility of a Salary-Woman genre existing unless it were in the same setting as Street of Shame.

As an aside, this brings up one of my central extra-filmic takeaways of the film which is that women were basically locked out of participating equally in the economy of Japan, and for an ambitious business woman, she couldn’t just work hard at a job, be frugal and raise enough capital to start her own business because she would never be paid enough to do all that on her own—unless she were a prostitute. The lack of wage equality is not directly addressed by the film, though the lack of access to good jobs is addressed and is a central tenet underlying the film. perhaps this is all on my mind given Shinzo Abe’s recent editorial in Bloomberg.

There is a deliberate irony here in that in outlawing prostitution, they were effectively outlawing the only highpaying job a woman could access, and Mizoguchi does seem to point that out repeatedly. That this job does have a high human cost is true, but for many of those working at these jobs, that is a price they pay with eyes wide open.

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Re: Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

#121 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Apr 28, 2015 8:10 pm

I love Street of Shame / Red Light District (except for one story sub-thread, which I find unsatisfactory) -- and for a while it was my top Mizoguchi. However, it was first displaced by Gion bayashi, and then by my (now seemingly permanent favorite) Chikamatsu monogatari. I also think Naruse handles a similar theme better in both When a Woman Ascends the Stairs... and Flowing.

While I would agree Women of the Night is exploitative, I find it so visually impressive I cut it a fair amount of slack.

On my last viewings, Osaka Elegy inched ahead of Sisters of Gion. ;-)

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