Carlotta: Coffrets Kenji Mizoguchi

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Michael Kerpan
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#51 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Nov 20, 2007 11:42 pm

Rewatched three of these 40s films: comments and pictures.

I gave Bijomaru another shot -- and still consider the worst of all the 30 or so Mizoguchi films I've seen (in almost every respect).

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#52 Post by david hare » Mon Nov 26, 2007 6:54 am

I've now viewed the MK2 boxset through and I am basically ecstatic about it. All three prints are in much better shape than the earlier Carlotta/Gaumont postwar set. Zangiku Monogatari is perfectly serviceable, certainly given the appalling state of other, later Shochiku titles, and it greatness, and centrality to Mizo's best work thematically is assured. More later.

47 Ronin looks so good I felt compelled to begin a reasessment of it - formally it must be one of Mizo's most striking pictures -= the extent of the plans sequences, along with the exquisite framing, and choreography of performers is completely breathtaking. He also takes on an incredibly daring "denial", in a sense, of any sort of climactic catharsis by not showing the mass Seppuku of the Ronin, narratively eliding this with a notable monatge cut (one of very few) to the co-suicide of Mitsuko Miura, alone. I have never seen the movie looking this beautiful, and god knows how much a good print helps a movie formerly spurned by me, in any event.

Naniwa Onna - from 1936 and evidently Mizo's first collaboration with Yoshikata Yoda is - to put it mildly - narratively and formally packed, and manages to swoop through scenes of Lubitschian comedy, to a sublime central sequence of the four principles attending a thematically related puppet Kabuki performance which is magisterially interwoven with the narrative, and- climactically - a scene of totally Sternbergian layering towards the end with a very young Kinuyo Tanaka, shot through sheets of voiles and backlighting.

Caps coming tomorrow. The box is recommended without reservation (but you need some French language skills for the subs.) In terms of some future English-friendly release Ronin seems to effectively sell itself as an obvious contender.

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#53 Post by Murasaki53 » Fri Nov 30, 2007 9:41 am

Finally got around to watching Lady of Musashino yesterday and actually found it to be a lot better than I expected. The anti-war sentiments expressed in the opening minutes came as something of a surprise. I've been used to seeing these conveyed in a more indirect manner in most of the Japanese films I've watched so far. The allusions to sex were a surprise too. Would this film have been a bit risque for 1951 by Japanese standards? And the opening shots of the skies above Musashino were terrific.

Thought the script was quite thoughtful and engaging too though the story didn't quite sustain itself over the full 85 minutes (and it was never going to anyway as the disc froze just before the end as noted in the DVD Beaver review). I might now seek out Shohei Ooka's novel as his 'Fires On The Plain' was extraordinary.

All in all, this was definitely worth seeing. Though I'd swap it right away for a decent version of 47 Ronin with English subs.

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#54 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Nov 30, 2007 11:57 am

Murasaki53 wrote:Finally got around to watching Lady of Musashino yesterday and actually found it to be a lot better than I expected. The anti-war sentiments expressed in the opening minutes came as something of a surprise. I've been used to seeing these conveyed in a more indirect manner in most of the Japanese films I've watched so far. The allusions to sex were a surprise too. Would this film have been a bit risque for 1951 by Japanese standards? And the opening shots of the skies above Musashino were terrific.
Anti-war sentiments were practically mandatory in the Occupation era (due to the demands of US censors).

Lots of risque stuff (though mild compared to later films) started cropping up after the war. "Bad girl" films were quite popular then.

Many good things about the film (esp. the cinematography) -- but I differ on your assessment of the script -- which I found pretty ineffective (and unbelievable).

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#55 Post by Murasaki53 » Fri Nov 30, 2007 12:31 pm

Michael, that's interesting background information. But what was it that you found unbelievable? Was it all the extra-marital shenanigans?

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#56 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Nov 30, 2007 1:05 pm

Murasaki53 wrote:Michael, that's interesting background information. But what was it that you found unbelievable? Was it all the extra-marital shenanigans?
What was unbelievable is HOW the events played out. Much more like a over-the-top, melodramatic shimpa play of the 20s than anything like real life in the post-war era.

And then there was the almost comically abrupt way the old folk were polished off.

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#57 Post by the dancing kid » Fri Nov 30, 2007 1:23 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:Anti-war sentiments were practically mandatory in the Occupation era (due to the demands of US censors).
I'm not sure I agree. American censors were uncomfortable with almost any reference to the war, even anti-war sentiments. There were indirect visual representations of the war, such as graveyards, but you didn't see a lot of explicitly anti-war content until after the Occupation. The most visible agenda being pushed by the Occupying forces was a focus on liberalism and heterosexuality.

However, in my opinion most of the anti-war content in the later post-war films is more useful at indexing the cognitive dissonance of Japan's political culture than it is in showing how successful the Occupation project had been. Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto's essay on post-war melodrama made in Japan does a great job of articulating the "victim consciousness" of these films.
Lots of risque stuff (though mild compared to later films) started cropping up after the war. "Bad girl" films were quite popular then.
While it's true that there was more sexually themed content in Japanese films than American films, I'm not sure if I would categorize them as risque. Films like Teenage Sex Manual were basically after school special style films that tried to portray the "dangers of youth" and such. The girls in these films weren't usually bad, but rather misled and abused by their boyfriends and other men.

Women and women's bodies were definitely one of the main battlefields of post-war Japanese social life, but women didn't become real agents in film until the fifties as far as I can tell. The social and political of emasculation of men was present in films almost immediately after the way, since the trauma of the war was placed completely on the shoulders of men

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Mizoguchi les ans 30s (Carlotta France)

#58 Post by david hare » Sun Mar 16, 2008 6:32 am

Apart from Oyuki the Virgin I cannot identify the other two titles from this coffret

Perhaps Michael could oblige before I run amok and order it.

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Re: Mizoguchi les ans 30s (Carlotta France)

#59 Post by iangj » Sun Mar 16, 2008 7:22 am

davidhare wrote:Apart from Oyuki the Virgin I cannot identify the other two titles from this coffret

Perhpas Michael could oblige before I run amok and order it.
La cicogne en papier [aka O'sen aux cigognes de papier] = The Downfall of Osen 1935

Les coquelicots = Poppy 1935

Maybe Carlotta should have called this Mizoguchi 1935...

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#60 Post by sidehacker » Sun Mar 16, 2008 9:18 am

Off-topic, but sort of not: has anyone seen the French disc of Sisters of the Gion mentioned towards the bottom of the page?

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#61 Post by david hare » Sun Mar 16, 2008 4:48 pm

NO that was the first time I had seen it advertised - It's also Carlotta and has the same release date as the box - this Wednesday. I confess I'm not expecting miracles from the prints, but the lovely Osaka Elegy print in the last box was a wonderful surprise.

In any case I've ordered it as well as the box - why couldn't they have simply included it in the coffret?

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#62 Post by sidehacker » Mon Mar 17, 2008 1:10 am

Completely off-topic, looks like Carlotta is putting out a Yoshishige Yoshida boxset as well.

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#63 Post by david hare » Thu Mar 20, 2008 6:14 pm

Update on the Mizos - Coffret posted yesterday but only after an alert from amazon.fr that Soeurs de Gion is "delayed" - shades of the Desire" disc last year. Cancelled that for the time being but will keep an eye out for it over the next few weeks.

By way of nothing I also noticed - now OOP alas - two Wildside DVDs of Mann's T-Men (La Brigade du Suicide) and Raw Deal (Marches de Brutes) available either as a coffret - bidding starting at 150 Euros!! or singly, but generally indisponible. Has anyone caught these from their first release in 2004? I assume, given Wildside's generally high quality they would walk over the old US discs (and the earlier Roan LDs.)

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#64 Post by Ornette » Fri Mar 21, 2008 2:22 pm

David, you can find a review of T-Men and on the Beaver and here's a review comparing the Sony and VCI editions of Raw Deal (no idea about the Wildside edition, but I've a feeling it ain't much of an improvement -- would love to be proven wrong though).

I'm beginning to think, fuck my lousy French skills, I'm going to buy these boxes anyway. It's like torture waiting for these to be released with English subs. I just bit the bullet for Remorques and Gueule d'amour, so it's not that far off.

And David, be sure to post some screengrabs from the Mizo coffret!

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#65 Post by david hare » Fri Mar 21, 2008 5:46 pm

YOu're probably right given the relative obscurity of these thirties titles (I have not seen any of them, and I've probably seen more Mizo than most people.) I hope Sisters of the Gion does see the light of day - if the source is OK, as it was for Osaka Elegy in the last box these would make an ideal double for MoC, I believe.

And thanks for the beaver review - I found it mysefl five minutes after posting above. THey look like crap. But the Lasers (which I burnt to DVDR) are even worse.

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#66 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Mar 21, 2008 6:12 pm

davidhare wrote:You're probably right given the relative obscurity of these thirties titles (I have not seen any of them, and I've probably seen more Mizo than most people.) .
Downfall of Osen is the biggest gem of the three (and it is also available on subbed DVD from Japan -- with benshi narration).

Oyuki is fascinating -- in that one begins thinking of Ford's Stagecoach (not yet made) pretty early on. ;~} Dramatic credibility is not the film's strong point -- but there are some pretty impressive scenes in this.

Poppy made the vaguest impression on me when I watched it. It seemed much closer to Naruse territory than to the flashier sort of stories Mizo was typically working with in this period.

Surely SOMEONE will come out with a decent subbed version of Sisters of Gion.

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#67 Post by ptmd » Sat Mar 22, 2008 3:47 am

Surely SOMEONE will come out with a decent subbed version of Sisters of Gion.
Sisters of Gion is a Janus title, they just sent a new print traveling around the country two years ago, and I have it on good authority that it's coming to DVD relatively soon along with the other 30s Mizoguchi films Janus owns (i.e., Story of the Late Chrysanthemums and Osaka Elegy; Janus no longer has prints of the latter, but I'm pretty sure they still have the rights). My guess is that this is a forthcoming Eclipse set, but that's certainly no reason to wait on buying the Carlotta set because it's extremely unlikely that Poppy or Oyuki the Virgin are going to be released on DVD with English subtitles anywhere in the foreseeable future.

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#68 Post by whaleallright » Sat Mar 22, 2008 5:10 pm

I hope the elements they use for the DVD transfers are better than the 35mm print they've been circulating, which was scratchy and washed-out. I have hopes, since the print of SANSHO DAYU that was circulating looked worse than the DVD (which isn't perfect itself).

My guess is that the Japanese rights-owners may have invested in a digital restoration and didn't output that restoration to 35mm, but instead made contact prints to circulate.

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#69 Post by ptmd » Sat Mar 22, 2008 5:28 pm

My guess is that the Japanese rights-owners may have invested in a digital restoration and didn't output that restoration to 35mm, but instead made contact prints to circulate.
I think that's exactly right, although, in some cases, the original elements are also in terrible condition. Utamaro is in particularly bad shape, a situation compounded by the fact that apparently the negative no longer exists and everybody has to work from dupe prints. I've seen the Japanese Sisters of the Gion disc and while it looks a bit better than the Janus print (only in terms of scratches, wear, etc.; no matter how good the DVDs look, Mizoguchi's films invariably look and work better on celluloid), it doesn't look nearly as good as, say, the Japanese prints and DVDs of some of the early Ozu films. This is yet another reason why I feel like the 30s and 40s Mizoguchi films that Janus owns are going to end up as an Eclipse set. The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums is as good as anything Mizoguchi ever did, but there's no way they could make it look as good as Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff, etc.

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#70 Post by david hare » Sat Mar 22, 2008 6:12 pm

The Mk2 disc of Zangiku Monogatari is extremely weak, and soft. But watchable for DVD. There are certainly better prints sturck decades ago which exist but simply aren't in circulation. One of them - a 35mm print - lives in Melbourne at the ACMI. I last saw this some time in the late 70s!

Along with Zangiku the other 40s titles so far released in France are all Shochiku and - by definition - appalling. They would simply not be an acceptable standrad for Eclipse. Nor MoC for that matter. The one exception is the restoration of 47 Ronin. Although this too is "soft" and may well have been simply a digital restoration, not a photochemical one.

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#71 Post by sidehacker » Mon Mar 24, 2008 12:27 am

I thought Zangiku looked excellent, personally. I've seen (examples of) the film in much worse condition. Then again, I have yet to have the privelege of seeing a theatrical screening. :(

What about the MK2 release of Osaka Elegy? I'm sure that's better than my current VHS.

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#72 Post by david hare » Mon Mar 24, 2008 1:21 am

Sidehacker, screencaps for the Mk2 Boxset are here

Osaka ELegy is mislabeled as Naniwa Onna!

I think they speak for themselves. Zangiku is weak but certainly watchable - the other two are excellent (in relative terms for Mizo titles.)

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#73 Post by sidehacker » Mon Mar 24, 2008 9:11 am

Thanks, David. I would have never noticed those otherwise as I tend to stay away from that thread for fear that my computer will explode. Though oddly enough, I actually posted on that page. Uhh anyway, thanks!

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#74 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Mar 24, 2008 10:04 am

davidhare wrote:Osaka ELegy is mislabeled as Naniwa Onna!
How could they mistake "Naniwa ereji" for "Naniwa onna" -- especially when the latter is one of Mizoguchi's fabled lost films....

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#75 Post by david hare » Tue Mar 25, 2008 4:16 am

MIchael as you are prefectly well aware I personally mislabelled Naniwa Eleji as Naniwa Onna.

I have totally no skills in Kanji transliteration! And , as you are well aware the fucking amazon.fr site initially advertised this title as Naniwa Onna.

So goofups bigtime are entirely mine.

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