Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Women of the Night

1948, Japan, directed by Mizoguchi Kenji

As is the case with De Sica's Bicycle Thieves, made the same year half a world away, Women of the Night infuses neo-realist themes with the skill and settings of an experienced studio director: the flavour of post-war Japanese experience is sharp, but there's nothing rough-edged about the treatment, whether in the interior shots, often models of deep focus construction, or the elegant camera movements, such as in the gripping scene where one of the film's central characters descends a staircase while concealing contraband from a nearby policeman. Mizoguchi's use of music also functions as a discreet but unmistakable emphasis to the onscreen action at critical moments.

The long final sequence, on a soundstage carefully constructed as though it depicts a bombed-out neighborhood, is a corrosive explosion of grief, anger and sadness, giving full voice to the emotions of the exploited, often desperate women of the title, all of them used or abused by men who are almost uniformly weaker yet socially more powerful. There's an unexpected moment when we see Christian imagery in a stained glass window that has somehow survived the destruction - a moment that perhaps recalls Mizoguchi's own identification with the downtrodden, but which also suggests the deep gulf between spiritual succour and harsh material realities in the Japan of the late 1940s.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States