Thursday, June 09, 2011

Osaka Elegy

1936, Japan, directed by Mizoguchi Kenji

As in so many of Mizoguchi's subsequent films, particularly those with a modern setting, women are seen here as both the strength of Japanese society - taking on burdens men are either unwilling or unable to assume - while also remaining the most vulnerable class in that same society. Their pragmatic decisions, often taken to preserve family life at all cost, are nonetheless the source of their exploitation and social shame, a contradiction that's at the heart of Mizoguchi's critique. The false happiness of the domestic scene near the end is devastating, though there's barely time to absorb Mizoguchi's undermining of the family idyll before he cuts to the blunt final shots, that hang like an accusation before the viewer.

The picture above is a frame grab created by Jim Emerson as part of a fascinating post on staging and deep focus at his blog Scanners; he makes insightful comments on Mizoguchi's shot choices in one striking scene from early in the film, which establishes several of the key relationships in the film. That sequence is among the most interesting in Osaka Elegy, which feels at times like a dry run for his subsequent, and more confident, Sisters of the Gion, shot later the same year.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States