Tagged: kenji mizoguchi, women of the night
12 February 2009
Thanks to Criterion for restoring and releasing the Eclipse Series of films! Mizoguchi’s “Fallen Women” boxed set features 1948’s “Women of the Night”-but you can give it a test run before purchase if you have NETFLIX-and I did just that over the weekend.
Mizoguchi holds a certain special place in my pantheon of great filmmakers-a place reserved for him by the impact of his film Ugetsu. In recent years it has become easier to find his work, but in those dark years, the old VCR copies of Ugetsu were going out of circulation, and no DVD replacements were yet available-well, it would be hard for a “newbie” to envision just how tough it was to find anything out about the man or his work. I saw Ugetsu once, then not again for years.
That’s all changed, now, and with the new Eclipse boxed set we can see four of his late works on themes of women at the bottom of the social pyramid.
Women of the Night seems to relish the post-war settings of apocalyptic scenes in bombed churchyards, clinics, and rented lodgings. Three women’s lives are dragged through the detritus and filth, as are their spirits-the women move in and out of the world of prostitution.The horrible beauty of the film is in the wealth of detail picked out in light and dark passages of grey and black. Figures are silhouetted by light outside their rooms, they smoke in the shadows as they sink deeper into a hopeless cycle.
Most affecting is the scene of the young niece of the two older sisters who leaves home, only to be scooped up outside the train station immediately by a tout who takes her to his “clubhouse” of bad associates, leads her to an upstairs room, forces her to drink, then rapes her. The shock of this scene comes from a hopeless sense of the inevitability of innocence and curiosity’s destruction at the hands of the worldly. Knowlege destroys innocence, and we can’t help but think of our own lives, and the fact that this process usually occurs much more slowly, and with time for recuperation. Most of us reach a certain age before our romantic notions of the world are crushed-and we may even congratulate ourselves on being wiser. The young girl in this scene has only one second to shed a tear for her loss-then must choose her path-and it is one of survival but dissolution. The ritual beating inflicted on her reminds one of hazing or of the same kinds of rituals associated with gang membership in our urban scapes. So much changes, nothing changes.
The film concludes with a final ritual beating…one that propels two of the characters back into the light of the “straight” world. Questions of free will, social determinism, socio-economic causes of inequality and disease are raised, although Mizoguchi does not answer these questions for us, rather he allows us (and his protagonists) to think for ourselves.
Well, this is one of the few areas where us Region 2 people have an advantage. Masters of Cinema are releasing his movies in pairs – they are expensive, but the extras are excellent. I haven’t seen Women of the Night, but his last film, Street of Shame (Akasen Chitai) is terrific – the final scene is one of the best I’ve ever seen in any film.
It’s always interesting to see a male director dive into the female world, especially the more cultured worlds like Japan, as typically it’s entered as a curiosity with great unawareness. . I haven’t seen this movie but will be sure to add it to the list of purchases.
Another good one is Mikio Naruse “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs”
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