Kenji Mizoguchi


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Woman of Pleasure (1925)
Passion of a Woman Teacher (1926)
Song of Home (1925)
Tokyo March (1929)
Metropolitan Symphony (1929)
And yet they Go on (1931)
The Dawn of the Founding of Manchukuo and Mongolia (1932)
6.6 Water Magician (1933)
The Downfall of Osen (1935)
7.2 Osaka Elegy (1936)
7.3 Sisters of Gion (1936)
7.5 Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939)
7.4 47 Ronin (1942)
7.2 Utamaro and his Five Women (1946)
Victory of Women (1946)
The Love of the Actress Sumako (1947)
6.6 Women of the Night (1948)
Flame of My Love (1949)
Portrait of Madame Yuki (1950)
6.6 Miss Oyu (1951)
Lady Musashino (1951)
7.2 Life of Oharu (1952)
A Geisha (1953)
7.3 Tales of Moonlight and Rain (1953)
7.6 Sansho the Bailiff (1954)
The Woman in the Rumor (1954)
7.1 Crucified Lovers (1954)
6.8 Princess Yang Kwei Fei (1955)
7.0 New Tales of the Tara Clan (1955)
6.8 Red-Light District/ Street of Shame (1956)
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1. La donna

Kenji Mizoguchi, nato a Tokyo nel 1898 da una famiglia poverissima (il padre, un falegname ridotto in rovina, dovette perfino vendere la figlia maggiore come geisha) e vissuto, dopo la morte della madre, presso la sorella minore (andata sposa a un uomo d'affari), si diplomò al liceo artistico (benchè poco più che analfabeta) e fino a vent'anni lavorò come disegnatore per un giornale della provincia. Giunse casualmente al cinema, prima come attore oyama, poi come regista di mediocri film commerciali (persino un serial su Arséne Lupin). Per completare il fallimento della sua vita privata, la moglie impazzì e lui si diede a frequentare le geishe di Kyoto.

l'adesione al movimento del "nuovo realismo" (Kinugasa, Uchida) segna l'inizio della carriera impegnata di Mizoguchi, sulla quale influirà pesantemente il fardello del suo disgraziato passato. Ricorre spesso nella sua opera il tema della prostituzione, raggiunta attraverso successive tappe di degradazione morale e materiale; attraverso le vicissitudini della donna Mizozuchi critica la società, antica e moderna, e nell'amore indica la salvezza per l'uomo, in un mondo che si presenta impenetrabile alla bontà. Se la donna è il polo allegorico della sua opera, l'ambiente, allestito con una cura da figlio d'artigiano e ripreso con sontuose prospettive della moda, rappresenta uno spazio "attivo" e il ritmo di montaggio un tempo "passivo" che la avvolgono in una rete inestricabile, lo spazio vivendo la sua vita, il tempo rivelandosi una pura illusione che nella realtà si realizza come un ciclico e monotono ripetersi dei gesti di tutti i giorni. Fuori dal tempo e dentro lo spazio, la donna di Misozuchi è il passato, il presente e il futuro dell'uomo incarnati in un essere vivente.

 

2. Taki no shiraito e il film ideologico

Fino al 1929 la filmografia di Mizoguchi registra soltanto un paio di penetranti analisi psicologiche: Kanraku No Onna/ Woman of Pleasure (1925) su una geisha e Kyoren no Onna Shisho/ Passion of a Woman Teacher (1926) su una maestrina.

Molti dei primi film, come Furusato No Uta/ Song of Home (1925), storia di uno studente povero che sbarca il lunario facendo il conducente di rikshaw, sono melodrammi confezionati con una certa fretta.

I primi film di rilievo, Tokyo Koshin-kyoku/ Tokyo March (1929), su due giovani innamorati di una geisha, Tokai Kokyogaku/ Metropolitan Symphony (1929) e Shikamo Karera wa Yuku/ And yet they Go on (1931) si inseriscono nel filone ideologico, ma affrontano il contrasto di classe fra borghesia e proletariato nell'ottica della comprensione dei rispettivi punti di vista. A causa delle connivenze con l'estrema sinistra manifestate nella realizzazione di questi film, Mizoguchi viene retrocesso a girare pellicole propagandistiche e documentaristiche.

Film didattici come Man-mo Kenkoku no Reimei/ The Dawn of the Founding of Manchukuo and Mongolia (1932), sulla storia della Manciuria, gli consentono però di coltivare l'innato gusto per il passato; da questa esperienza scaturisce l'attenzione critica del regista per il formidabile contrasto esistente fra la metropoli americanizzata degli anni Trenta e le antiche tradizioni conservate nei villaggi della provincia.

È di questo periodo Taki no Shiraito/ Water Magician (1933), based on a story by Kyoka Izumi, che presenta in embrione la commistione fra reperti della sua infanzia, rapporti sulla condizione urbana e approcci storiografici alle usanze del Paese.

La protagonista si dà alla prostituzione per pagare gli studi del suo amico; anni dopo, quando questi è diventato un giudice di grido, gli capita di dover emettere una sentenza di morte nei confronti della donna. l'analisi dei personaggi è però ancora semplicistica; basandosi sulle sue esperienze giovanili, Mizoguchi riconduce tutti i comportamenti negativi all'avidità di denaro.

Orizuru Osen/ The Downfall of Osen (1935)

 

3. Naniwa Ereji e il Nuovo Realismo

Il melodramma Naniwa Ereji/ Osaka Elegy (1936), forse il più perfetto ritratto femminile del cinema Giapponese, sintetizza le tre componenti in un romanticismo lirico pervaso da un forte impegno sociale, ponendo Mizoguchi alla guida delle correnti del "nuovo realismo"; il film approfitta di una trama semplicistica per descrivere la vita della gente comune e per mettere in risalto la condizione della donna. Anche qui si assiste a un truce sacrificio da parte della protagonista, una telefonista che, bisognosa di denaro per pagare i debiti del padre, non si oppone al padrone che le usa violenza. Il fidanzato la pianta, la famiglia la rinnega; non le resta che la strada del vizio; finisce anche in prigione, e, quando ne esce, malata, passeggia lungo la riva del fiume finchè incontra un dottore al quale chiede aiuto; ma anche lui preferisce non avere a che fare con lei. Questo è il primo film di Mizoguchi a cui collabora lo sceneggiatore Yoshikata Yoda, che si rivelerà la persona adatta per raffinare i temi abituali.
It is the film that best expresses one of Mizoguchi's favorite themes (female self-sacrifice) while offering a realistic depiction of contemporary Japan (as opposed to the idealistic depiction of mythical Japan) which if enhanced by Minoru Miki's cinematography.

Asai is a dictatorial husband who likes to abuse his two maidservants. He is married to a liberated woman, Sumiko, who does as she pleases and comes home very late at night. His best friend is the doctor, who frequently visits him and his wife. But at work Asai, the boss of a pharmaceutical firm, is a different animal: he is trying to seduce one of his employees, Ayako, a cute and shy telephone operator who desperately needs money to repay her father's debts. Her young admirer Susumu cannot help her. At home she faces the men who expect to be paid and who claim that her father embezzled money from the company. Her father, instead, claims that he worked for the company for 20 years and helped save it from bankruptcy. His daughter scolds him for spending all the money on alcohol and then trying to make a living as a fisherman. He replies that he sent both her and younger sister Sachicko to school, and his son to university. His hope is that some day his son will find a lucrative job and rescue them from poverty. Ayako, ashamed of such a father, leaves the house and stops going to work. She has disappeared. Meanwhile, the son writes that tuition has not been paid so he cannot complete his studies. Ayako is smoking a cigarette and listening to music alone in a fancy apartment. She has become her boss' mistress in exchange for the money she needed to save her father. Asai takes her to theater where she dresses and behaves like a wife (hair style and clothes). But the real wife shows up, furious. Asai is saved by his friend Fujino. Susumu finds her and she has to lie about her job. He proposes to her but she rans away in tears: he doesn't know that she has become a prostitute. One day the doctor makes a silly mistake and this time Asai's wife catches her husband and Ayako in the act. Her story with Asai is finished. Now that she's alone she dreams of her suitor Susumu, but she's too afraid to tell him the truth about her life as a mistress. She meets her younger sister at a train station and learns that her brother Hiroshi is back home broke. Ayako sends money to her father asking him to give it to Hiroshi without telling him where the money is coming from. Ayako earned the money by becoming the mistress of another rich middle-aged man, the stockbroker Fujino. Now that she got the money she needed for her brother, she dumps Fujino and thinks she is done with prostitution, having settled both her father's debts and her brother's tuition fees. She finally reconnects with her admirer Susumu. She confesses her sins, hoping that he will forgive her. She is on her knees in tears when Fujino shows up, angry at her for betraying him. She is certain that Susumu will defend her against him but Susumu is in shock. To make matters worse, Fujino calls the police. When the detective arrives, Susumu starts crying, terrified that he might lose his job, and distances himself from Ayako. Abandoned by the man who was supposed to give her a new life, she lets the detective arrest her. When she is released and returns home, her family is cold towards her. Nobody is grateful that she sacrificed for them. She is excited to see them but they are ashamed of her. She leaves humiliated. The doctor finds her pensive on a bridge, but doesn't know what advice to give her. She starts walking.

Gion no Shimai/ Sisters of Gion (1936) is set in Kyoto's red-light Gion district among the geishas and mistresses of rich old men. The two protagonists are two geishas who have opposite views of their jobs: the younger one thinks of it as merely business, regulated by the same market rules as any other service, whereas the older one still views it in the traditional way of creating a lifelong relationship that borders on family life. One wants to exploit men, the other one is happy to be exploited. But their fate will be the same: poverty and loneliness. In fact, the real protagonist might be the male-dominated society, in which women can only lose.

Officials are auctioning away the furniture of a couple that has gone bankrupt. The woman is bitter. The old man, Furusawa, annoyed by her complaints and sobs, decides to move out and stay with his young mistress (geisha) Umekichi, who lives with her sister Omocha in the red-light district. Umekichi, who wears a kimono, feels that she owes him, but Omocha, who wears Western underwear, does not want him around. Umekichi grew up all her life in the red-light district, whereas the younger Omocha went to school first. Omocha sees the relationship with her customers as pure business. They walk around town still discussing this, Omacha wears a Western dress and Umekichi wearing her kimono. Umekichi tells Omacha that people would disapprove of her if she behaved so cynically: a geisha is expected to be respectful and loyal to her patron. A geisha who is passing by informs Omacha that the clerk of a kimono shop, Kimura, is crazy about her. Omacha is worried that her sister is getting old and now needs to find a new patron before it's too late. Umekichi has been a geisha all her life and hasn't even saved enough money to buy a decent kimono for a high-class party. They are behnd with rent and have debts. Omacha is angry that in the conditions in which they are Umekichi would think of offering free lodging to a bankrupt man. Omacha begs her admirer at the kimono shop to lend a kimono to her sister for the high-class party. Umekichi brings back an old man from the party, an old friend of Furusawa's, Jurakudo, who is so drunk he drops asleep on the floor after having an argument with Furusawa. When he wakes up, Omocha talks him into becoming her sister's new patron. In order to get rid of Furusawa, Omocha needs money to pay for him to travel to the countryside where he could live with his in-laws, but Furusawa has not a single penny left, so Jurakudo has to give money to Omocha who gives it to Furusawa. Umekichi is still affectionate and caring to Furusawa, so Omocha has to wait until she is alone with the old destitute to offer him money and ask him to leave (she actually gives him only half of what she got from Jurakudo). On the way out Furusawa meets a former employee, Sadakichi, who tells him how worried they were that he had disappeared. Furusawa invites him to get a drink and they spend the night drinking and spending all the money. Omacha tells her sister that Furusawa left of his own. Meanwhile, Kimura's boss Kudo has found out that an expensive kimono is missing and has guessed that Kimura must have done it for a geisha. He is willing to forgive Kimura, whom he treats like a son, if the girl is serious about marriage. Kimura runs desperate to Omocha and asks her to tell his boss that they will get married. Omocha laughs at the idea of marrying a poor store clerk. When the boss comes to see her, Omocha tells him exactly the opposite, that Kimura is a good for nothing boy and that she resents being bought for just a lousy kimono. Then she proceeds to seduce the old man himself, who is obviously much richer. She offers him alcohol and soon he is all friendly with her. Kimura is waiting anxiously for his sentence. The boss tells the young naive clerk to forget about the girl, forbids him to ever see her again and forviges him for stealing the kimono. Kimura meets Furusawa in the street. The old man is taking care of his clerk's baby and tells Kimura that he lives with that family. Kimura, still in love with Omocha, then walks to the house of the sisters to see Omocha, where Jurakudo is romancing Umekichi, and casually tells Umekichi that Furusawa is still in the city and is reduced to the role of babysitter. Umekichi, who is obviously still in love with the old disgraced businessman, dumps Jurakudo and runs out to look for her former patron. Meanwhile, Kimura catches Omocha and his boss together and realizes that she has become the mistress of his boss. Omocha is cruel to the naive boy, who, feeling betrayed by both the woman he loved and the man who fathered him, curses both. Umekichi finds Furusawa and learns the truth, that he didn't leave on his own, that her sister kicked him out. Umekichi and Furusawa become tender lovers again. Meanwhile, Kimura calls his boss' wife and tells her that her husband is cheating on her with a geisha. The shit hit the fan for the scheming and greedy Omocha: Umekichi, resentful, moves out and moves in with Furusawa, leaving Omocha alone; Kimura kidnaps Omocha and disfigures her. Umekichi immediately rushes to the hospital to take care of her sister. Umekichi reproaches her for having treated men cynically, but Omacha is still defiant and swears revenge against Kimura. The meek and loyal Umekichi herself is in for bad news: a neighbor informs her that Furusawa received a telegram from his wife and left to join her and run a factory in her hometown. The only message he left for his old geisha is: just find another patron. Umekichi is shocked that he could dispose of her so selfishly. Both the modern and the traditional women lose. The male-dominated society wins no matter how they choose to treat men. There is no hope for them. Mizoguchi evoca l'atmosfera imbarazzante di Gion restituendo fedelmente il corrotto microcosmo del quartiere, nel quale convivono la figura tradizionale della geisha (simbolo del Giappone del passato) e quella moderna dell'arrrampicatrice sociale (simbolo del presente).

In questi due film non c19è un vero sviluppo drammatico, ma soltanto la descrizione di una situazione.

4. Zangiku monogakari e il film storico

Il rigore del regime militare lo induce però a ripiegare sul film storico, e fino alla fine della guerra non produce altro che storie di samurai, anche se intromettendo qua e là qualcuno dei suoi temi maggiori.

Zangiku Monogatari/ Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939) è ambientato invece nell'ambiente del teatro e nel "Periodo Meiji". Il film è girato emulando lo spirito del "kabuki": un taglio incisivo, scene concitate e potenti, che seguono inquadrature lente, un vero "tour de force" in fase di montaggio.

Il protagonista, adottato da una famiglia di attori, non si sente in grado di fare l'attore "oyama" e fugge con la sua balia comprensiva per unirsi a una compagnia di guitti. Sospinto dalla fedele e generosa amante, poco a poco il fallito "oyama" diventa un provetto attore "kabuki", accolto trionfalmente a Tokyo. La balia allora si tira in disparte, per rispettare la differenza di classe, e muore.

The four-hour samurai epic Genroku Chushingura/ The Treasury of Loyal Retainers of the Genroku Era/ 47 Ronin (1942) is a tribute to self-sacrificing men of impeccable moral principles. The "Genroku Ako" incident is a real historical event: in 1701-02 during the Tokugawa shogunate (the "Edo" period) a lord Asano tried to assassinate a lord Kira, the master of ceremonies at the shogun court who had insulted him, and, despite failing to kill him, was condemned to commit suicide and his estate was confiscated so that his 300 samurais were ruined, but 47 of them led by chamberlain Oishi swore to take revenge on Kira and honor the "bushido" code of the samurais. They waited two years and then they attacked and killed Kira. The shogun condemned them to commit suicide too. Japanese cinema had already produced several adaptations of the story, including a version by Kunio Watanabe in 1958 and one by Hiroshi Inagaki in 1962, and countless literary tales existed, notably the kabuki play by Seika Mayama that Mizogushi employed as the blueprint for his version. Mizoguchi's version omits several aspects of the story and focuses on the character of Oishi, whose indecision seems to be modeled after Shakespeare's Hamlet. The whole film is a tragic testament to the epos and madness of the code of honor.

Ancient feudal Japan is a country of witches and demons, forbidden to foreigners, fragmented in feuds run by lords who rely on samurais. The samurai of a disgraced lord is demoted to be a "ronin". It is a time of peace and the samurais no longer fight. At the shogun's castle at Edo (Japan's capital) Kira, the master of ceremony, is preparing a ceremony. Asano of Ako overhears him insulting him and tries to assassinate him with a sword, but only wounds him. In Ako Asano's lady tells his concubines that they have to cheer up Asano who has been in a depressed mood, but is informed by two messengers that her husband has been condemned to commit suicide and his estate to be confiscated. We see that the inquisitor Tamon begs the shogun to reconsider the sentence, which seems too harsh, especially because Kira is not punished at all for provoking the incident, and, after all, Asano behaved according to samurai code. The sentence was decided by Yanagisawa, who is a relative of Kira. At home lady Asano and the concubines cry. At Asano's castle in Ako the samurais are shocked by the news: they will be demoted to ronins. Asano's chamberlain Oishi is calm, however, and simply counts the silver and the gold, determined that the peasants get money to survive when the estate is confiscated. This upsets the other samurais who want him to take action. Oishi is still hoping that the shogun will change his mind. However, a messenger from Edo brings bad news: the sentence is confirmed and confiscation will happen soon, and Kira was not even reprimanded. Oishi takes the news gracefully: he is grateful that the shogun's ceremonies were not disrupted by Asano's gesture. The samurais are angry because they feel an injustice is being carried out and also they fear their life is ruined. They eagerly await for Oishi's decision A diplomat dispatched by Oishi returns from Kyoto, the imperial court, and tells Oishi that he apologized on behalf of the whole clan as instructed by Oishi, but people there don't blame Asano and in fact he heard rumors that the emperor in person is sorry that Asano failed to kill Kira. This is little consolation as the power resides in the shogun. Ako's samurais loudly demand revenge against Kira but Kira's house is guarded by 150 soldiers. Oishi is still undecided about what to do. His childhood friend, the hot-tempered Tokubei, angry at Oshii, packs up and is ready to march on Edo by himself, but Oishi calmly tells him that he won't take orders from him.. Tokubei's 14-year-old son Monzaemon begs Oishi to give them permission so that they can save the honor of the Ako clan, but Oishi insists that they wait for his decision. When the shogun again refuses to change his mind about the fate of Ako, finally Oishi announces his decision to the assembled samurais of Ako: he instructs them to lie low in a Buddhist temple and patiently wait for the right time. There is only death and defeat if they attack Kira now. 46 of them sign with blood to follow his instructions. Tokubei, however, doesn't wait: he kills his son and kills himself. Oishi secludes himself in his country house. Oishi changes. He neglects his family. One year does by. His wife Riku's father wants her to leave him, but she is loyal to him. She is convinced that Oishi has a reason to behave like a bad husband and a bad father. Oishi has been missing for three days from home. An influential relative is ashamed of seeing him jobless and drunk, and has arranged for him to be hired by the imperial advisor Konoe while a petition is submitted to the shogun via his nephew Tsunatoyo (the future sixth shogun) for the restoration of the Asano clan to Asano's brother. Oishi is drunk and lies on the floor but seems to accept. Two of his samurais overhear it, call him a traitor for accepting the job, and decide to avenge Asano on their own. His own son is ready to abandon him and join them, but Oishi explains that Asano was like a younger brother to him and he has vowed to avenge his death at the right time. Some time later Oishi is informed that Asano's brother has been arrested and the clan will not be restored. Finally, Oishi decides to leave for Edo and joined the conspirators. His wife Riku, under pressure from her father, demands that Oishi divorces her, and Oishi reluctantly agrees.
The second part of the film takes place in Edo at the court of the shogun. We see Tsunatoyo in charge of making the decision He is torn because he has been informed that Asano loyalists want to kill Kira but restoring the Asano clan would deprive Oishi of a reason to join them. Basically, if he restores the clan, he saves Kira's life. However, he also sympathyzes with the cause of the ronins and listen attentively when a former Asano vassal, Sukeyemon, and presumably one of the conspirators, blames Tsunatoyo for not doing anything to save Asano's life Kira shows up for a noh performance and Sukeyemon thinks it's a unique chance to kill him, but Tsunatoyo in person stops him and scolds him: killing Kira while the petition is still pending would be viewed as Oishi insulting the shogun. Tsunatoyo almost cries explaining Oishi's dilemma. Tsunatoyo obviously has no sympathy for Kira and respects Oishi.
Oishi visits Asano's widow on Asano's death day. The widow's father wants to prevent the meeting because Asano's family has already suffered a lot and a plot against Kira can only make things worse for them, but the widow is eager to see Oishi after three years. The widow and her loyal Lady Toda, instead, resent that he is not ready to avenge Asano and kill Kira. Oishi behaves as if he is still hesitating. The widow mentions that in a few months Kira will retire to the realm of his son Uesugi, where it will be difficult to kill him. Oishi leaves her a book of poems that turns out to be the accounting book in which he has recorded how he spent the money of Ako to assist the former vassals. The following morning someone delivers a packet that contains a long scroll with the description of how Oishi led the ronins to attack Kira. The ronins are laying Kira's head on Asano's grave in a landscape covered with snow.
Having accomplished their mission but also broken the law, some of the ronins are ready to commit suicide, but Oishi decides that the ethical thing to do is to surrender to the shogun and let the shogun decide whether they have to be treated like criminals or treated with dignity. They are confined in a mansion and eventually sentenced to die by committing suicide, which is viewed by them as a honor. A woman pretends to be a young man and asks Oishi to be allowed to serve in the mansion, but Oishi realizes that she is not an aspiring samurai: she confesses that she just want to be near the fiance who deserted her on the wedding day, one of the ronin, Isogai. She, Omino, cries that she just wants to know if Isogai loves her or only used her for the assassination plan (the wedding allowed Isogai to play his part in the plan, although this is not explained in the film). Oishi denies her wish because it would distract Isogai from his duty as a samurai, and tells her to despire Isogai for betraying her. She accuses Oishi of placing samurai honor over humanity and turning it into torture. Oishi relents and allows the meeting. Isogai ignores her tears and pretends not to know her, but on the way out he utters a few words to the extent that he indeed loves her. The messenger arrives with the verdict: the 47 ronin are sentenced to commit suicide, which is the honorable way to die. The men bend in gratitude. They then walk in a single line towards the room where the sentence will be carried out. But they are interrupted when they see Omino dying: she had already decided to kill herself to save her father's honor, but now she dies to prove to the world that Isogai didn't love her, that he was only true to the samurai code. Isogai watches her die. Her last words are for him to commit suicide honorably. The names of the samurai are called one by one, and one by one they kill themselves. Oishi is the last one: he is happy that all the ronin died gracefully. Oishi walks to his own self-execution with the same kind smile and composure that he had throughout the story .

The biopic Utamaru o Meguru Gonin no Onna/ Utamaro and his Five Women (1946), based on Kanji Kunieda's novel about the 18th century painter Kitagawa Utamaro, famous for his portraits of women, amounts to a portrait of Mizoguchi himself and his own obsession portraiying women. Like the painter, Mizoguchi too refuses to compromise. All the models of Utamaru's masterpieces "betray" him, just like all the actresses of Mizoguchi's masterpieces went on to have their own career. Like the painter, who returns to painting after being sentenced, Mizoguchi too returns to his art after Japan's defeat in the war. It is also a film of weak men and strong women, a meditation on what really makes the world move beneath the surface of warfare.

Samurai and concubines walk slowly through the main avenue of the capital city Edo. Koide (Eisai Seinosuke), a samurai holding a sword, is walking away with the geisha Yukie. Suddenly he decides to buy a woodblock print for the beautiful girl, whose father is an influential painter, Kano, in the traditional style. He stops by a print shop and is shown several prints of famous beauties. One of them, by the painter Kitagawa Utamaru, bears a description that disparages the Kano style of painting. Koide gets upset and demands to talk to the shopowner. he is told that the owner is in the red-light district. The geisha tries in vain to stop him. He is determined to take revenge and even wants to kill the man. Koide finds the shopowner, Juzaburo Tsutaya, in a tea house, drinking with friends and geishas. Koide shows him the offending print and introduces himself as a painter of the Kano school. Tsutaya is immediately terrified and one of his friends remarks to the others that Utamaru is in fact disparaging the Kano school all the time. Upon hearing this one of the geishas, Oshin, freaks out, worries for Utamaru and sends someone to warn him. Meanwhile, Utamaru and his servant Take are at the place of a geisha named Okita: his paintings of her turned her into one of the three beauties of Edo, but the girl, ungrateful, is seeing other men and in fact she's not there. When she returns, Okita confesses that she has seen a young man named Shozaburo. Just then Oshin's messanger arrives telling Utamaro to stay away from Oshin's tea-house. Utamaro instead gets curious and heads straight for the teahouse. Koide challenges Utamaro to a duel. Utamaro replies by challenging Koide to a painting duel. They both paint a girl, and Koide recognizes that Utamaro is the better painter. Tsutaya, Utamaro and Koide then visit a house to meet Edo's best tattoo artist. When they arrive, the lady of the house tells them that the artist refuses to tattoo a geisha, Orui (aka Dayu Tagasode), because she's too beautiful. Utamaro offers to paint her back. Koide is amazed by the result. Alone with his geisha Yukie, he tells her that he no longer believes in the painting tradition of his and her father. She cries because she fears this ends their relationship. In fact, her father Kano walks in and tells Koide to get out. Utamaro accepts to become a Utamaru disciple even if it means losing his aristocratic status. Utamaru and Koide walk back to Oshin's teahouse and find an ecstatic Oshin who tells tham that Utamaro's servant Take just proposed to her. Take also tells Utamaru that Orui has eloped with Okita's lover Shozaburo. Utamaru realizes that he painted his masterpiece on a canvas that has feelings and now the masterpiece is lost forever. Oshin remarks that Shozaburo is a seducer that no girl can resist. Okita is hurt. When asked why she doesn't stick to Utamuru, she replies that Utamuru likes all women. When a man comes around selling newspapers that already talk about Shozaburo and Orui, Okita buys all the copies and throws them in the stove. Utamaru runs into Kano's daughter Yukie who would like to see Keido again, but Keido has just been seduced by Okita, and in general he is enjoying the life of ordinary people, bored of the aristocratic world that Yukie represents. Moved by Yukie's passion, Utamaru tries to convince Okita to dump Keido but she refuses. Utamaru gets into a depression and his friends worry that the quality of his paintings is declining. A friend has the idea to take Utamaru on a trip to the land of Matsudaira, a lord who forces his ladies in waiting to bath naked at the lake. Four men peek from the window of their hotel room as numerous girls assemble on the beach and begin to strip (actually they just remove the kimono but they remain completely covered in a gown). Then the lord comes with his concubines and sits enjoying the show of the girls swimming in front of him. Utamaru falls in love with a humble girl, Oran, and immediately starts drawing a portrait. Meanwhile, Okita runs away after hearing that Shozaburo is nearby and Koedo is hurt. Utamaru surprises him by showing him that Yukie has become one of his workers at the woodblock printing shop. Utamaru is trying to bring them together again. Suddenly, guards take Utamaru to the magistrate because some of his prints have offended the shogun. Koide, alone with Oran, is immediately conquered by her beauty and takes over drawing her portrait, ignoring Yukie who is sitting next to him. Yukie walks away, heartbroken again. Utamaru is released but handcuffed for 50 days. He learns that Keido took Oran home and then disappeared. Okita finds the runaway couple and confronts Orui, the woman who has stolen Shozaburo from her. The two girls are both madly in love and neither is willing to give up. Okita pays two porters to literally kidnap the meek Shozaburo. Oshin visits the handcuffed Utamaru: she and his servant Take announce their engagement. Utamaru receives a letter from Koedo that he has fallen ill and needs money. Yukie hears of it and immediately offers her savings. Utamaru dispatches Take and Yukie to deliver the money. But another humiliation awaits Yukie: they discover that he is living with Oran. Okita proudly informs Utamaru that she brough Shozaburo back. Afraid that Yukie is thinking of suicide, he sends Okita to stop her. Take tells Okita that he has seen Orui nearby. And Shozabuto has disappeared again. Okita grabs a knife, looks for them, and stabs both to death. Okita then returns to Utamaro's house, ready to face arrest and execution in the name of true love, and tells Utamaru that it's the same logic of his passion for painting at all costs. Yukie and Oshin join her in admitting that they too learned to be true to themselves. Finally the handcuffs are removed and Utamaru immediately returns to painting.

Subito dopo la guerra si dedica a storie di donne fra cui Utamaru o Meguru Gonin no Onna/ Utamaro and his Five Women (1946), Josei no Shori/ Victory of Women (1946), storia del processo a una disgraziata difesa da un'avvocatessa, Joyu Sumako no Koi/ The Love of the Actress Sumako (1947), in cui un'attrice ambiziosa conduce alla rovina il capocomico, Yoru no Onuatachi/ Women of the Night (1948), his venture into Italian-style neorealism, set in a bombed city of contemporary post-war Japan, che si fregia di una colluttazione fra prostitute, nel quale Mizoguchi riprende a torturare e degradare le sue eroine nel solito sadico rituale di identificazione lirica e morale con la femminilità.

5. Il Nuovo Umanesimo

Waga Koi wa Moenu/ Flame of My Love (1949)

Con Yuki Fujin Ezu/ Portrait of Madame Yuki (1950), in cui una moglie trascurata che s'innamora di un musicista, Oyusama Musashino Fujin/ Miss Oyu (1951), e poi con Musashino Fujin/ Lady Musashino (1951), che narra il suicidio di una nobildonna incapace di inserirsi nel Giappone del dopoguerra, ha inizio la fase del "nuovo umanesimo".

Oyusama Musashino Fujin/ Miss Oyu (1951), based on Junichiro Tanizaki's novella "The Reed Cutter" (1932), and his first collaboration with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, is bogged down by the implausible story of sisterly devotion but introduces a neurotic element in Mizoguchi's psychological portraits. It also a new protagonist: natural beauty. Visual composition and photography compensate for the somewhat trivial acting.

A house surrounded by lush vegetation. An aunt introduces young man Shinnosuke, whose mother died when he was just four, to a prospect, the shy Oshizu, but he is more impressed with her elder sister Oyu, a widow with a son. After the meeting Oyu is pleased, but the young man still hesitates. They visit Oyu while she's hosting a koto performance and she's wearing a traditional costume. The young man is again impressed by Oyu and tells his aunt that he would like to marry her, but her aunt explains that, once married, a woman cannot leave her husband's family without their consent, even if the husband is dead. One day Shinnosuke runs into Oyu as she is fainting for a heatstroke and takes her to a friend's house and then stays with her, tempted to kiss her while she is unconscious. When she awakes, she tries again to convince him to marry Oshizu. She tells him that it would make her happy and he accepts, but only to make her happy, without disclosing his love for her. The shy Oshizu is happy to hear the news. Their older brother also approves. After the wedding Oshizu reveals to Shinnosuke that she made a vow not to consummate the marriage because she believes that Oyu is in love with Shinnosuke. Shinnosuke then confesses his own love for Oyu. Oshizu wants to be treated like a sister and is willing to live like a nun to enable their happiness. One year late three they all visit a temple immersed in lush vegetation, which reminds them of the place where they first met. The manage a trois continues. Watching them together, the maid of the hotel thinks that Oyu, not Oshizu, is Shinnosuke's wife. Oshizu suffers the humiliation in silence. She even tells Shinnosuke that one day Oyu will be free and they won't need her (Oshizu) anymore. When Oyu's son gets sick, the family blames Oyu who neglected him. They heard gossip about Oyu and Shinnosuke. When the boy dies, they send Oyu away. The older brother proposes a way out of this: Oyu should marry a sake merchant who fell in love with her, so she shouldn't belong to the rich family anymore and the gossip would die anyway. Oshizu, instead, encourages Oyu to marry Shinnosuke as she is now free. Oshizu now confesses that she never consummated her marriage and the purpose of the marriage was only to allow Oyu and Shinnosuke to be close. Oyu is shocked and demands the exact opposite: that Oshizu and Shinnosuke consummate their marriage. Oyu departs, determined to marry the sake merchant. Three years later Oshizu and Shinnosuke haven't heard from Oyu and Oshizu is pregnant. But Oshizu dies giving birth. Oyu is now living in a luxury mansion overlooking a river and a lush garden. She is playing the koto at a moon-viewing party when her servants find a baby abandoned in front of the gate with a note from Shinnosuke asking her to raise the child. He has vowed never to see Oyu again. Shinnosuke leaves in the boat slowly swallowed by the reeds. He gets off and, alone among the reeds, sings a melancholy song to the moon.

L'esilio volontario nel filone dei film storici aveva perfezionato la già notevole familiarità con il passato remoto. Il mondo di briganti, pirati, signorotti prepotenti e soldati di ventura, di uomini erranti con le loro passioni sfrenate, è un riflesso psicologico della spietata società moderna; tanto in quel mitico passato quanto nella società moderna non esiste sicurezza: gli abitanti dei palazzi e delle capanne sono tutti nelle mani del fato, una guerra o una disgrazia o una fatalità o un rovescio economico possono gettarli sulla strada; dopo di che la loro vita si trasforma in un viaggio attraverso una terra sconfinata e selvaggia, dalla quale non possono sperare né rifugio né aiuto, ma dalla quale possono veder comparire la sagoma minacciosa di un predatore. In questa condizione di perenne precarietà si inserisce il contrasto di classe, che sovente causa la separazione da persone care, acuendo la solitudine dell'individuo nel paesaggio ostile, la struttura feudale calata in questo paesaggio allegorico infierisce quindi sul nomade sventurato, sempre più schiacciato, compresso, nella sua muta agonia.

L'ampia ricognizione nel passato procede di pari passo con l'introspezione psicologica femminile; Mizoguchi segue con compassione la degradazione della donna vittima inerme di quella (questa) società senza pietà.

Tutti i motivi di questa nuova stagione creativa comparivano già nei film del "nuovo realismo", e si possono sostanzialmente ricondurre all'autobiografismo che presiede fin dagli inizi alla sua creazione artistica. Ma in questo periodo il professionismo esemplare di Mizoguchi si tramuta in una forma d'arte rigorosissima, quasi ascetica: un equilibrio soprannaturale incatena gli oggetti e le persone ad un'inquadratura, finchè un movimento minimo, un gesto o un filo di vento o una crespa del lago, svelano il dramma acuto degli uomini, che sovente consiste proprio nella condanna a ripetere un gesto per tutta la vita.

Al fianco di Mizoguchi da anni, lo sceneggiatore Yoshikata Yoda è coautore dei capolavori di questo periodo.

Un ritmo fatto di sottili sfumature.

 

6. Saikaku ichidai onna

In Saikaku Ichidai Onna/ Life of Oharu (1952), an adaptation of Saikaku Ihara's 17th-century novel "The Woman Who Loved Love", la vecchia O-Haru rievoca la propria giovinezza, nel Giappone dei samurai. Viveva nel palazzo imperiale con i suoi nobili genitori quando si innamorò di un servo; quel blasfemo a-more fu punito con la decapitazione del servo e con la cacciata di lei e della sua famiglia; umiliata dall'ira paterna, divenne la concubina di un principe; ma la sua bellezza scatenò le gelosie della corte del principe, che alla fine la dovette scacciare; il padre, sempre più mal disposto verso di lei, piuttosto che tenerla in famiglia preferì venderla a una casa di geishe. Tentò di rifarsi una vita; ingannata da un poco di buono, trovò però un uomo disposto a sposarla; ma questi morì, lasciandola misera e sola sulla strada. E sulla strada, prostituta del genere più laido, la ritrovò suo figlio, che avrebbe voluto riportarla a corte, sfidando l'ipocrisia dei cortigiani; ma O- Haru preferì, per non nuocergli, far perdere le proprie tracce. O'Haru racconta come e` diventata una vecchia prostituta che deve elemosinare clienti per strada.
Figlia di un nobile casato, fece parte della corte imperiale fino al giorno che si innamoro` di un paggio. Fuggirono insieme, ma, scoperti, lui venne condannato a morte e lei all'esilio con i genitori. Nessuno e` interessato alla sua storia d'amore: i genitori sono nella miseria per colpa sua. La fortuna sembra cambiare quando un messaggero invitato dal Signore locale alla ricerca della donna perfetta sceglie O'Haru su tutte le altre candidate della regione. I genitori sono contenti, ma O'Haru e` ancora fedele alla memoria del suo amato e va al palazzo come a un funerale. Tanto piu` che deve semplice fare da concubina e dare al Signore un figlio maschio. Accolta con freddezza dalla moglie del Signore, e obbligata al rituale gelido di palazzo, vive come in una prigione. La nascita del bambino la allieta per qualche minuto, ma viene subito rispedita ai genitori. Il padre era talmente convinto che lei sarebbe diventata ricca che ha fatto debiti. Quando si vede restituire la figlia, e` disperato. La obbliga praticamente a vendersi come cortigiana in un bordello delle vicinanze. Li` entra nelle grazie di un ricco, e di nuovo la sua fortuna sembra cambiare; ma il ricco si scopre essere un contraffattore, e lei viene licenziata per il suo carattere altezzoso. Accolta da due coniugi per bene come serva, si conquista la stima e la confidenza della moglie e il rispetto del marito, entrambi ignari del suo passato. La donna e` terrorizzata dal fatto che sta diventando calva. Uno dei servi si invaghisce di O'Haru. Un giorno pero` un mercante la riconosce e rivela ai coniugi il suo turpe segreto. La moglie diventa allora gelosa e la obbliga a tagliarsi i capelli. Il marito non la rispetta piu` e approfitta di lei. Un giovane timido la vuole in moglie e la fortuna sembra di nuovo cambiare. Si sposano e O'Haru e` felice nel negozietto di ventagli. Ma il marito viene ucciso da un ladro. Non le rimane neppure l'eredita`. Decide di farsi monaca buddista, ma il vecchio padrone viene a visitarla e la costringe a darsi a lui. Una monaca li sorprende e la scaccia. Il padrone licenzia anche il servo che la adora. Il servo si unisce a O'Haru, ma ha derubato il padrone, e quando lo prendono O'Haru rimane di nuovo sola. Vaga per le strade senza cibo e senza soldi. Le uniche che si impietosiscono del suo caso sono alcune prostitute. E cosi` diventa prostituta. Ma ormai e` vecchia e non ha piu` successo. Un uomo la paga persino per la sua bruttezza. Nel tempio vede le statue buddiste mutarsi nelle facce dei suoi uomini. Quando non sembra piu` esserci nulla da fare, la madre viene a dirle che il Signore e` morto e suo figlio e` il suo erede. O'Haru viene chiamata a corte, ma il clan che regge il potere non la vuole vicino al Signore e la scacciano di nuovo. Diventa una vecchia mendicante. Il paesaggio e` semplice e grigio. La natura non si muove, come in una fotografia. Mizoguchi ricostruisce la vita del 1600 con accuratezza certosina. Il tema del film e` i rituali, i codici sociali, i condizionamenti che impediscono a un'anima di vivere le sue emozioni.
La ineluttabile decadenza di O-Haru e la sua disperata rassegnazione costituiscono una veemente denuncia della condizione femminile nella società patriarcale e una commossa apologia dell'animo femminile. La donna viene sublimata e quasi idealizzata attraverso una regia pittorica e una recitazione stilizzata, che creano un'atmosfera irreale, come se l'azione non avvenisse in un tempo e un luogo ben definito, ma in un "sempre" che si trova "ovunque".

Gion Bayashi/ A Geisha (1953)

7. Ugetsu Monogatari

Questo clima fiabesco, confortato dalla preferenza accordato al quieto trascorrere del pianosequenza rispetto alle concitazioni del montaggio, culmina nelle splendide scenografie di Ugetsu Monogatari/ Tales of Moonlight and Rain (1953), ambientato fra contadini e samurai del 16esimo secolo. Ispirato da racconti di Ueda Akinari e Guy de Maupassant, il film contiene una storia doppia, originata dalle razzie compiute durante le guerre feudali ai danni di villaggi inermi.

During an age of constant warfare, Genjuro (a vase maker) and his brother (a peasant) are poor samurais that live in a rural village. They decide to go to the city that is booming after a new army took over it. Genjuro comes back with a lot of money while Tobei tries to join a group of real (warring) samurai. However, they don't want him. Genjuro now has become greedy. He spends days and nights baking new pottery. Tobei and their wives help out. His wife Miyagi is not happy by the change: she preferred it when they were poor but worked happily together. But one day an army approachers, looting every house they find. The villagers flee in panic. Genjuro doesn't want to leave before his pottery is baked and risks his life. The villagers live for a few days in the forest. One night Genjuro decides to return to the house, despite his wife's protestations that he will get himself killed. She follows him anyway. They find that the pottery is baked and intact. They and Tobei and his wife Ohama load the pottery onto a boat and leave for the city again, dreaming of becoming rich. Along the way they meet a man who has been attacked by pirates. Fearing for his little son's life, Genjuro decides to leave his wife Miyagi and the child near the village.
The three (Genjuro, Tobei and Ohama) reach the city. The lady of a mountain mansion buys all of Genjuro's pottery and asks for him to deliver it. Tobei buys an armor to become a real samurai. Ohama looks for him all over town and, ironically, is raped by a group of samurais. Genjuro follows a guide (a beautiful ethereal girl) to the mansion of Lady Wakasa. He is told to marry the lady if he wants his art to improve. Genjuro doesn't tell her that he already has a wife and moves in with her.
In the meantime his faithful wife narrowly escapes the hordes that raid the village again. Tobei is accepted by a powerful samurai after beheading a notorious warrior. He is given a horse, an armor and a small army. His first thought is to travel to his village and show to his wife that he has finally become somebody. On the way he decides to rest at a brothel. What a surprise to find his wife among the prostitutes... She cries that he abandoned her. He is sincerely sorry and throws away the samurai outfit to live again with her.
Genjuro is scorned by the village near the mansion because he lives with ghosts. An old man reproaches him for abandoning his family. Genjuro walks back to the mansion and confesses that he is married. He begs forgiveness but wants to go back to his wife. The old maid or mother of the lady tells him that she brough back the lady to the world of the living so that she could fully enjoy the pleasures of a wife. Now he is condemning her to lose those pleasures. Torn by guilt and desire, he collapses. When he wakes up, he is surrounded by men who accuse him of being a thief. The mansion lies in ruin. It was all an illusion.
Genjuro returns home to his faithful wife Miyagi, who is not distressed that he lost all his money but happy that he is back with her. Alas, it is only a dream. In the morning he cannot find her and the village master tells him how she was killed. Genjuro curses his mistakes and goes back to being just a hard-working family man. At last he has become the man of her dreams. By the same token, Tobei has gone back to his farming. They both despise war.
Questa seconda vicenda presenta due fantasmi di donne opposte: la principessa è una giovane vedova senza amore, l'estrema rarefazione cioè della ricorrente figura di donna degradata a prostituta per effetto di una sciagura. Il fantasma che lo accoglie al ritorno è invece quello di una donna disertata che anche dall'aldilà continua a fargli del bene. Il cinema morale di Mizoguchi è in effetti tutto risolto nella doppia diserzione e nel doppio pentimento.

 

8. Sansho Dayu Sansho Dayu/ Sansho the Bailiff (1954) is his most elegant film (Kazuo Miyagawa's cinematography is co-protagonist) and a multi-layered film of powerful emotions as the forces of good fight the forces of evil. Set in medieval Japan, it is an adaptation of a short story by Mori Ogai.

The tale is set in prehistoric times and in a idyllic landscape. A family comprising a woman, a daughter (Anju), a son (Zushio) and their female servant, walks in woods. Their father is in a faraway place. A flashback shows a time when the countryside had been devastated by many years of famine and people were ready to riot when a general demanded more men to fight war. The governor (Zushio's father) did not approve of the general's brutal tactic and was sent into exile. His family is now camping by the river, building a hatch hut. The girl remembers how the people were upset with the governor's inability to save their lives, and how the governor sent wife and kids away, telling Zushio to have mercy and to protect his sister, and giving Zushio a a family treasure, a statuette of Kwannon. Now they are at the mercy of the elements in a country famous for bandits and slave traders. An old priestess finds them and offers them shelter, despite an official ban against helping nomads. The mother tells her that she stayed for six years with her brother but now she neds to find another place to live. The old priestess provides them with boatmen because, she says, a boat is safer than traveling overland. Instead the boatmen turn out to be thugs who separate the women (mother and servant) from the children on two boats heading to two different slave markets. All of this happens in a vast silent lake on a cloudy day. The bandits have trouble selling such young children, who can't do hard work, but eventually they find someone cruel enough to take them as slaves: Sansho the bailiff, who administers and a manor on behalf of a minister of the imperial court. They are immediately put to work despite their young age, among indifferent bystanders who are slaves like them. They witness the cruel punishment of a slave who tried to escape: Sansho in person brands her with hot steel on her forehead. Sansho's son Taro is a kinder being: he complains but he can't oppose his father's will. Disgusted, Taro takes the chikdren under his protection. Zuisho tells him the last words of his father about mercy. The children want to keep their names secret so nobody will know who they really are (aristocrats), and Taro gives them new names: Zuisho becomes Mutsu, and Anju becomes Shinobu. Taro promises he will help them in due time. Meanwhile, an emissary from the minister praises Sansho's management of the manor and invites him to visit the court.
Years later Mutsu/Zuisho has become a ferocious servant of Sansho. When an old man tries to escape after spending all his life as a slave, Mutsu does not hesitate to brand him in front of Sansho to prove his loyalty. Everybody hates Mutsu and fears his sister. However, Anju is a kind and merciful girl. Anju takes under her protection a new slave, teenager Kohagi. She was sold in the island where her mother was sold ten years earlier. The girl does not remember such a womman but then starts singing a melancholy song about Zushio and Anju that she heard from a courtesan names Nakagimi. Obviously their mother too changed her name in the island where she was kept as a slave.
In fact, their mother just tried to flee but is captured at the beach. It's not the first time and her master is fed up. Therefore he orders that her tendon be cut. Left a cripple, she still limps to the beach to stare at the mainland where her children are and calls their names.
Anju does not recognize his brother anymore. Anju still hopes in a better future as the daughter of an aristocrat while Zuisho has realized that they are servants and the only way to survive is to serve faithfully and brutally.
Namihi, an old woman, gets too sick to work, so Sansho orders to take her to the mountain to die. Mutsu/Zuisho is assigned to do it and he does it without any remorse. Zuisho carries her to the cemetery on the mountain where the old woman is just dumped in a landscape of stelae and skeletons. Anju, who has followed her brother, hears her mother singing for them and it moves Zuisho who decides to flee with her. Anju tells him to go while she delays the guards, and only begs him to take the old dying woman with him. Zuisho loads the old woman on his shoulders and runs through the woods. He's finally obeying his father's admonition to have mercy, even at the risk of being captured.
Sansho immediately orders Anju to be tortured in order to find out where her brother is going, but the old woman who is guarding Anju helps her escape. Anju follows her mother's song to a lake. Then, knowing that she will be captured and tortured, she slowly walks into the lake and drowns herself until only ripples and bubbles are left on the surface of the lake. The posse looks for Zuisho in a temple compound, but they are fooled by a monk who sends them in the wrong direction. In reality Zuisho is there and the monk is taking care of the old woman. The monk is Taro, Sansho's son. Zuisho is determined to travel to the imperial court to plead his case. Taro, who had tried the same and, disillusioned, became a monk, helps Zuisho to try on his own. Taro gives him a letter to get access to the prime minister.
When he arrives at the imperial court, Zuisho begs on his knees to talk to the prime minister but the prime minister refuses to even look at him and the guards take him away. The guards find the family treasure on him and think he stole it, but the prme minister recognizes it as proof that he is the son of a former governor because his own family gave the statuette to Zuisho's family. Zuisho learns that his father died in exile. The prime minister now treats him with deference and appoints him governor of Sansho's district. First of all, Zuisho decides to abolish slavery, although he is advised that the manor is private property of a powerful minister who will probably have him discharged. Sansho's guards repel Zuisho's emissary and Sansho sends an emissary to ask for help from the minister. The slaves have already seen the imperial notices that announce the end of the slave trade. Zuisho personally leads the army to arrest Sansho and Sansho finally recognizes his old slave. Sansho tries to resist but Zuisho's army prevails and Sansho is sent into exile, while the slaves, at first incredulous and fearful, burn down the manor in a grotesque orgy. Zuisho asks about his sister and learns that she sacrificed herself to help him escape. Zuisho then resigns and travels to the island where his mother is supposedly held captive. He walks on foot around the island and inquires in the brothels. Old people tell him that his mother died but nobody is sure. Zuisho walks to the beach where the old woman used to spend her spare time, and finds an old blind lady singing the song about her children Zuisho and Anju: she spent her life mourning the loss of her children. "Isn't life torture"? He gives her the family treasure and finally she recognizes him.
La ricostruzione storica del mondo feudale non può trascurare quelle caratteristiche di violenza e crudeltà insiste nei meccanismi sociali dell'epoca. La trama "d'appendice", che alterna scene d'azione a scene patetiche è trasfigurata dalla poetica visione della vecchia madre che raccoglie alghe sulla costa deserta.

 

9. Chikamatsu Monogatari

Uwasa no Onna/ The Woman in the Rumor (1954)

Abjection and poetry are wed again in Chikamatsu Monogatari/ Crucified Lovers (1954), another story of a woman sacrificed by her family to a dishonest man, and a story of an impossible love. The plot is complex and the film is visually compelling. And it has multiple protagonists (it is the story of a victimized woman who is betrayed by everybody, it is the story of a honest worker who becomes a criminal to help the woman he has always loved in silence, and it is the story of a sordid miser who ruins himself to save his business).

Business is good at Ishun's print shop. His deputy Mohei is sick but they need him to prepare an important calendar for the imperial palace. Elsewhere in the house the master's wife, Osan, receives her brother Doki: he desperately needs money to pay mortgage or her family will lose their ancestral home. As their mother is coming, he hides. Her mother tells Osan that her brother risks detention for the unpaid debts. Osan is ashamed because she has begged her husband for money before. Meanwhile, a very cute young servant, Otama, cares for Mohei like a wife. Ishun arrives at the shop, radiating power and arrogance. He is much older than Osan. he is concerned about the big order of calendars that needs to be fulfilled as soon as possible and doesn't care that Mohei is sick. Ishun is trying to seduce Otama, an orphan with no family. The only way she can save herself is by claiming that she is engaged to Mohei. Later Otama begs Mohei to tell the master that they are engaged, explaining that otherwise she'll be forced to have sex with the master. Mohei refuses and tells her to keep quiet or she'll cause some major trouble. There is a commotion outside: a procession in the street parading a samurai's wife and her lover (a servant) carried on a horse to be crucified in public. The women of the shop comment that, when a man cheats, nothing happens to him, and, when a woman cheats, she gets crucified, and they feel sorry for the lovers, who after all didn't kill anybody.
Mohei works all night to finish the calendars. Osan asks the exhausted Mohei for help to secure the loan from her husband. Mohei is a good soul who promises to find a way to pay her the sum, which is a trifle in the master's finances. But Ishun catches Mohei in the act of falsifying a receipt for the amount that Osan needs. Otama tries in vain to take the blame. Ishun decides to call the police and have Mohei arrested. Otama is confined to her room. Osan begs her husband for mercy but does not confess that the money was for her. Later Osan visits Otama in her room and promises to have her pardoned but Otama tells her that Ishun will not pardon her because she has rejected him as a lover. Now Osan is furious with her cheating husband. When Mohei escapes at night and visits Otama to bid goodbye, he finds Osan instead, waiting to catch her husband in the act. Just then one of Ishun's men finds out that Mohei has escaped and finds him in Otama's room with Osan. The master is coming back home after a night with geishas and, alerted, accuses Osan of adultery. Mohei can't be found anywhere; and then Osan also disappears. She has no place to go and, when she meets Mohei, she decides to follow him. He is afraid they will be accused of being lovers and be crucified. They spend the night in an inn.
Ishun throws a party for his imperial customers who ordered the calendars. The presumed adultery of his wife is kept secret to avoid a scandal that could ruin the business, but his men are chasing the two fugitives. A jealous competitor has sensed what is happening and predicts that the disgrace will bring the end of the printer's fortune, so he already tries to hire Ishun's second best printer away.
At Osan's ancestral home the brother Doki is resigned to be arrested and, believing that Osan truly cheated on her husband, accuses his mother of having caused all the trouble by forcing her daughter Osan to marry a man 30 years her senior for money. When they have lost all hope, they receive a package from Osan: she is sending them the money they need, that she claims to have borrowed from a friend, and a letter in which she professes her innocence.
Mohei and Osan are traveling disguised as beggars. They are almost caught by the police. They decide to commit suicide together in a lake. They row the boat to the middle of the lake and then prepare to jump, but at the last moment he confesses that he has always loved her and she changes her mind: now she wants to live (presumably wants to live the life that she could never live with her old husband). Now they are truly lovers. Meanwhile the miser at home is counting his money. He has overheard that they committed suicide in the lake and dispatches a trusted man to rescue the body of his wife, so that she is not found next to her lover, and the scandal can be avoided. The women of the shop already heard the gossip and Otama is devastated that Mohei is dead. The lovers, instead, have traveled on foot a long distance to reach the village of Mohei's father. When an old woman helps the injured Osan who cannot walk anymore, Mohei tries to part from her, believing that she could save herself if she simply returned to her husband; but now she refuses to leave him. Otama leaves the house, returning to her uncle's house, just when a nomadic seller, coming from the remote village, arrives to sell his merchandise, and innocently tells Ishun's men that he saw Osan and Mohei. Ishun immediately dispatches his men to capture the lovers.
The lovers have reached the village of Mohei's father. His father is not really happy to see them: he believes that Mohei betrayed his master and therefore dishonored himself. However, he accepts to hide them in a cabin. When Ishun's men arrive, however, he does not resist the threat and reveals the fugitives' hideout. Mohei is entrusted to his father as a prisoner, under threat that he has to be kept until the police comes, but his father eventually frees him. Osan is taken to her family's home, where her ungrateful brother and ungrateful mother insist that she must return to her legitimate husband before he destroys their family. The inner circle of Ishun's friends and servants know the truth, but Ishun is still trying to hide the scandal from his customers. Mohei ruins all these plans because he reaches Osan's house and Osan is ready to leave again with him. The man who betrays them is her own brother Doki, who does not hesitate to sneak out of the house and alert Ishun. Realizing that Doki has gone to call Ishun, Osan's mother begs Mohei to surrender alone to the police and frantically opens the door for Ishun's men. The lovers escape in time. Mohei is finally arrested by the police. Osan turns herself in with him and confesses to adultery. But this is a problem for Ishun because he has only reported Mohei's crime (the forgery) and not the adultery, and therefore he himself (Mohei) is guilty of a crime. Ishun is ruined. Ishun's servants, who are shutting down the shop, run outside to watch the procession that parades Osan and Mohei on their way to crucifixion. Everybody has lost.

10. Yokiki Analoga sorte tocca alla protagonista di Yokihi/ Princess Yang Kwei Fei (1955), il suo primo film a colori, sorprendentemente ambientato in Cina durante la Tang Dynasty. Virtuosismi figurativi e allucinazioni poetiche si compenetrano in un mesto canto funebre.

Una serva assurge al rango di imperatrice per la benevolenza del sovrano e resta unica depositaria del potere alla morte di questi. I parenti abusano però della situazione, causando una dura reazione da parte degli ufficiali, in seguito alla quale la donna viene condannata a morte e impiccata a un albero morto.

Shin Heike Monogatari/ New Tales of the Tara Clan (1955) e` il suo ultimo capolavoro, ancora ambientato nell'antico mondo feudale.

Akasen Chitai/ Red-Light District/ Street of Shame (1956) è addirittura un catalogo di donne vituperate (le prostitute di una casa di tolleranza): chi si prostituisce per mantenere il figlio, chi per sopperire alla disoccupazione del marito, chi rifiutata dalla società per essere stata l'amante di uno straniero, chi venduta dai genitori. Questa volta però la storia è ambientata nel Giappone moderno.

One after the other Mizoguchi tells the story of women who sacrificed themselves for men, and were then blame for what they did and even abandoned or disowned by those very men. In the odd happy ending one of them avenges all of them.

The madame of a brothel named "Dreamland" created after the US occupation is worried because, bending to public opinion, the politicians are planning to ban prostitution. One of her best customers is actually one of the politicians who fights that bill. Her girls include the young and beautiful Yasumi, who is causing a quilt businessman to go bankrupt and who keeps asking money (with the silliest excuses) from a poor clerk who wants to marry her. A boy brings a new girl to the brothel, Mickey, She is more vulgar, cynical and westernized than the others, representing a new generation. Hanae, an older woman who has husband and child, has her own problems and is hardly envied by the others. At night the street is alive with music and aggressive girls. A nice boy comes looking for his mother Yumeko, one of the oldest prostitutes, who is too ashamed to meet him. He waits outside and starts crying when he sees her grabbing men in the street. He doesn't know that Yumeko became a prostitute in order to raise him. Hanae's husband is wating outside with their baby. They are very poor and have debts. He has lost his job and is sick. He talks about a friend's wife who is dying because his friend has been fire and doesn't have money to take her to a good hospital. Hanae is a strong woman and has hope for the future. She gives all her food to her husband. The radio talks about the antiprostitution bill. Mickey spends all her money and is constantly in debt. The politician gathers the girls and explains what would happen to them if the antiprostitution bill passed: they would all lose the money that they need. Mickey steals a customer from the older whore Yorie, who thus understands that she won't have customers forever. Hanae tells Yorie that the law allows them to leave and not pay debts. Yorie decides to leave and get married. The girls give Yorie wedding presents, except Mickey who sarcastically gives her a train ticket to come back when the marriage will fail. When the time comes to leave, Yorie starts crying because she realizes that her life is there. Yumeko takes train and walks to the village where her boy has been raised by his grandparents. However, her son is not there: he has found a good job in a toy factory.
Yasumi has a new customer, a man who claims to have lost his entire family in an air bombing. Hanae's husband tries to hang himself, but she calls him a coward. She is deterined to fight on until she'll get a better life. Things get worse for the brothel with fewer and fewer customers, scared by the antiprostitution movement. Mickey owes money, broke as usual. Yasumi, instead, keeps accumulating money and loaning it to the other girls. One day Yasmui sees the "widower": he is with his wife and children. Yasumi gets a huge sum from her naive "fiance" Aoki, who now hopes this will settle their engagement. Instead, Yasumi comes up with another improbable story: she claims to be sick and needing more money. Yasumi finds Yorie crying in the street: she's back, humiliated, lonely. Yorie gave up after being treated like a slave by her husband, a poor man. At least in the brothel she can spend what she earns. Yasumi is the only one who carefully saves money. She's the youngest but the smartest with money. She too became a prostitute because of a man: she had to bail her father out of jail. Her life was ruined forever because they didn't have enough money and now she is determined never to be poor again. Mickey's father shows up, an old broken man. He tells her that her mother died. Her sister can't get married because of Mickey's reputation and her brother can't get a government job. All her fault. But soon we learn the other side of the story: he remarried quickly one of his many mistresses after breaking his wife's heart with cheating on her all the time. Mickey has joined the very profession that her father always sponsored, and now Mickey enoys seeing her hypocritical father suffer. She kicks him out of the brothel.
Yumeko keeps trying to see her son. Finally, he accepts and they meet at the factory where he works. She dreams of them living together, but he has no intention of having anything to do with a prostitute. He is studying to become electrician, besides working a hard honest job. She is proud of him but he is ashamed of her. She is afraid of old age and begs him. She reminds him that she did it to raise him. She begs him but he is disgusted by her and runs away from her. He disowns her own mother who became a prostitute so that today he could be what he is.
At the brothel Mickey comments these outcomes, as usual, cynically; but she's the one who is always right. A new, very young, girl arrives: her father is a miner who had an accident and her mother decided this was the best course of action. The madame has to initiate the teenager to the profession. Yumeko goes mad. Aoki finally realizes that he's been tricked all the time by Yasumi, who has no intention of marrying a poor clerk. She admits it to him. She tells him coldly that he's a salesman and sells goods, and she sells her body. Aoki is desperate because he stole money from his firm for her, and now he has neither. He demands his money back or he is ruined. She refuses to give him his money. He tries to kill her and runs away. Yasumi would have rather died than return the money she earned with deceit.
The radio announces that the antiprostituion bill has been killed again. The politician gives the goood news to Mickey, Hanae and Yorie. None of them smiles. Hanae's husband brings the bad news that they have been evicted. What lies ahead for all of them is more misery.
There is one exception though. Time goes by and Yasumi gets her own shop. The other girls are impressed that she made it by deceiving men. Meanwhile, madame is starting the new girl in the business and Mickey teaches her how to grab men in the street. The teenager timidly begins her profession.

Mizoguchi died in 1956.

(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )