ASIAN FILM - Review
10:00 - 8th December 2013, by David West

Late Mizoguchi

This collection brings eight works by the great Kenji Mizoguchi to Blu-ray in a lavish package from Eureka's Masters Of Cinema line. Mizoguchi died in 1956, and this selection covers the last years of his life. However, there is no sense of a director past his creative peak, or of a filmmaker whose energy had been spent in his youth. Many of the films here are considered amongst the finest from the golden age of Japanese cinema. The thread that runs through these stories is how women suffer because of, and for, the men in their lives.

One of only two films that Mizoguchi shot in colour, the lavish and lurid Yokihi tells of the tragic love between the Chinese Emperor Xuanzong and his concubine.

Sansho Dayo is one of three films, alongside The Life Of Oharu (not included here) and the haunting Ugetsu Monogatari (present and correct), for which Mizoguchi won the Silver Lion three years in a row at the Venice Film Festival. It is a heartbreaking story about a family ripped apart when the mother is sold into prostitution and her children are sent to become slaves working for Sansho, a brutal and cruel landowner.

Akasen Chitai concerns the women working in a brothel in the 1950s, worried about money, supporting their families and the looming possibility of a crackdown on prostitution as the government debates making the practice illegal. Machiko Kyo is brilliant as Mickey, a very modern and cynical girl who comes to The Dreamland Salon brothel looking for work. A far cry from the refinement of the geisha, the girls try to drag men in off the street. It is very funny in places, but at heart it is a story about women desperate for love working in a business where sex is for sale.

Mizoguchi is renowned for the sympathetic treatment of women in his films. Oyu-sama deals with the unspoken love between a widow and her sister's betrothed, while in Chikamatsu Monogatari, a woman is forced to leave home after she is falsely accused of adultery. Gion Bayashi deals with the declining fortunes of the geisha after World War II and in Uwasa No Onna, Yukiko loses her fiancé when his family discovers that her mother runs a brothel. The plight of the women in Mizoguchi's films reflected his own life. When he was a boy, his father went bankrupt, and to save the family from falling into destitution, Mizoguchi's older sister was sold to a geisha house.

Especially worth mentioning: this Blu-ray package come with a 344 page book packed with photos and essays about the films by Keiko McDonald, Nakagawa Masako, Mark Le Fanu, and the late Robin Wood, plus an interview from 1936 with Mizoguchi himself discussing his attitude towards geisha. In addition, the book contains Ch'ang hen ko, the poem by Po Chu-i upon which Yokihi is based, and the short stories that inspired some of the other films, including The Almanac Of Love by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, Sansho Dayo by Mori Ogai, A Serpent's Lust and The Reed-Choked House by Ueda Akinari.

Mizoguchi delivers comedy, tragedy, pathos, a ghostly love story and some of the most memorable women ever to grace the screen. What are you waiting for?
SCORE: 5/5
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