Thursday, January 31, 2008

Osaka Elegy (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1936)

****½
Japan



Telephone operator Ayako begs her bosses to take pity on her impoverished and soon to be incarcerated father, argues her suitor ought to be ready to go to jail instead, then scolds her father at home for cowering and complaining without searching for a solution. She becomes her boss' mistress to settle the family's debt and is inevitably ostracised for it.

Melodramas this mature and switched-on are rare and Kenji Mizoguchi is decades ahead of its time in the topics he tackles, the acuteness with which he tackles them as well as his sophisticated visual style (every composition is a lesson in elegance). The heroine is essentially a victim of social mores but Mizoguchi refuses to exploit her victimhood and Isuzu Yamada - who, decades later, made a memorable Lady Macbeth for Kurosawa - plays her with suitable pluck.

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