Released as part of the Kenji Mizoguchi Masters of Cinema boxset “Late Mizoguchi”, Uwasa No Onna is an understated film that nonetheless packs a sizeable punch.
The story starts with a girl – Yukiko – returning home from her higher education at a music school in Tokyo, where she is studying piano. She wishes to end her education as she is suffering from a broken heart, and has attempted suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Her mother owns a popular geisha house in a small town and so fairly early on in the film an interesting dynamic begins as she is in a position of being the outcast by the other young girls of a similar age, many of whom believe they are effectively working to pay for an education for her that they could only dream of, and that it is selfish of her to drop out in such a fickle manner.
Mizoguchi’s casting of Kinuyo Tanaka in the lead role of Yukiko is no surprise. She was a favourite of his for much of his career, though she later went on to be a director in her own right, which in turn caused an argument that severed her friendship with Mizoguchi. When we first see her she is wearing a contemporary black dress, which gives her an immediately striking appearance, looking somewhat like Audrey Hepburn. This has two effects: in all black she is shown to be in a depressed frame of mind, and she also sets herself apart from everyone else in the film as being from a different culture, in this case contemporary Europe.
Mizoguchi has a fascination with brothels that runs throughout many of his films (perhaps most famously in the 1954 classic Akasen Chitai / 赤線地帯). These stories always have a hint of the autobiographical about them – his older sister Suzu was sold off for prostitution soon after 1915 when his mother died, which was a shameful experience for Mizoguchi. Frustratingly for him, the money she earned helped fund his higher education; this background is clearly reflected in Uwasa No Onna.
Elsewhere on the disc, the Tony Rayns bonus discussion about the film is really interesting, though it is the only bonus feature for this particular film (the film itself is a bonus feature for the more popular Chikamatsu Monogatari / 近松物語). In it he discusses Mizoguchi’s use of theatre in his films, in this case drawing a parallel between stage (watching Kyo Byen at the Noh Theatre) and reality. It’s quite an interesting scene in the film as the mother grows in embarrassment. I personally found it – on a basic level – a wonderful way to view what theatre was like in Japan when the film was set. I’ve never known anyone else capture it in such great detail.
It was a joy to hear Rayns, who is well versed in this director’s history, talk so candidly about his other work and background. Yet another reason to endorse Masters of Cinema (by the way, the transfer is excellent… as usual)!
I notice this boxset is now on sale for a ridiculous amount of money (£156 on Amazon). Frankly, it’s not worth the purchase just for this film, nor for the other three exclusives (I haven’t got round to watching them all yet). That’s because no Blu-Ray boxset is worth that amount of money. I’m sure Eureka will see sense soon and re-release the two exclusive discs for those that missed out the first time. Of course, anyone who has already forked out £156 will be fairly disappointed but they’ll have to live with it.