浪華悲歌 / Osaka Elegy, now eighty years old, came midway into director Kenji Mizoguchi’s career. Despite this, it is one of the earliest examples of Kenji Mizoguchi’s work readily available to view by the general public and has just been restored and released by Artificial Eye as part of a boxset titles The Mizoguchi Collection.
By today’s standards, it has a strange narrative that seemingly unravels itself from a reasonably happy place to a completely unhappy place for everyone unlucky enough to be wound up in the story. It is built around telephone operator Ayako (Isuzu Yamada), a girl who uses manipulation out of desperation for her own family. Her father is struggling to keep afloat financially after finding himself unemployed and owing 300 JPY. Her brother is also in desperate need of money to pay for his tuition fees or he will be thrown off his course. A solution presents itself in the form of Sumiko Asai (Yoko Umemura), the owner of a successful drugs company who has taken a shine to Ayako. Agreeing to be his mistress to solve the financial issues, she soon realises that the solution isn’t quite as simple as she had hoped.
The topics covered by the film are explored and exploited. It’s a clever technique as the initial story seems quite bland. As the reality is revealed to those involved Ayako comes out as the only person to be perceived to be in the wrong. Several men have had an affair with a girl under half their age, effectively buying her time, but they are above the law due to their standing in society. Since she is perceived to be of a lower class, it is on her that the blame is left.
She was in fact trying to live by her giri morals – the duty to do right by ones family. Whilst her methods may be unorthadox, she never sways far from these morals. The most upsetting part is her final line in the film, revealing that she believes herself to be a delinquent.
The quality of the film is lost slightly by the poor condition of the remaining footage. Throughout the film there are issues with sound – the constant background hiss is quite off-putting, there’s the odd loud pop and the dialogue can feel muffled. It’s not inaudible, but a far cry from perfect.
Similarly, the picture quality is poor, particularly in the darkened interiors of the traditional Osakan houses where the blacks appear muddy. This, like the sound, is not the fault of Artificial Eye. They’ve clearly made a decent job of some imperfect source material. It’s a shame, but realistically this is a business venture and spending the money to restore relatively obscure Mizoguchi films would be hard to justify.
As I understand, the other three films in this box set (The Story of the Last Chrysthanthemum, Utamaro and His Five Women, Sisters of the Gion) are all in the same boat, with imperfections in both audio and visuals (I haven’t watched them yet). That these films have surfaced at all is enough to be grateful for and those looking for more Mizoguchi after enjoying the Master of Cinema releases will be well served. As such, despite the flaws this box set is a recommended purchase.