Ihara Saikaku’s famous book (1686, part-translated as The Life of an Amorous Woman) is more a story-cycle than a novel in the modern sense, but Mizoguchi saw in it the narrative of a well-born woman’s decline from lady-in-waiting to prostitute to beggar in 17th-century Japan. He pushed his regular writer Yoda to script it after Akira Kurosawa won his Venice prize for Rashomon, and walked away from a contract with Shochiku when the company refused to finance it. The film was shot in seriously adverse conditions (trains rumbled past every fifteen minutes) in a makeshift studio near Kyoto for the independent producer Koi Hideo with rickety support from Shin-Toho, a new company founded by disgruntled ex-employees of Toho. The gambit paid off: the film won Mizoguchi his own Venice prize, and launched his reputation in the west.
Oharu (Tanaka Kinuyo, Mizoguchi’s favourite actress since the 1930s) brings ruin on her family by meeting a young samurai, a prospective lover, in secret. Every other man she meets after this trauma tricks, disappoints or betrays her, pushing her towards her ultimate destitution. Mizoguchi had made several films in the late 1940s focused on the modern struggle for women’s rights, but women had no rights in 17th-century Japan; the ‘feminism’ here takes the form of sympathy for a woman in her sufferings – a sympathy not present, incidentally, in Saikaku’s original stories. Mizoguchi suppresses his taste for melodrama and tells the story of Oharu’s downfall in stately and aesthetically exquisite images. For the first time in his work he brings a Buddhist perspective to the tragedy, seeing both her sexual life and the social injustices she suffers as aspects of a material world which is, by its nature, evanescent.
Cast and Credits
Scen.: dal romanzo Vita di una donna licenziosa di Saikaku Ihara. Scen.: Kenji Mizoguchi, Yoshikata Yoda. F.: Yoshimi Hirano. M.: Toshio Gotô. Scgf.: Hiroshi Mizutani. Mus.: Ichirô Saitô. Int.: Kinuyo Tanaka (Oharu), Tsukie Matsuura (Tomo, madre di Oharu), Ichirô Sugai (Shinzaemon, padre di Oharu). Toshirô Mifune (Katsunosuke), Toshiaki Konoe (Harutaka Matsudaira), Hiroshi Oizumi (Bunkichi), Jûkichi Uno (Yakichi Ogiya, marito di Oharu), Eitarô Shindô (Kahe Sasaya), Kyôko Kusajima (Sodegaki), Chieko Higashiyama (Myokai). Prod.: Hideo Koi, Kenji Mizoguchi per Koi Productions, Shintoho Film Distribution Committee. DCP. D.: 148’. Bn.
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