Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Kenji Mizoguchi..... Sympathetic Auter of "Women's Movies"

"Kenji Mizoguchi {1923 - 1956) was born into a middle class family, however their way of life started to become difficult after his father decided to start a business selling raincoats to soldiers during the Russo-Japanese. The war ended too quickly and in 1905 the family was left destitute , with Kenji's sister given up for adoption to help cope with the financial strain. She was later sold as a giesha by her adoptive family". Taken for liner notes Her Mother's Profession {1954} with recommended audio commentary by Dr. Barbara Hartley. The book-end to the aforementioned is Streets of Shame (1956) with detailed text analysis. Back reading here and here.
Mizoguchi was not in the business of providing light entertainment. Both are demanding and detailed explorations of a feudal society where the fathers and families on sold their daughters into the sex industry in hard times, and this was a very common phenomena before and after Macarthur's orchestration of the modern Japanese Constitution. There is a whole history of the post WW11 Japanese governments approach to prostitution and the organisation of the sex industry (1), but these two films follow the impact on the women themselves - giesha house fines and loan indebtedness, their lack of skills and how they supported their children or families thru the sale of their bodies.

Street of Shame, set in a giesha house ironically called Dreamland, provides a tremendous example of ensemble acting which slowly reveals the biographies of the five main giesha protagonists. Her Mother's Profession central protagonist is the madam of a giesha house, who has a reasonable relationship with her girls and a flirtatious relationship with the impossibly handsome visiting STD doctor. However, when madame Matsuko's daughter returns, as you would expect triangular complications arise. In both film, the johns are portrayed as drunks and infantiles ripe for the fleecing.
And if this is all too much for the system, I recommend Gate of Flesh (1964) here by Seijun Suzuki, one of the Dig Daddies of Japanese cinema, which follows the travails of a group of tough-as-nails street workers set in a Blue Sky market and rubble of a post-war Japan. These girls flaunted their bottom-of-the ladder status to all and sundry, displaying particular in-your face contempt for their punters. An inversion of larger social values delivered by Suzuki with a colour palette which explodes with energy and grindhouse values which blew Quentin Taratino's mind. And if you are female, there is the fabulous baby-faced Joe Shishido to stir the juices. {1} John Dower Embrassing Defeat:Japan in the Wake of WW11 here - forget the here. The net reviews are crap, so read the original if you are interested in Japanese popular and socio-cultural evolution since 1945.

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