“Kenji Mizoguchi was not one to make his art overtly autobiographical, though it is possible to see elements in his films that he may have drawn from his own life. Yet in making this film about the renowned eighteenth-century woodblock print artist Utamaro, he may have found the perfect allegorical subject for his own experience in cinema. Utamaro, like Mizoguchi himself, was the creator of a popular art form not always appreciated in his own time as art, yet he was profoundly convinced that his work was of no less quality than that of conventionally acknowledged artists. Both men were obsessed with women as subjects for their art. Finally, both were hampered throughout their careers by restrictions imposed from outside on their creative impulses. “Throughout the war years Mizoguchi and other Japanese filmmakers had had to endure increasingly harsh governmental restrictions on their work. Expecting a more liberal atmosphere after the war, they were at first surprised to find the American Occupation authorities similarly cautious about what sort of film they would permit as acceptable for the promotion of Japan’s newly instituted democracy. All films dealing with Japan’s feudal past were suspect. Utamaro was in fact the first period film to be approved by the postwar authorities, no doubt because its theme is about freedom and equality. At the end of the film, Utamaro, who has been under arrest for 50 days, looks forward to celebrating the end of his sentence not with a party, but by drawing. ‘I want to draw; I want to draw so much,’ he shouts out; through these words echo Mizoguchi’s own feelings about the renewed possibilities for his cinematic art.” —David Owens
Kenji Mizoguchi entered the film world as a promoter of Western novelty in Japanese cinema and exited it as an acclaimed international director who exemplified Japan at its most traditional. After The Life of Oharu and Ugetsu won prizes in successive Venice Film Festivals in the early ‘50s, Mizoguchi became an icon for the nascent French New Wave. His mastery of mise-en-scène was lauded by Jacques Rivette, while Jean-Luc Godard praised his metaphysics and his stylistic elegance. Mizoguchi is still recognized as one of the 20th century’s greatest filmmakers. Born in Tokyo, in 1898, Mizoguchi was the middle child of a roofer/carpenter. His family’s financial situation went from modest to desperate when his erratic, dreamer father tried to make a killing by selling raincoats to the military during the Russo-Japanese war. Not having enough money for food, Mizoguchi’s older sister was put up for adoption at age 14. She was later sold to a geisha house. Mizoguchi himself… read more
One of my favourite Mizoguchi films so far, a really visually amazing film that encapsulates everything in the last scene. Like every Mizoguchi, it is staged like a play and shot in an effortless fashion. It is clearly an autobiographical work, I will show the beauty of all woman clearly serving as a metaphor for Mizoguchi himself. And beside that we have a great story and performances from Bando and Tanaka.